Ole Miss is going to have an especially good National Signing Day class. It already ranks No. 11 in Rivals' national ranking, well above the Rebels' average of No. 27 and their No. 40 showing last year, and is likely to get a big boost from the expected Wednesday morning commitment of No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche, plus other possible commits like No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, five-star safety Tony Conner AND MORE.
Let's say the Rebels end up signing a top-five class. The specific number 5 isn't extremely important here, but let's say they do. Here, via Rivals.com, are all the classes to rank in the top five despite not ranking in the top 15 the previous year:
However, let's note most of the programs in that list are more accustomed to ranking at the high end of their rankings, rather than their low ends. LSU, Florida, Texas and so forth usually rank in the top 10, so an off year results in a CHARGE UP THE RANKINGS that's really just a return to form. As you can see, only Nebraska's 2005 class (which included four-star Ndamukong Suh) jumped as far as Ole Miss could if it likewise ranks No. 5 after finishing No. 40 last year. (How that Huskers class fared on the field could also be a warning for overexcited Ole Miss fans.)
Here's the same list, but minus teams that have averaged top-10 Rivals rankings since 2002 -- and also the average finish for each over the last decade:
And what if Ole Miss doesn't finish ranked No. 5? As long as it finishes in the top 10, it'll still rank as one of the biggest turnarounds ever. The schools that have cracked the Rivals top 15 despite ranking 40th or worse the year prior (excluding 2004, since something wacky was going on that year -- a third of this list would be 2004):
THEREFORE, let it be argued that a top-five (or so) finish by Ole Miss this year would land as one of the three most impressive recruiting rankings turnarounds since recruiting rankings became a thing, no matter how we determine recruiting rankings turnarounds.
So we've established both that the Rebels are doing something special and that somewhat similar special things have been done before. If they've been done before, why would portions of the public assume Ole Miss is cheating more than everybody else is cheating?
Especially when, you know, five-star receivers tweet and delete photos of themselves flashing cash, which is the kind of photo the Internet consumes like tater tots. Johnny Manziel tweeting such a picture on purpose should've halted some of our rushes to presume guilt, but here's Bob Lynch of SB Nation's excellent Red Cup Rebellion on Treadwell and the accusation in general:
We all know the reputation the SEC has, so I am not surprised by the scrutiny or accusations. I am also careful to throw stones from the interior of my glass house. I'll just say that, despite the feelings of many rival fan bases, Ole Miss does have a lot going for it right now, and our coaches have done a great job of tapping into that momentum. Credit should be given where it is due.
And the controversy over Laquon Treadwell Instagramming a picture of what appeared to be $305 is highly amusing. First, if it only took $305 to seal the deal there, then we got a hell of a bargain. Second, is it all that unusual for a 17-year-old American to have access to $305? When I was Treadwell's age, I worked at a gym in Jackson, Mississippi for a smidge better than minimum wage and a membership. My primary responsibilities included the washing and folding of gym towels, cleaning the pool, and kicking meathead bros out during closing time. I drove a used Toyota SUV and shopped at thrift stores. I was not a blue-chip wide receiver prospect. And yet I could easily obtain $300 in cash.
Let's assume until proven otherwise that Ole Miss is in the clear. What's caused this phenomenon of a class, if not, like, the most blatant spree of recruiting rule-breaking in decades?
Is Hugh Freeze really that great at hiring coaches who can recruit, or was he just very lucky the previous regime took a chance on Denzel Nkemdiche, an undersized recruit with academic hurdles and few other offers? And how much does this really matter when SEC West foe Alabama has this kind of class or better every year?
I'll hand the mic again to Lynch:
Hugh Freeze was a member of Ed Orgeron's staff at Ole Miss, which did, in spite of losing seasons, recruit fairly well. So even though he came to Ole Miss from the Sun Belt, he did have significant experience recruiting in the SEC. Freeze also grew up in a small town just to the northwest of Oxford and spent years coaching high school in Memphis, which, for the uninitiated, is as much of an Ole Miss city as it is for any other SEC team, including the Vols.
By all accounts, this team really enjoys playing for Freeze's staff. That has translated into recruiting successes, as these coaches are very good at interacting with recruits and, more importantly, their families. Considering Freeze's success at coaching high school ball, that is not too surprising; he has years of experience interacting with 17-year-old boys and the people who influence them.
Freeze has a very short résumé, but it is a good one. He has won at every level. His offenses put up good numbers and, pardon the cliché, do more with less. The Ole Miss offense averaged 16.1 points and 280.4 yards per game before Freeze. Taking many of the same players and injecting a junior college quarterback, Freeze was able to improve by 15.4 points and 143.7 yards per game. He likes to hurry up, is a big fan of the read option, and is not afraid to go four- or five-wide. He took a 2-10 team and improved it to 7-6 with three SEC wins. Recruits notice these sorts of things
But, having said all of that, I do not hesitate to admit that the Nkemdiche factor is playing the biggest role in Ole Miss' recruiting successes at the moment.
Citing his Twitter feed as my primary source of evidence, I posit that Denzel Nkemdiche is the most popular person on the Ole Miss campus. He is outgoing, sociable, and a damn fine football player in his own right. People love him. He's a regular ol' local celebrity. He has endeared himself to Ole Miss and has been a great ambassador for the university and football team, and I have no doubt that this has greatly influenced Robert's decision.
Well, that, and his mother's stated desire to not see her sons competing against one another.
Regardless, signing Denzel has made it much easier to likely sign Robert. That has then made the wooing of other top prospects an even more realistic possibility. When the top player in the nation is legitimately interested in your team, it lends serious credibility. I do believe that many of the current blue chip recruits Ole Miss has commitments from, especially those from outside of Mississippi, were influenced in a way by Robert Nkemdiche.
But there's more to Ole Miss than a coaching staff and two brothers.
While Vaught-Hemingway Stadium itself is one of the smaller venues in the conference, the other football facilities are top-flight. The Ole Miss indoor facility is as well-equipped as similar facilities at LSU, Alabama, and Auburn. Several million dollars are being set aside to fund an expansion, which will add a new dining hall, a larger weight room, and a new team meeting area. The FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Support Center gives players computer labs, study lounges, and tutoring sessions in a new building a few hundred yards from where they practice.
Ole Miss and Oxford are assets in and of themselves in that they're safe, quiet, low-key and welcoming. Recruits' families really like that. Ole Miss does have that party school reputation, something which recruits always seem to take advantage of. The town is as football-obsessed as any in the SEC, so recruits cannot go about town without being fawned over. I do realize that a lot of Oxford's qualities, such as designer shoe stores and haughty cocktail bars, do not really appeal to football recruits, but for a town its size it knows how to have fun.
And as far as the student body goes, I'll let Krazy J do the talking:
Of course, so many of the positives I've listed for Ole Miss can be said for LSU, Alabama, Florida and others, which is why we are not out-recruiting them. Ole Miss may be bringing in a great class this year, but it will still likely finish no higher than fourth in the conference.
Ultimately, wins are what attract recruits. We can offer SEC exposure, SEC-level practice facilities, a successful coaching staff, a great place to go to college and a shot to make the pros. Hopefully, we will soon be able to offer national rankings, high-profile wins, and bowl berths in cities not named Birmingham.
What do we think? Is the Nkemdiche factor that powerful? Is Freeze both a master and very, very lucky? Do the Rebels show signs of having flown too high, too fast?