LITTLE ROCK — A knee-jerk reaction to loosely connected developments, this take on Razorback recruiting qualifies for Bret Bielema’s “negative nellie” label.
Assessing a recruiting class is long term, but the proximity of decisions by two athletes inspired a negative reaction. On Thursday, Arkansas announced that cornerback Chris Murphy of Marietta, Ga., had signed and would go through spring practice with the Razorbacks. Less than 72 hours later, defensive lineman Josh Frazier of Springdale tweeted his commitment to Alabama.
Murphy is supposed to be the 40-something best high school cornerback in the country. Every time I read something like that, I wonder where the 40 athletes rated ahead of him are going to school. On the other hand, Frazier is supposed to be No. 89 among all players at all positions.
Some people who have seen Frazier play contend that Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, who has committed to Arkansas, will be a better defensive tackle than Frazier and that Frazier could wind up on offense. At this point, nobody knows.
Murphy and Frazier, who moved to Springdale a couple of years ago, are apples and oranges and recruiting services can be wrong, but it is difficult to envision beating Alabama and other powers in the Western Division of the SEC when the Crimson Tide and the others get the players regarded as the best.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel will shoulder the heaviest loads on Saturday in what turns out to be the semifinals of the SEC championship. The Alabama-Auburn winner goes to Atlanta as does Missouri with a victory over A&M.
Wooed by Gus Malzahn when he was the head coach at Arkansas State University and Marshall was at a junior college, the quarterback will be forced to throw more than Malzahn would like because Alabama will slow the Tigers’ potent running game. For instance, against Arkansas, Auburn was so efficient running the ball that Marshall threw only eight times and completed seven. When LSU held the Tigers to 213 rushing in September, Marshall was 17-of-33 in a 14-point loss.
Manziel’s 16-of-41 with two interceptions against LSU all but extinguished his hope of doubling his Heisman Trophy collection, but he thrives on competition and I suspect he will bounce back in a big way against Missouri. For one thing, Missouri is not likely to put a man on each of the Aggies’ receivers and dare Manziel to take advantage like LSU did in Baton Rouge.
A registered voter for decades but never called for jury duty, the right to vote on the Heisman might include judging the evidence or lack thereof against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
Considering the lost weekends of Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Baylor’s Bryce Petty, and two interceptions by Alabama’s A.J. McCarron against Mississippi State the previous week, an untarnished Winston would win the Heisman.
At this point, I am conflicted about Winston and, during the weekend, there was word that a final decision on filing charges is on hold until after Thanksgiving. What if charges are filed before the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and he is suspended in accordance with FSU rules? Do voters toss his season-long accomplishments and dismiss the innocent until proven guilty guarantee in the process? What if charges are filed Dec. 10, the day after the voting deadline for the Heisman? What if voters shy away from Winston and no charges are filed?
As expected, the SEC will be unable to supply teams to all the bowls with which the league has ties.
Nine teams have won the six games necessary to qualify for a bowl and Mississippi State must beat Ole Miss to get to the magic number. Mathematically eliminated are Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky.
If the SEC champion is in the national title game, the conference could have had as many as 11 bowl teams.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.