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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If OM lands the best on signing day, expect worst from critics

COLUMN: There’s any number of things for a Rebels sports fan to be excited about at the moment: A basketball team that’s cracked the Top 25 for the first time in almost three years and looks like it will end an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought, baseball season (and warm weather) just around the corner and a Rebel football signing class that looks to rival any in school history.

About that last one – it’s not that you shouldn’t be excited or feel great about the future, but prepare yourself for the backlash. Ole Miss has already locked up two huge national names, defensive end Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.) and receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.) that will help critics and rival fans to start pushing a narrative that not everything is clean in Oxford.

No one’s ever clean, not in the SEC. But to imply – or even guess if you’re a Rebel fan – that things are suddenly dirty because the Rebels are landing far out-of-state prospects instead of nationally branded schools is uninformed.

Brace yourself, because there’s more to come. When Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s top overall prospect, commits as expected in the coming weeks, he’ll top what’s likely Ole Miss’ highest-rated signing class in the history of the dot-com databases.

It’s been exactly one year since Hugh Freeze walked into a 2-10 dumpster fire in Oxford, and for a lot analysts and fans that’s simply too short a period of time to be pulling down talent like this. So expect a rash of baseless accusations fueled by jealous grumbles, and I’m not (just) implying huffs and puffs from down Starkville way.

When a national power like a Florida or Oklahoma plucks an Illinois wide receiver, no one’s alarmed. When the 7-6 BBVA Compass Bowl winners do it, certainly something’s rotten around Signing Day. Nevermind that in the case of Treadwell, it’s much like the highly-publicized courtship of the Nkemdiche family: He had a very close friend (cornerback Anthony Standifer) already on the roster at Ole Miss.

That’s the “in” that Freeze and his staff, who follow a modified mad-dog persistence towards recruits that Ed Orgeron once did, needed to beat out OU and Oklahoma State.

I won’t whitewash what I know: Recruiting, especially in this state, is a nasty business that demands participation, lest coaches want to go back to the unemployment line. There’s no arguing that the process is unseemly at best, but that doesn’t mean that every major get for every former minor player has dirt on it.

There still is such a thing as good, hard work on the recruiting trail.

But whereas certain former coaches might’ve been lauded nationally for their ability to out-evaluate the bigger schools and find the hidden gems, it’s more uncomfortable for those same national pundits to watch a former doormat beat out the perennial powers and not “raise concerns.”

Again, brace yourself: If Freeze’s staff is as successful as expected in two weeks, these kinds of whispers and message board fodder won’t subside until one of two things happens – real, inarguable evidence of wrongdoing is found, or Freeze and his staff make high-level recruiting classes commonplace enough for eyebrows not to be raised when major talents land in Oxford.

—sports@oxfordeagle.com (January 22, 2013, Page 7)

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