By KOLBY PAXTON
Has there been a more entertaining week in Southeastern Conference history? Serious question.
First, Alabama and Georgia play a championship game that actually exceeds the hype. Next, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn turn the process of a coaching search into something more closely resembling an episode of “Days of Our Lives.” And, finally, a redshirt freshman quarterback (recruited as a defensive back by Mack Brown) brings a Heisman trophy to College Station, Texas.
I know many of you would love to read something about the Sooners’ Big 12 triumph, or Oklahoma State’s, um, bowl eligibility. And following the greatest Bedlam tilt that I have ever seen, I had real, sincere plans of paying tribute. Then the SEC got in the way, as it so often does.
Good job, good effort, entire rest of the country. Way to vindicate Steve Davis, Landry. Lord knows he needed it. Sorry about that whole Heart of Texas thing, ‘Pokes. But, hey, congrats on keeping your Stillwater tour guide, er, head coach. Best of luck re-filling Southern Mississippi’s head coach in waiting position. There’s no more space for you now.
1.) Johnny Football just ascended to rock star status.
He’s Willie Joe Tebow. He’s Scooby Doo with the scantily-clad blonde, then he’s stiff arming Crimson Tide defenders. He’s hoisting a stiff-armed statue, then passing it off to his girlfriend, Sarah Savage. Google magic, my friends.
Meanwhile, his alma mater, Texas A&M, is doing exactly what I said they would. They’re taking over. Manziel’s Heisman night was followed with a verbal commitment from the nation’s top wide receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones — a former Texas-commit. Kevin Sumlin, in the midst of building a Top 5 recruiting class, summed it all up rather nicely when he said, simply, “Yessir!”
Such is the result of playing in the best football conference in the country, out of the most fertile recruiting bed in the country, and hitting the jackpot with a scout team wide receiver along the way.
2.) Hogs swing for the fence
Jeff Long, for all that he has done for the University of Arkansas, just pinned his future with the Razorbacks to one man, for better or for worse.
No one saw it coming, because no one could have. Long acted as a search committee of one, never revealing his opinions and motives. Couple such calculated covertness with rabid media and delusional fans, and you get two weeks worth of, “Sources have confirmed that Arkansas has agreed to terms with Vince Lombardi.”
Initially, the rumor mill swung into action when it was apparent that Long and the Razorbacks had offered a massive contract to LSU head coach Les Miles. Though, I would like to believe that this was merely make-believe, it likely wasn’t. Fortunately for Arkansas, Miles’ current employer stepped up with an extension and a raise, and we can all make like Becky Petrino and pretend it never happened.
Next, the Razorbacks were said to have been locked in on two men: Gary Patterson and Mike Gundy. Then Patterson was a done deal. Then it wasn’t. Then, incredibly, unbelievably, in a span of only days, “sources” confirmed everyone from James Franklin, to Chris Petersen, to some guy named Chris Peterson.
Tuesday morning, I received a text message from Ben Johnson. “You might want to stay glued to Twitter today,” he said. I already was. Reports were flooding in that Gundy was soon to be named head hog. Come to find out, even Gundy’s assistants thought they were headed to Fayetteville. They weren’t. All of those sources, all of those tweets, and text messages, and message board speculation, it was all for not. No one knew.
At approximately 2 p.m., I was running on the treadmill, facing a television tuned to ESPN, watching tired NFL highlights, hoping for some breaking news on the scrawl. My phone buzzed. I glanced at it, saw the words “Bielema” and “Yahoo,” and nearly fell off my hamster wheel.
Where did that come from?
Since the Hogs dropped a September matchup with someone called Louisiana-Monroe, approximately 370 coaches have been rumored as the eventual replacement of one John L. Smith. Somehow, Bret Bielema never made the list. Yet, there he was, a coach born to be in the Big Ten, leaving a school on its way to a third consecutive Rose Bowl, to coach the third best program in the SEC West.
It was a proud day for Razorback Nation, a stirring coup, to be sure. The style of play will change in Fayetteville, likely for the better, as Bielema’s powerful, disciplined attack more closely resembles that of its new league counterparts. The Hogs’ recruiting philosophy may also change, given Bielema’s pattern of depth in the trenches, absence there of on the perimeter, and lack of southern connections; how, exactly, and to what extent, remains to be seen.
Still, if the guy can get Gabe Carimi to block for Montee Ball in Madison, Wis., he figures to do the same in the Ozarks, what with considerable facilities upgrades and access to the Texas grassroots, as well as a disproportionate in-state recruiting base. Far more importantly, he recruited his 27-year old wife at a Vegas blackjack table. Don’t tell me Bielema can’t close.
I like the hire.
3.) But they love Gus on The Plains
And they should. Auburn bested Tennessee, and maybe even Arkansas, when it brought former-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn back to AU. Malzahn will win big for the Tigers, bigger than Butch Jones at Tennessee, perhaps bigger than Bielema at Arkansas.
Don’t believe me? Then take Al Eschbach’s word for it. He is not a fan of Malzahn — at least until Jim Traber disagrees — nor is he even close to correctly pronouncing his name. If there exists a more ringing endorsement, I am oblivious to it.
4.) What’s up with Oklahoma’s recruiting?
I asked Sequoyah quarterback Brayden Scott, an Arkansas recruit, “What does Paul Petrino tell a kid whom he is essentially recruiting to play for a yet to be determined group of individuals that doesn’t include himself?” It was a rhetorical question, and it was met as such. There’s not much you can say.
For that reason, I fully expected Arkansas’ upcoming class to lag well behind. For the most part, it has, though not nearly as badly as I expected. In truth, the compilation is an Altee Tenpenny or Corey Clement away from the Top 25. Not bad, all things considered.
What’s the excuse in Norman?
If Greg Bryant isn’t de-commiting, Justin Manning is picking Texas A&M, you know, because the Aggies don’t have enough defensive tackles in this class. In between, there has been little positive news out of Norman. Running back Keith Ford of Cypress, Texas, is a nice prospect, but he is by far the most accomplished in the Sooners’ most recent collection thus far — and he sort of stands alone.
Of OU’s remaining commits, D.J Ward (ESPN 150, No. 110), Stanvon Taylor (ESPN 300, No. 200) and Jordan Mastrogiovanni (ESPN 300, No. 207) are the highest rated, and Ward hasn’t played a down of organized football since the 2011 season.
Before you lecture me on the crapshoot that is ranking prep prospects in any sport, particularly football, let me assure you that I am fully aware. Fully, painfully aware. I am also alert to the fact that verbal commitments, increasingly, mean next to nothing.
Still, I’m scouring several hundred prospects, at least some of which must be as advertised, and not only are the Sooners left wanting for commitments, they’re nowhere on the radar for an alarming number of the upper echelon.
To date, Rivals.com ranks Oklahoma’s class 30th, behind the likes of Oklahoma State, Baylor, Ole Miss and Utah. The Hogs check in at No. 37 — after more than seven months without a coach.