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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Remarkable recruiting could make an enemy of expectations

COLUMN: The only less impressed, less mindful, patient and genuine group of people than the ADD-addled mobile-to-mobile teenagers of 2013 might be college football fans, specifically those in Oxford.

As of this writing and publication — both before the smoke clears on National Signing Day on Wednesday — Hugh Freeze stands to make history at Ole Miss. Even without rumored late additions, the 2013 signing class will be an embarrassment of riches unlike any other in modern Rebel history.

Since those nebulous little grades and stars started to appear next to the names of high school football players almost two decades ago, Ole Miss has never been ranked and rated this well. If even half of the other rumored talent announces for the Rebels on Wednesday, the University of Mississippi could finish with one of the nation’s best classes.

If — just like those hiccupping — focused teenagers Freeze and company have Tweeted, texted and Skyped into believing in Ole Miss — you forgot your recent history, that means the Rebels will be competing at national championship levels of recruiting two years after a 2-10 record.

Get ready for the national questions. Get ready for the accusations of rampant, wanton cheating. Get ready for the overinflated hype for the 2013 football season. But don’t prepare yourself for this kind of a ride again next season.

Certainly, Freeze and his staff have successfully overhauled the method, manner and energy in the football program’s recruiting process compared to Houston Nutt, but this is just silly: Possibly the nation’s top overall prospect (Robert Nkemdiche)? The nation’s top receiver (Laquon Treadwell)? Possibly the nation’s top safety (Conner)? Possibly the nation’s top offensive lineman (Lake City, Fla.’s Laremy Tunsil is said to be choosing between Ole Miss and Georgia)?

This is just nuts. This is beyond unprecedented, and for a program that was a skid mark on the fast lane of the BCS 20 some-odd months prior, it is. But there’s a less fantastic explanation for most of this success. Freeze and his staff came into some great opportunities, and then worked them nonstop:

* Obviously, Nkemdiche is the brother of current linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, recruited by Nutt and converted from a defensive back to linebacker by Dave Wommack. Denzel’s presence was far from a guarantee to get Robert to Oxford, but it was also an incredible advantage that ultimately made the difference.

* Conner hails from South Panola, the little football factory a county away from campus. Again, being a “USP” alumnus does not automatically a Rebel make, but it allowed the Rebels to get more familiar, more often with Conner.

* Treadwell was courted by programs across the country (most far from his Crete, Ill., home) but found instant familiarity with the Rebels because of current defensive back Anthony Standifer, his best friend and former teammate, a 2012 signee of Freeze’s.

That amount of luck with top overall prospects might happen once a decade for most programs, let alone simultaneously. It’s stupid, silly circumstance that’s caused this rain down of talent. That being said, don’t expect Freeze’s staff to suddenly revert back to the anonymous middle of the pack nationally. If Ole Miss can start applying the depth they’ve rebuilt on both sides of the ball (and even two years post-Nutt, there’s still scores of thin positions) and mount another winning campaign, they’ll became less of a sore thumb competing for the top players in the country.

But this? Even if absolutely everything goes Ole Miss’ way in the coming years, the 2013 Signing Class might still never be replicated. So if, after a “ho hum” 8-4 2013 season the Rebels pull down merely the 15th or 16th best class in 2014, try not to act like one of those shrugging teenagers. (February 5, 2013)

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