Uncertainty taking its toll on Ole Miss’ recruiting

Published 6:40 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2017

From a rankings standpoint, Hugh Freeze just signed the worst calendar-year recruiting class of his Ole Miss tenure.

It’s no secret as to why.

The ongoing NCAA investigation is a plague that many top prospects didn’t want to be anywhere near. News that Ole Miss’ football program was being charged with multiple rules violations became public last spring when the program received a Notice of Allegations, and the NCAA has continued to dig since then with the end result being anyone’s guess.

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So this year, there was no Robert Nkemdiche. No Laquon Treadwell. No Laremy Tunsil, Greg Little or Shea Patterson. On paper, there’s not anything close.

Not counting Park Hill (Missouri) defensive end Chester Graves, who will reportedly be placed in a junior college after signing with Ole Miss late Wednesday afternoon, the 21 players that make up this year’s class rank 32nd nationally by Scout.com, 33rd by 247Sports.com, 36th by ESPN and 41st by Rivals.com while only Vanderbilt and Missouri have lower-ranked classes in the SEC, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. None of Freeze’s first four full classes (which doesn’t count the 2012 class when he was hired less than two months before signing day) ranked worse than 21st nationally.

“We’ve suffered penalties,” Freeze said. “This recruiting class, it was a penalty to be under the cloud that we’re under.”

Some of the major recruiting services had Ole Miss’ class outside the top 50 at the beginning of the day, so Freeze and his new-look staff did a heck of a job salvaging what they could. Ole Miss on Wednesday landed Texas linebacker Mohamed Sanogo to cap what may be the best group of linebackers Freeze has signed during his tenure at a time when it was desperately needed, quietly plucked four-star receiver Braylon Sanders out of Georgia, got a signature from Clinton safety Kam White and withstood a late surge from Mississippi State to hold on to Morton’s D.D. Bowie, Ole Miss’ highest-ranked signee whom the Rebels hope morphs into an elite cornerback someday.

But there are always the ones who didn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, sign. Ole Miss desperately hoped Clinton five-star running back Cam Akers would stay in state to give the Rebels a caliber of athlete in the backfield they’ve never had under Freeze, but the uncertainty of what else may be coming from the NCAA’s investigation surely didn’t help the Rebels’ cause as Akers picked Florida State and enrolled early. Of Mississippi’s top 16 recruits, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, Bowie and White were the only ones Ole Miss got.

The waiting is far from over.

Ole Miss is going to get an amended Notice of Allegations likely some time this spring, though anybody that says they have a more definitive timetable than that is lying. Once the school receives it, the timeline to reach a resolution — 90 days for Ole Miss to respond (and could get 30 more after that if anybody named in the NOA that’s no longer employed by the school requests an extension), 60 days for the NCAA to respond to the response and then a hearing with the Committee on Infractions — starts over, meaning it will be next football season at the earliest before a verdict is rendered.

“I’m the first to tell (recruits) that I have no idea what the end of this is,” Freeze said.

So Freeze is stuck giving recruits and their families what he called “an educated guess” as to what that could be. A future bowl ban? Maybe. A suspension for Freeze? Possibly. More scholarship reductions? It’s as good a guess as any. But having no definite answer only feeds into the competition’s negative recruiting pitch that, whether it’s true or not, the worst is yet to come.

“Some of it is personal with some people probably, but I don’t talk about other schools in recruiting,” Freeze said. “I will not do that and our staff’s instructed to do the same. But unfortunately there’s several others that they thought it was a prime opportunity to use in recruiting and that’s the route they go. I won’t forget who they are.”

Ole Miss could have significant contributors from the 2017 class sooner rather than later. Some may very well turn out to be All-SEC players. But you need as much talent as possible on a yearly basis when trying to keep up with Alabama (which has the nation’s No. 1 class yet again) and everybody else in the SEC West, and recruiting against an NCAA investigation put Ole Miss at the back of the line this year, a position the Rebels can’t afford to be in too often.

Ole Miss needs that amended notice to arrive sooner rather than later so the program can face the truth once and for all and move on. Because right now, not knowing is just as bad as knowing for the Rebels.

Davis Potter is the Ole Miss beat writer and college sports editor for the EAGLE. Contact him at davis.potter@oxfordeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter @DPotterOE.