It’s not hard to find skeptics regarding Ole Miss and its recent recruiting success under coach Hugh Freeze — the Rebels were ranked No. 6 in the country by 247Sports for this year’s class.
For instance, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made what seemed to be a veiled reference to improper tactics on Wednesday — which brings to mind a tweet from Freeze after Ole Miss produced a historically good class in 2013 where he encouraged his critics to email the Ole Miss compliance office if they had any specific allegations against the program. Of course, on Jan. 29 of this year the NCAA did announce a Notice of Allegations against the Rebels, but most of those alleged infractions involved sports other than football.
This revelation did little to satisfy those suspicious of the way the Rebels have succeeded on the recruiting trail under Freeze. To some, what Ole Miss has been able to do is just too good to be true.
That thought process uses faulty logic. Just because something seems unlikely doesn’t mean it is actually impossible. In fact, a deeper examination of the situation at Ole Miss shows a program whose recruiting wins are actually fairly easy to explain.
Ole Miss is in the right place
It’s no secret that SEC Country is the home to America’s best high school football talent, and no matter how hard Alabama coach Nick Saban tries, he can’t get them all. On Wednesday, the Crimson Tide may have signed the No. 1 class in the country again, but the Rebels signed 15 four and five-star players of their own and all of those players came from the deep South. Geography has always been among the most important factors in recruiting, and Ole Miss has its location on its side.
Hugh Freeze is good at building relationships
The first thing an Ole Miss rival is likely to say in response to the Rebels’ sudden ability to recruit the South is to point out that of the 15 blue-chip prospects the Rebels signed this year only five actually came from Mississippi. The rest of those prospects came from states like Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. The skeptics ask how it’s possible Freeze can go out of state for so many highly rated recruits.
Yet, isn’t it possible that Freeze is just really good at talking with and getting to know his signees? It’s important to point out that for all the attention social media campaigns and Jim Harbaugh-style theatrics receive this time of year, nothing is actually more crucial for recruiting success than building authentic connections with young men who are probably a little nervous about leaving home for the first time.
For example, five-star offensive tackle Greg Little told SB Nation the reason he chose Ole Miss was because Freeze is so outspoken about his religious faith and Little thought Freeze would be able to help him grow spiritually as well. The Rebels’ doubters won’t believe Little when he says that, but what if he’s actually being truthful? The comfort level a coach is able to build with his players before convincing them to sign in February shouldn’t be underestimated.
Ole Miss just isn’t that different anymore
The No. 1 reason some people assume Ole Miss shouldn’t be able to recruit as well as it currently is is because the Rebels don’t have the same history of winning as border rivals like Alabama and LSU — the programs that are expected to sign all of the region’s top talent. This is undeniably true. Ole Miss hasn’t won the SEC since 1963, but good luck finding many 18-year olds that care about that.
TV has transformed college football, and no other league has been impacted by those changes more than the SEC — which has its own network and a lucrative contract to televise games on CBS and the various ESPN outlets. The Rebels have gained so much exposure by appearing on high-profile platforms like these that Ole Miss has become virtually indistinguishable from the so-called national powers that may have won more championships in the distant past.
Here’s a quick final point: The strange thing about an Arkansas coach or a Mississippi State fan saying Ole Miss’ recruiting success is impossible is also what that statement suggests about their own programs. If Ole Miss can’t do what it’s currently doing then those in Fayetteville, Ark., and Starkville, Miss., are doomed to the same fate. Furthermore, if it really is impossible for programs with somewhat meager pasts to dream of more exciting futures then why even bother playing the games at all?
In other words, Ole Miss might not be on equal ground with the SEC’s very best programs yet, but good luck convincing Freeze to give up until the Rebels are.