Houston Nutt did not leave Hugh Freeze much of a recruiting class with which to work when the former high school head coach accepted the Ole Miss job. Ole Miss would go on to sign 19 players in its 2012 class, and of those, only six had committed to Nutt.
Freeze brought in the other 13, and they were of considerably better quality than the six who had committed to Nutt, including the only two consensus four-star recruits in Channing Ward and I'Tavius Mathers. Freeze also quickly gained four commitments from junior college recruits, including quarterback Bo Wallace, who started every game for the Rebels this season, throwing for 2,843 yards on 336 throws, an impressive 8.5 yards/attempt in the SEC.
In doing so, he led Ole Miss to an improbable (roughly a 4/1 underdog to win six games) bowl game. Freeze's spread attack made Ole Miss' offense exciting, and the defense was active and opportunistic.
Ole Miss was far from a good football team, but that it was far from a bad team, and the quickness with which it happened, excited the fanbase and caused some recruits to take notice.
Of course, recruits also notice things happening off the field. And perhaps nothing happening off the field was bigger than the decommitment of Robert Nkemdiche from the Clemson Tigers. Nkemdiche is the top recruit in the country. The Georgia defensive lineman committed to Clemson, but a few months later, he was back on the market.
A major reason for that was also a major reason behind Ole Miss' defensive resurgence -- his brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, an undersized freshman linebacker for the Rebels who was all over the field for Ole Miss in 2012.
When a prospect as good as Robert Nkemdiche names Ole Miss as his leader, publicly or privately, and takes perhaps as many as 10 visits to a place like Oxford, other national prospects take notice. It keeps Ole Miss' name in the news. While Nkemdiche has not yet publicly committed to Ole Miss, it is assumed that he will end up as a Rebel.
And slowly but surely, top recruits have begun to follow.
In October, Freeze flipped talented Texas tight end Christian Morgan from Florida State. In November and December, Freeze shored up the defense via the addition of several highly outed junior college defenders. First, defensive tackle recruit Jarran Reed jumped aboard. Then, defensive back Nickolas Brassell pledged to Ole Miss. Finally, defensive tackle Lavon Hooks became a Rebel.
All of that help arriving on the defensive line would be good for any program, but it's especially interesting at Ole Miss because the Rebels return almost all of their talent along the defensive line. With the addition of the two junior college defensive linemen, plus the likely signing of Nkemdiche, Ole Miss has the opportunity to have a true, three-deep, "SEC style" defensive line in 2013.
And despite the shady loss of Brandon Hill to Alabama, Ole Miss is poised to close strong.
Nkemdiche is the obvious domino yet to fall (at least publicly), but there are others as well.
Help is needed along the offensive line, and Ole Miss has a shot to land a visit from five-star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, of Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High School. The Rebels are considered an extreme long shot to land Tunsil, but the very fact that they are going to receive a visit from him speaks volumes about the job Freeze and his staff have done.
Crete (IL) Monee wide receiver Laquon Treadwell recently named a top five, with Ole Miss as his leader. Treadwell was long thought to be a lock to Michigan, but Ole Miss has moved in and snatched the lead.
In a move that is indicative of the recruiting momentum that Ole Miss has now stolen from Mississippi State, top running back Kailo Moore decommitted from the Bulldogs and named Ole Miss his leader Wednesday.
And Ole Miss has long been considered the favorite for elite in-state safety Antonio Connor.
Freeze is unlikely to land all of the prospects remaining on its board, but that's true of any school. But based on the improbable job he's done both on and off the field, it wouldn't be wise to bet against Ole Miss on more than a few.
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