What does getting Collins mean?
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What does getting Collins mean?

Arkansas closed with the a big one Thursday when Alex Collins ended the drama. How big is getting the South Florida running back?

I think signing Alex Collins -- and the attention that it produced in the last 24 hours -- is the biggest out-of-state get for Arkansas since Frank Broyles signed quarterback Joe Ferguson in the late '60s.

Recruiting now is bigger in national attention as far as TV coverage and all of the recruiting services than it was then. But Joe Ferguson was the nation's best quarterback in 1966-68 in Shreveport.

Ferguson really was a great player as a 10th grader when he began to shred Terry Bradshaw's passing records at Shreveport Woodlawn under A.L. Williams. He picked Arkansas -- and it was understood for a good while that he would be a Razorback -- because it was the closest prominent school to home with pro-style passing.

The comment from Broyles on the day Ferguson signed was reported wrong, but he never retracted it. What he said was that signing a quarterback of Ferguson's ability is that a team "should have a chance" to win a national championship before he graduated. What was reported is that Ferguson's presence guaranteed a national title for the Razorbacks.

What happened is that Broyles put together a team with all of the great specialists in the passing game -- Jim Hodge, Mike Reppond, Jon Richardson and Jack Ettinger -- but it did not attract pro-style linemen that would be needed to protect Ferguson. There were some solid recruits in the offensive line in that group in 69-70, but they quickly flopped because of injury.

Offensive line play should never be underestimated. Never. I think we understand that some, but probably not to the point that Bret Bielema gets it. That's one of the reasons he's as proud of those three fine high school offensive line signees from one end of the country to the other, along with juco mid-term find John McClure. As for the three prep stars, how can you get them more evenly placed than Miami, Denver and Honolulu?

I would think that the other great out-of-state recruit since World War II would have to be Lance Alworth, the Mississippi product who spurned late Johnny Vaught offers to come to Fayetteville with his high school bride. Ole Miss had not taken married football players before and Vaught did back off of that rule late in the Alworth recruiting process -- but too late.

Lance told me four years ago that he would have come to Arkansas anyway. He said after Broyles visited his home that the recruiting was all over. He said the conversations that Frank had with his family were above what anyone else had done. He said Frank was a master recruiter and that others were not close.

But Alworth would have been a five-star recruit in modern time and his signing was huge for Broyles. His ability as a runner, receiver, punter and kick returner were considered blue chip in that time. And to pluck him away from Ole Miss was considered amazing at the time.

To sign Collins out of Miami should be considered in the same league as Broyles getting Ferguson and Alworth. And to close in a little more than two months on the job with the key recruiters having only a matter of days is truly amazing.

It points to what I've said for the last few weeks that the difference between Bielema and Bobby Petrino is in closing style on the recruiting trail. Indeed, it's what gives Bielema a chance to crack the Alabama dominance in the SEC West. What separates Nick Saban from the rest of his SEC rivals is the ability to close on the recruiting trail.

If there was a signal that Bielema can do that, it's the number of players that flipped from other commitments in his short time at Arkansas. Some were from previous relationships at Wisconsin. Some were from what Sam Pittman and Jim Chaney had going at Tennessee. Charlie Partridge and Randy Shannon played roles, too. And another came from a Michael Smith relationship at Kansas State. But there is little doubt that Bielema was front and center in all of those flips.

Can he find more five-star players like Alex Collins out of state? Can there be more like Joe Ferguson and Lance Alworth? Yup.

Arkansas recruiting reached a pinnacle after Broyles hired Leroy Montgomery as the school's first real recruiting coordinator in 1973. Broyles hit his stride again as a closer with organizational skills and out-of-state ties Montgomery brought to the table. Those classes produced the team that took Arkansas to the 1975 SWC title and then an 11-1 mark and the smash of Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl in the first year under Lou Holtz.

Coaching should never be under valued. But recruiting is and always will be the life line in college athletics. Things get fun when the two of them dovetail. That seems to be what is about to happen at Arkansas.

No one is making the mistake as suggesting that a national championship is guaranteed with the Alex Collins get. Nothing is easy in the SEC West. There are plenty around the division that coach and recruit well, too.

But I'm guessing that those around the SEC West know what's going on at Arkansas. Bret Bielema wowed them this week. They know he's in the neighborhood and going to be a force on the recruiting trail.

As Arnie Bielema, Bret's father, told me a few weeks ago, it's big boy football at Arkansas now. I'll add, it's big boy recruiting, too.