There’s one downside to being part of Ole Miss’s heralded recruiting class for 2016, which holds a No. 4 overall ranking on the eve of National Signing Day (source: 247Sports.com).
Like it or not, these highly coveted new kids on the Oxford block — starting with quarterback Shea Patterson, defensive back Myles Hartsfield, defensive tackle Benito Jones and offensive tackle Gregory Little (expected to sign Wednesday) — will always be compared to the Rebels’ landmark class from three years ago.
The 2013 class, ranked eighth nationally by 247Sports.com, featured defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (the country’s top-rated talent at the time), wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (All-SEC performer) and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (potential All-Pro someday) — all of whom could be top-15 picks in the upcoming NFL draft.
And from 2013-15, the star-laden Rebels collected two bowl triumphs, two premium-bowl berths, 14 SEC wins, 27 overall victories, one Sugar Bowl blowout (vs. Oklahoma State) … and back-to-back upsets of Alabama (2014-15).
The only thing missing from the mantle: An SEC West title and a subsequent berth in the conference championship game. (Ole Miss hasn’t claimed an outright SEC crown since 1963.)
Obviously, the above notes should only be surface concerns for the 2016 class of lauded Ole Miss recruits — for now.
In the early going, the super-confident, live-for-today prep stars will be flattered by the comparisons to head coach Hugh Freeze’s first nationally renowned class.
Later on, they’ll derive motivation and pleasure from matching the Rebels’ output from the previous three seasons, and by extension, staying competitive with the other conference powers.
And over time, they’ll be mature enough and skilled enough to perhaps take down LSU and/or Alabama once or twice, positioning the Rebels for a viable run at the SEC championship.
But within that scope, the Ole Miss players might eventually bristle at the constant comparisons to the decorated 2013 class — especially if Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil are flourishing at the pro level, as expected.
It’s a different kind of pressure than, say, attending Alabama, where national championships are expected … then celebrated.
But it’s still a tangible burden of expectations.
Of course, Ole Miss’s 2016 class has one distinct advantage over the 2013 group: With quarterback Chad Kelly (4,042 yards passing, 41 total TDs in 2015; the SEC’s most prolific passer) returning for his senior campaign, it’s possible that Patterson — the No. 1-ranked pro-style passer (according to 247Sports) — would redshirt this fall and then presumably run the Rebels offense for the following three years (maybe four).
That essentially gives Coach Freeze four seasons to work his program-building magic with Ole Miss’s next wave of blue-chip stars, compared to the 2013 recruiting class … when the vast majority of college pundits correctly assumed Nkemdiche, Tunsil (possible No. 1 overall pick to the Tennessee Titans) and Treadwell (a Julio Jones clone?) would pursue the NFL draft in 2016.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.