The once-pitiable Mississippi football program is closing the sale on an epic recruiting class. Top recruit Robert Nkemdiche kicked off NCAA’s national signing day by confirming he is headed to “the University of Ole Miss.”
Suddenly the Rebels are the Next New Thing in college football. Their resurgence makes the mighty SEC even deeper.
And there is more. Perennial doormat Kentucky appears ready to celebrate its best class in ages, too.
Of course, the top conference schools still reign as national recruiting powerhouses, with Alabama and Florida battling for the No. 1 overall ranking and LSU lurking in that hunt.
Another army of four- and five-star talent is pouring in to the conference. Ohio State and Michigan are having big signing days too, but the Big Ten remains second-tier compared to the SEC.
Here is what the national experts have to say about all that:
Tommy Tomlinson, Sports On Earth: “If a college football game is a stirring documentary, college football recruiting is a reality show on Bravo. Every recruiting season is full of backstabbing, overblown egos, underhanded tactics and fake drama that somehow, under the lights, morphs into real drama. It's a dirty business. But it can make stars out of the most unlikely characters. America, meet Hugh Freeze. Freeze just finished his first year as coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. He went 7-6. That's a fairly average season in Oxford. The Rebels haven't won an SEC title since 1963. They aren't on anyone's list of top football programs, except when it comes to tailgating. But on Wednesday – national signing day for college recruits – Ole Miss has a shot at landing three of the top players in the country. Laquon Treadwell, a 6-3 receiver ranked fifth overall by Rivals.com, has already made a verbal commitment to Ole Miss. Laremy Tunsil, a 6-6 offensive tackle ranked fifth by ESPN.com, is supposedly leaning toward the Rebels.”
Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com: “Tunsil's change of heart last week caused the social media world to go abuzz, with many people on Twitter and Facebook accusing the Rebels of cutting corners to land what might be one of the country's best recruiting classes. Along with Tunsil, Ole Miss has secured verbal commitments from Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.), the No. 1 wide receiver, and Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.), the No. 4 defensive end, and (he did) land Robert Nkemdiche (Grayson, Ga.), the country's No. 1 overall prospect, on Wednesday. The Rebels also remain in the hunt for Chris Jones of Houston, Miss., the No. 6 defensive end in the country. Jones, who previously committed to Mississippi State, was forced to take secret visits to the Ole Miss campus the past two weekends after reportedly receiving death threats from fans.”
John Taylor, NBCSports.com: “Entering signing day, Ole Miss’ 2013 recruiting class was ranked No. 11 by Rivals, with the very realistic possibility of pushing deep into the top ten — perhaps even the top five — depending on how (things) shake out Wednesday. To put that into perspective, the Rebels recruiting classes have been rated 27th or worse seven of the past 11 years. Their best class ever? 2006, with a ranking of 15th in the country.”
Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports: “While it is nothing new for SEC programs landing coveted recruits – predictably, Alabama, Florida and LSU were all ranked in the top five – the depth of the dominance is something new. League schools make up five of the top nine, seven of the top 12 and 11 of the top 24 nationally according to Rivals.com's rankings late Tuesday. (Kentucky) which was No. 30 on Tuesday, may move up into that pack. Arkansas is at No. 33, but that was a program that lacked a full-time head coach for six months until Bret Bielema was hired in early December. That means Bielema's new program out-recruited his old one (Wisconsin is 38th) in no time flat. The Hogs, second to last in the SEC, would rank fourth in the Big Ten. Only Missouri at No. 46 could be considered a disappointment, but coming in 14th in the SEC would rank the Tigers seventh in the ACC and Big Ten.”
Matt Brown, Sports on Earth: “From 2003-12, the average SEC recruiting class (including newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri) finished with a ranking of 24.8, according to Rivals. Over that same 10-class span, the average Big Ten class (including Nebraska) finished with a ranking of 40.8. In the Big Ten, only Michigan and Ohio State made multiple appearances in the national top 10 (Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State made one each). In the SEC, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas A&M -- more than half the league -- all did it at least twice. The basic point isn't a revelation, of course. The SEC has won the last seven national championships, and the Big Ten, which remains just as rich and powerful in influence, has gone downhill on the field ever since the climactic season-ending battle between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan in November 2006. The Buckeyes went on to get embarrassed by Urban Meyer and Florida in the national championship game, and the rest is history.”
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: “There are many reasons the SEC has won seven titles in row. Defense may be the biggest, particularly defensive line. Ask any coach from Division III to Sunday in the Superdome, it is the hardest commodity to find and develop. There's a reason four of the current top 10 prospects nationally per 247Sports are defensive linemen. Or that 31 percent of the top 16 players taken in the NFL Draft since 2010 are D-linemen. They are the game-changers. They're also hard as hell to find. Five of the past seven defensive MVPs of the BCS title game have been defensive linemen. Five in a row from 2006-2010. You want to know why (Nkemdiche) is . . . staying in the SEC? The best D-linemen are raised and trained here. They also tend to stay ‘home,’ in the conference, in the region where they are appreciated -- and decorated -- the most.”
Stewart Mandel, SI.com: “For years, recruiting in the state of Texas has played out like an unfairly weighted draft. First, that school in Austin takes its pick of 20 to 25 prospects, most of whom commit nearly a year before Signing Day. Then the state's other top programs divvy up the best of the rest. But now, on the heels of its best football season in 56 years, Texas A&M is asserting itself as the new Lone Star recruiting juggernaut. The momentum from its memorable upset of national champion Alabama, a final top-five AP ranking and a Heisman-winning quarterback is translating into a class that will likely finish among the top three in the SEC and the top 10 nationally for the first time since 2005. For the first time in at least 15 years, the Aggies are poised to assemble a more highly touted haul than their two former Big 12 nemeses, Texas and Oklahoma.”
Where does all this leave Mizzou? Well, we’re not going to dwell on that today, lest we be accused of being too mean toward our state’s Land Grant Institution.
Feel free to draw your own conclusions.
MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE
Questions to ponder while the Blues get back to work on the basics:
Will Rob Ryan be a better fit in New Orleans than he was (briefly) at Rams Park?
“It's been very turbulent because of social media. The kids are still great kids, but there's just so much misinformation out there that's not true or only half-true, so you end up spending more time trying to convince kids that stories aren't true than anything else. It's just so much more instant. There's stuff flying around everywhere.”
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the state of college football recruiting.