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Signing day doesn't matter


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This week's Pearls presents a fork in the road, and I choose, naturally, to take it.

The timing of this publication effectively straddles National Signing Day, so assuming I make the audacious prediction that Dorial Green-Beckham will, in fact, sign with Arkansas after being wooed by Missouri at the 11th hour, the column either carries a triumphant sheen on Wednesday when the Times publishes or it becomes laughably stale and wrong-headed at the outset. As this column is being generated, the nation's most coveted and hyphenated football recruit is perched on the fence, his ultimate destination lying somewhere between the moon and New York City. (Yes, I already profoundly regret invoking Christopher Cross.)

UPDATE: Green-Beckham picked Missouri.

It is thus fruitless to use this week's word allotment for speculation. Truth be told, this columnist's embrace of recruiting news is about as loose as it can be, and the explanation for that is as follows: I write about sports, and recruiting has only an ancillary relationship to sports. It's more theater, tinged with the fantastical elements of horoscopes. The flesh-peddling aspect of it, I guess, seeps into the business pages, too.

Not to deride the process too much, but the honest rationale behind my purposed detachment is that college recruiting rankings have proven so irrelevant that it makes Mel Kiper look like Bill Nye by comparison. At least when the NFL draft is forthcoming, Kiper and his colleagues have the trite phrase "body of work" to rely upon. College players have ostensibly toiled for three or four years, compiled statistics that are subject to reasonable oversight, and matured physically to the point that their viability as pro athletes can be more accurately assessed.

That's not the case for the likes of Green-Beckham, or so the Max Emfingers and Tom Lemmings would have you believe. He is the nation's premier wide receiver, a hulking 6'6" specimen that just so happens to exceed the top speed of a Bugatti and has hands made of some combination of silk, Flubber, and cotton candy. He has also spent much of his time running routes against 5'9" defensive backs whose only experiences with college football this fall will be as fraternity pledges in the lower bowl.  

What sounds like mockery is only meant as much insofar as the "insiders" are concerned. Nothing is more aggravating and more absurd than listening to or reading middle-aged adult males like myself trying to read the mind of a 17-year-old, or trying to project the eventual impact of his talents. And if you're asking what the point of all this is, it's merely this: I don't think it matters that much.

Bobby Petrino's first recruiting class at Arkansas (2008) was viewed by generally all publications as promising, and maybe not much more. Its most charitable rating placed it on the backside of the Top 25. When "re-ranked" prior to the 2011 season, one observer pegged it as about the fifth- or sixth-best class in the country, and go figure, Arkansas won 11 games in 2011 and finished No. 5 in the final BCS hierarchy. There is no question that the Razorbacks' success of the past two seasons is largely attributable to the kids who comprised that class.

It was a last-minute coup when Joe Adams, for instance, flipped from Southern Cal to Arkansas. He bought into the allure of the Petrino offense and the idea of showcasing his talents before home-state fans. It was a gutsy move to make and it seemed to pay off, as Adams' dynamic skill set made him one of the school's all-time greats and now has him in prime position to make good on his NFL promise.

What happened over that three years? Joe Adams arrived from Central Arkansas Christian as a wiry wide receiver and leaves Fayetteville as...a wiry wide receiver. His development was largely attributable to coaching, which is why these class rankings that will be kicked around the web on Wednesday afternoon are as predominantly worthless. The Hogs may or may not get Green-Beckham's services, but what impact will his commitment or defection elsewhere ultimately have? 

I certainly hope this kid becomes a Razorback, so do not mistake these musings for feigned ambivalence. I feel, as most Hog fans do, that he would excel in this offense and maximize his abundant gifts playing for a coaching staff that clearly knows how to give dynamic playmakers ample chances to do what they do best. By the time this column shows up online, he will have conducted some sort of live-action shell game on ESPN, and we will already be crestfallen or elated.

But the moment is fleeting, and the prognosis remains strong regardless. Arkansas isn't going to win a national title this week no matter how much sweet ink gets spilled on letters of intent in high school gymnasiums and libraries. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that fact in the aftermath of National Signing Day, and hopefully it will stabilize your blood pressure.


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