Around 2013, Ole Miss transitioned from a middling recruiter to one of the best teams in the country at adding top talent, and that stoked suspicion that the Rebels' rise might be too good to be true. Current head coach Hugh Freeze has challenged that narrative in the past.
Wednesday, Ole Miss announced receipt of an amended Notice of Allegations from the NCAA concerning its recruiting and illegal benefits scandal. With it, the Rebels announced a self-imposed bowl ban of a year.
This is in addition to the self-imposed scholarship sanctions the Rebels announced in May of 2016.
The program will dock itself 10 football scholarships over the next three seasons (two in 2016, and four each in 2017 and 2018), plus one it's counting from the 2015 season. It also self-imposes a $159,352 fine, and "involved staff" will undergo "additional rules education" on NCAA policy.
Ole Miss also took some lighter self-imposed penalties in the form of slight reductions in official visits, recruiting visits, and evaluation days in 2016.
Uncertainty hurt Ole Miss as much as the sanctions.
Ole Miss’ 2017 class was terrible by SEC standards, consisting of 23 signees, just three of whom were rated four-stars. Opposing schools seized on the opportunity to negatively recruit against Ole Miss, citing the NCAA’s still-to-come ruling. It worked.
Without the NCAA cloud of doubt hanging over its head, the Rebels would have been much stronger contenders for in-state players like running back Cam Akers (signed with Florida State) and linebacker Willie Gay (Mississippi State), as well as out-of-state players with connections to the school like tackle Walker Little (Stanford) and linebacker Jacob Phillips (LSU).
Now, at least the Rebels have some level of certainty. Schools can use the case to negatively recruit against Ole Miss, but Ole Miss now has the ammo to refute specious claims.
It’s not over yet, though.
The NCAA could still impose more penalties against Ole Miss.
As SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey reported Thursday morning, the worst possibility for Ole Miss is still in play.
If the [NCAA’s Committee on Infractions] agrees with the case against Ole Miss, a two-year bowl ban is a real possibility. The Rebels self-imposed a one-year ban on Wednesday, but the difference of a season is massive; a two-year ban would allow for current scholarship players to transfer without penalty.
Ole Miss would then have to survive being eaten alive by defections in addition to any potential scholarship restrictions the COI hands out.
Rival schools are not wasting time. When contacted by SB Nation Wednesday evening, coaches on two different SEC staffs confirmed their schools will evaluate the Rebels’ roster for potential talent, in case a two-year ban allowed transfers to play immediately.
This is a nightmare scenario for elite programs with deep rosters (USC and Penn State in the last decade), but for Ole Miss it would be something worse. Despite multiple New Year’s bowl appearances, the Rebels never established depth comparable to SEC rivals like LSU or Alabama.
Simply put, they’re more fiscally fragile, operating in one of the nation’s poorest states. And unlike the Trojans or Nittany Lions, the Rebels would have to attempt a rebuild inside college football’s toughest division.
Some of the elite prospects in whom schools would be interested include QB Shea Patterson, OT Greg Little, DT Benito Jones, and a host of talented receivers.
If talented upperclassmen transfer, that would increase Ole Miss’ reliance on its lackluster 2017 signing class and whoever it is able to sign in 2018.
The NCAA Committee could also choose to self-impose more scholarship sanctions.
2018 recruiting could be tough.
While a one-year bowl ban will hurt current players, it won’t directly impact recruiting, as the penalty will already be served before the class of 2018 ever steps on campus.
But Ole Miss currently has zero recruits committed. And as of this writing, it does not seem to be in a strong place with many top recruits. While the NCAA’s ruling could come before National Signing Day, it’s not necessarily guaranteed to.
Given the possibility of attrition and the existing sanctions, Ole Miss is going to have to do a great job of scouting. It needs a high hit rate and cannot afford to have a large number of busts, especially if it is not in play for many elite prospects.
One bad recruiting class like 2017 does not doom a program. But stacking multiple bad classes, while trying to compete in the toughest division in the country, is not a recipe for success.
The best case for Ole Miss would involve exceeding expectations on the field in 2017, getting a favorable ruling in a timely fashion, and getting back on track in recruiting.
What happens to other SEC programs?
While “other programs were cheating too” is not a defense to the NCAA’s charges, that a player allegedly took money from Ole Miss and then signed elsewhere raises investigatory questions.
How much did those other programs offer to secure his signature? Will the NCAA look at them? Or is Ole Miss, not a true blue blood, the perfect target for the NCAA’s hammer?
The increasing use of immunity interviews by the NCAA to encourage prospects to spill the beans on programs other than the ones with whom they signed could be a game changer.
Tennessee lost one of its best recruiters Tuesday, as receivers coach Zac Azzani left for the same position with the Chicago Bears. NFL jobs are almost universally regarded as better than college, since coaches in the league do not have to spend so much time away from their families on the road recruiting.
So while this is an upgrade for Azzani, it’s a blow to Tennessee. And Tennessee has had some trouble of late in recruiting, as SB Nation’s Richard Johnson notes.
Tennessee has gone from signing 16 four- or five-star prospects in 2014, to doing so again in 2015, to just 10 in 2016, to five in the 2017 class. Tennessee needs to fill this coaching position with another good recruiter, exceed expectations on the field in 2017, and find something to sell to prospects in order to have a good 2018.
D’Shawn Jamison can overcome his size
Star Houston (Texas) Lamar cornerback D’Shawn Jamison named his top 10 Wednesday night, which included Texas, Michigan, TCU, USC, Tennessee, Penn State, Missouri, Ole Miss, Florida, and Duke.
In anticipation of that, SB Nation dropped his video scouting report. I love Jamison’s fearlessness.
Blue-chip CB D'shawn Jamison plays bigger than his size
The Texas Longhorns recently had four-star CB D'shawn Jamison down for a visit. Tom Herman's staff is trying to stave off TCU Football and others to land him. He's only 5'10, but he's fearless.Posted by SB Nation College Football on Wednesday, February 22, 2017
The quiet period tightens things a bit more, preventing any off-campus contact or viewing. Visits to the college's campus and written or electronic communications are still permitted.
Coaches often try to have prospects visit campus unofficially during this time in the spring and early summer, so that they can become familiar with campus.
- Florida’s new hires show a clear intent to get better on the recruiting trail.
- Steel yourself against the long, warm winter with this list of 25 games to look forward to in 2017.
- Do you want a Bama-Clemson Round 3 rubber match, or nah?
- Transfer season's most highly sought non-QB has narrowed his candidates to five.
- New Heisman odds, with USC QB Sam Darnold now the favorite.
- Folks, here is Nick Saban hanging out with Mark Zuckerberg. Recruiting is discussed!