As I noted in my Before, During and After Petrino article right here at CFBMatrix last week, the Hogs and AD Long were really stuck between rock and hard place. It was too late to aggressively pursue an elite FBS coach and fans still hold out hope for another BCS bowl game run. The decision process put everything at risk; the dream of another 10+ win season, the attitude of the players, the drive of the coaching staff and the recruiting class of 2013.
In hiring Mr. Smith away from Weber State he accomplished meeting the needs of two of those 4 goals. The attitude of the players should be very good and hopefully, the focus of the coaching staff is solid as well. However, as it has been clearly stated every coach is on the last year of their contract. Everything will be up for review at the end of 2012. Most fans will say “Great! They get to prove themselves and try to salvage their jobs through performance.” As a motivator, initially, it is a good idea. But if the wheels come off with one bad loss, this could be a quickly sinking ship as everyone starts to scramble for positioning themselves for new jobs with new schools.
So the players and coaches are on board, but what about recruiting? We know that at both Louisville and at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino relied more on player development than increasing the average talent of each recruit. At both schools, his recruiting ranking while at each school was very close to the previous years averages. This is especially true at Arkansas where the four years average class under BP (#27) was nearly the same as the previous four years (#29). I know fans, you want to believe it is the talent and not the coach that made the difference. You want a reassurance that what was lost in Petrino was minimal compared to the talent. That is not the way it works. One of the top classes ever for Petrino (2008) is about to come of the books at the end of this season. And you know have a new head coach that has proven he is not a good recruiter. The average classes for him while a head coach at Louisville and Michigan State was #48. After he left those jobs the average class as #42 (I took out UL rankings when the went to the BE). You couple his lack of ability to improve recruiting with the caviot that his job is good through the end of the season and you have a potential recruiting disaster in 2013. With recruiting ranking adjusted for where the game is played responsible for picking SEC games correctly in the pre-season 6 months in advance over 80% of the time, dropping in talent levels is a losing path.
Nevertheless, folks don’t really want to think about Arkansas 2013, they want to believe that this team is an SEC West title contender and the Smith will be as good as Petrino. Let me make one thing very clear to start. NO ONE IN THE SEC has been as good a game coach as Petrino in the last 4 years. In fact, there are not ten coaches in all of FBS that have proven to be as good a game coach as Petrino since 2008. BP lost twice in 4 years to teams he out recruited and 11 times beat teams that out recruited him. Fortunately the exact metrics and way of measurement exists for John Smith at Michigan State.
In his 4 years Coach Smith was -4 games coaching effect (-1 at home & -3 on the road) versus the +9 effect of Bobby Petrino. He was +1 game his first year and then was -1. -2 and -2 games before being released. Petrino never had a negative coaching effect year at Arkansas. Smith lost 7 games to teams that he out recruited (adjusted) and won only 3 games against teams that out recruited him. In order to go 12-0 this year, Smith and his staff have to beat 5 teams in the SEC that out recruited the Razorbacks. Smith has never beaten another FBS school when he was the head coach that had a four year adjusted recruiting rank in the top 25. He will face four of those teams in 2012. His -4 games coach effect is, on average, a -1 game in the W column per year. For Arkansas that would make them 6-6. To get to even 9-3, smith would have to put up the best coaching metrics of his career.
So while the players, current coaches and most fans are very happy today, I have significant concerns for the program when looking at the numbers put up by John L. Smith as the head football coach. While any team, at any time can have that rare and unexpected break out year against the odds and trends, I find no luck in betting against the odds. What I do expect for the Hogs in 2012 is to follow the trends established by John L. That is a recruiting class in the high twenties and a record that falls between 6-6 and 8-4 . – Dave Bartoo