Talent Level

In his weekly recruiting column for Hawgs Illustrated, Dudley E. Dawson writes about the talent level currently on the Arkansas roster and what appears to be a talent infusion in store for 2014 and 2015.

With the possible exception of Arkansas' players and coaches, no one is really giving the Razorbacks a shot to win – much less be competitive – in this Saturday's game at No. 1 Alabama.

That's why the Crimson Tide are 27-point or more favorites, which would actually be less than what Alabama has routed the Razorbacks by the past two seasons (38-14) and (52-0).

There are likely many reasons that has happened, but certainly one is the disparity of talent on paper has translated onto the field.

Almost all of Alabama's 85-man scholarship roster is made up of four and five star prospects with Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban basically getting the pick of the litter.

Arkansas appears to have just 19 players that were 4- or 5-star guys - per the four major recruiting services - on its current roster, six of which came in the 2014 class compiled by the new coaching staff.

To his credit, first-year Razorback head coach Bret Bielema refused to use talent shortfall as an excuse for his team's current struggles earlier this week at his regular Monday press briefing.

"I'm never going to say that," Bielema said. "I appreciate what you're saying, but your talent is your talent. It doesn't matter how it happened or what happened, I came here in December knowing we were going to sign a recruiting class...knowing who we brought in in that class could help us immediately or (were) developmental guys. It is what it is.

"We tried to put our players in the best position before the fall, moving a couple guys around to different positions," Bielema added. "And I think we can still do a little bit about that.

  "(But) the part that I get excited about, if there's any silver lining in (the) Saturday (52-7 loss at South Carolina), some of our younger players probably played their best game," Bielema said.

Indeed, six of the current 19 players on the roster were brought in by the new coaching staff, which is also dealing with a program that lost 22 players out of its 2010 and 2011 classes to a variety of issues.

The dandy half-dozen are all true freshmen - tailback Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry, offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Reeve Koehler, linebacker Brooks Ellis and quarterback Austin Allen.

That doesn't include true freshman offensive lineman Dan Skipper – who is a starting guard along with Kirkland – and who has joined Collins and Henry as major contributors so far this season.

Collins and junior tackle Brey Cook are the only current 5-star players within the program.

Hope for a talent infusion in the future lies in the fact that 10 of Arkansas current 21 pledges in the 2014 and 2015 classes – are ranked as four-star prospects.

Bielema – who has a 71-28 in his eight-year head coaching career - wants to get toward where Saban has his program and toward where he had his own Wisconsin one before making the leap to Arkansas.

"He's obviously got really good players, the thing I loved at my prior institution is year five, when you have your full recruiting class and you're able to build, you know we won our first championships in five, six and seven," Bielema said.

  "We have a formula," Bielema added. "We're getting to it. Recruiting is a big part of it, but player development is the biggest… And player development isn't just, size and strength and squat. It's leadership. It's championing moments in adversity."

Alex Collins and Brey Cook are the only two 5-star prospects currently on the Arkansas roster.

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