CBS Sports senior college football writer Bruce Feldman thinks it will be a couple of more years before Arkansas can make a surge in the SEC West.
Feldman, who has studied SEC West recruiting, was the guest speaker at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday. Feldman authored three entertaining books on college football.
Meat Market was the most pertinent to SEC fans, an all-access pass to football recruiting at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron. He also covered Miami football in Cane Mutiny and the Mike Leach story in Swing Your Sword.
Feldman is based out of Los Angeles, but travels the country to cover college football. He spends several days a week in New York to do TV work for CBS. He thinks Bret Bielema was a good hire for Arkansas and thinks he'll do fine in the SEC West.
"But it's going to take time," Feldman said. "He knows what he's doing. It's just that everyone in the SEC is good, except maybe Mississippi State. When I was at Ole Miss, they were the bad team. But they are good right now. Alabama and LSU are really good. Auburn is going to be good. There was more talent at Auburn for Gus Malzahn than most realized.
"I do think Brett can get it done. But he needs some time. I don't think it can happen before say the junior year for Alex Collins."
Collins, a true freshman, was called a big-time back by Feldman. He said Bielema needs more like him at other positions.
While Bielema is adding talent, the rest of the league will continue to build. There aren't many bad recruiting classes across the SEC. I wondered how much of it is above board, especially in the SEC West.
If anyone understands life in the SEC West, it's Feldman. He got to see the often dirty parts of recruiting while writing Meat Market. It was the knowledge gained researching that book that led me to one question after Feldman finished at the TD Club.
No one dove into that subject in a lengthy question and answer period that made up the heart of his TD Club talk. I thought someone was going there, but the question turned out to be about paying athletes above board.
"Are you talking about under the table, or legally," Feldman said, obviously prepared to answer either because of his research for Meat Market.
Feldman sounded relieved when the question was further defined as legal means. That's just as interesting, too. But Feldman said he doesn't know how to solve the problem.
"I would want to study it much more, but I think it's something that is needed," Feldman said. "I just don't see a way to do it.
"For example, do you pay the track athletes, too? I talked to someone at Oregon, and they said yes, because the track athletes are among the most talented group at Oregon. But other schools, they wouldn't want to do that. So what do you do? No one really knows."
The other question about under the table payments had to be answered after everyone left. Feldman didn't balk when I asked.
"It goes on at a lot of places, maybe most," he said. "How you catch anyone, I don't know. No one is ever going to find any proof so I don't know what you do about it."
What about the College Football Playoffs and the choice of Jeff Long as chairman of the Selection Committee?
The first part came up in the Q&A as part of the program, the latter afterwards.
"Will there be controversy with this system," Feldman repeated the question. "Yes, because when you look at the committee, everyone is going to point to regional bias. And someone is always going to find fault with a team that is left out. It's going to happen in a year when you have a bunch of one-loss schools.
"I actually liked the old system, although you could find years when a team was left off. I'm sure that Tommy Tuberville is still ticked off about Auburn being the odd team out in a year when three were undefeated."
As for Long as chairman, Feldman said the view from around the country is mixed.
"Some look at it as he gained respect for the way he handled the Bobby Petrino firing, but then didn't do so well with the interim situation with John L. Smith," Feldman said. "It didn't go well, but I'm not sure what you do there. Who do you hire?
"I think when you look at Jeff's resume, he's been around college football. He's been in a lot of the power leagues. I do think he'll do well with that committee. I think that is a good group."
Feldman: Bielema Needs Time
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