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Friday, July 25, 2014
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Published: Friday, 2/8/2013

Ole Miss’ coup draws heavy scorn

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

So Alabama had the nation’s best college football recruiting class? Ho-hum.

Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Florida were right behind? Lots of love for LSU, too? Y-a-w-n.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or something like that.

But when there is true change, well, look out.

The University of Mississippi, a.k.a. Ole Miss, a.k.a. the Rebels, a.k.a. Southeastern Conference champions most recently in 1963, well, that class delivered shockwaves.

If you mix and match the various recruiting rating systems, the Rebs on Wednesday snagged the nation’s No. 1 overall high school player (who was, of course, also the No. 1 defensive end), the No. 1 wide receiver, the Nos. 1 and 3 offensive tackles, and the No. 2 safety to go along with the top overall junior college transfer.

When the dust had settled and fax machines from coast to coast had exhaustedly slipped into silence, Ole Miss’ class was in the top 10 of every ranking, cresting at No. 5, according to ESPN.com. A year ago, as in many years, Mississippi’s assembled letters of intent didn’t even rank among the top 40.

“I think today has the possibility of being a program changer,” said Hugh Freeze, who led the Rebels to a 7-6 record and a 38-17 win over Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl during his first season as head coach, before adding that his team had taken “a huge step forward today on that journey toward being where we all want to be.”

Yes, it was quite a day for Ole Miss, as landing DE Robert Nkemdiche from Georgia — his older brother led the Rebels in tackles last season — started the dominoes falling nicely.

By the end of the day, though, Freeze found himself dodging slings and arrows.

Desmond Howard, a one-time Heisman Trophy winner and now an ESPN analyst, sent out a tweet that said, “Seems as though Coach Freeze finally figured how they do it in the South.”

The inference, I guess, is that they don’t always play by the rules down there.

I was at Michigan’s signing day gathering with coaches, where everybody seemed pretty happy with their haul, on Wednesday. When going from one assistant coach to another, when the subject of Ole Miss’ class came up, lots of eyebrows were raised.

Off the record, one coach suggested, “We all know what’s going on there.”

Well, no, we all don’t. Yes, members of the SEC have had their issues with the NCAA and its pesky recruiting rules through the years. Cynics might say it’s one reason it has become the predominant football conference nationally, winning seven straight BCS national titles.

Ole Miss has never been a part of that, other than by association, at least not since the school’s football heydays of the 1950s and early ’60s. Now, the Rebels find themselves a big part of something, perhaps again by association. So Freeze has caught an earful in the last 24 hours.

“I was really shocked by the amount of it and the crudeness of it,” he said of the innuendo that came with enticing such a class to a lovely but off-the-beaten-path campus and its barely 60,000-seat stadium and to a program whose record is 68 games under .500 in league play under its last 10 coaches. “I know the way we’re doing it and we’re doing it the right way.”

Maybe so, but when you hunt with the big dogs people are always going to search for fleas.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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