Let's not kid ourselves here; recruiting is creepy. Following the maneuvers of 16-18 year old youngsters, gawking at their shirtless bodies, and semantically breaking down every statement they make (most of which are along the lines of "yeah, Ole Miss is cool and stuff") hoping to hear that maybe, just maybe, he loves you is, outside of the context of college football recruiting, grounds for imprisonment. In it's essence, it's super duper weird, and the fact that there are at least three well-known and profitable organizations which dedicate themselves to the pursuits of recruiting coverage is even more bizarre.
But it's important. Regardless of the outspoken detractors and dismissers of star counts, player ratings, and recruiting class rankings, a general trend has emerged over the past several seasons: the teams which consistently recruit well, per the 'crootin services, consistently win games. So, due to this importance, we at the Cup do, on occasion, undergo the necessary evil that is recruiting coverage.
Y'all know we aren't going to film workout sessions or call high schoolers to ask them what their favorite meals are (invariably, it's "spagiti"), but we're going to talk about what we know, what we hear, and what we hope for.
As such, forgive this piece if you're not a fan of the 'crootin. We at the Cup are, to an extent, and as such we cannot help but be incredibly excited about the recent developments we've seen in Ole Miss Rebel recruiting.
As of right now, Ole Miss has thirteen verbal, non-binding commitments which would count as a part of the 2011 signing class. That means the recruiting class is more than halfway complete before fall practices have even begun. This has never happened in the modern era of Ole Miss football and, even if it had, I doubt it would have been to such a positive extent. Not only have Houston Nutt and his staff been able to lure many high school standouts to Oxford, but they've done so with several high-profile, coveted players.
The fun part? They're not even finished. I don't wish to promote speculation as fact, so I won't, but if I were to guess, I'd say this class could, if the pieces all fall favorably, could easily be a top-15 type of recruiting class. Some would even say top-ten, but I'm not willing to take such a leap of faith yet.
Currently, the Rebels have commitments from the nation's top center; a top-five safety; a top-20 "all purpose back", linebacker, and receiver; two top-25 cornerbacks; and a highly rated "athlete" prospect. And that's really just the beginning of a great recruiting class which will undoubtedly grow and improve as the recruiting season progresses.
And the Rebels appear to be making a strong push to plenty of talents who are as highly sought after if not more highly so than the already committed athletes.
Which all leads me to the real aim of this post: Houston Nutt as a recruiter. Houston Nutt's biggest critics and Ole Miss' greatest detractors - Western Division Bulldogs and Razorbacks - have made Nutt's recruiting a hallmark of their anti-TSUN sentiments. When Nutt was first hired at Ole Miss, we were "warned" about Nutt's recruiting inability by far too many of his Natural State critics. Of course, we were also "warned" of his infidelities, abhorrent nature, hegemonic conspiracies, adamantium skeleton, telepathic abilities, and body odor so, really, to be fair, the man can do no right in their eyes.
But, regardless, one of the only solid, uniform, and mildly acceptable criticisms Arkansas fans could offer of Nutt's tenure at Arkansas was his, per their tastes, less than desirable recruiting. How many times have we Rebels been told to "wait until his players dominate your roster" because only then will we apparently be aware of how poor of an assembler of talent he is.
Well, we're still waiting to see the inevitable tragedy of Nutt's recruiting it seems. In only a short couple of months in Oxford, he salvaged Ed Orgeron's last class to a top-30 class before reeling in two top-20 classes of his own in the following years. Back-to-back-to-back top-20 classes is more than enough to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
And then there's the incessant, insufferable bullshit from our cousins in Starkville. Ever since Dan Mullen arrived in Starkville before last season, one of his stated goals was to "win" the in-state recruiting battle. We've talked about this before, if you'll recall. We've talked about how this approach is a Machiavellian play on the provincial, simple-mindedness of the everyday Mississippi State fan. We've talked about his how this approach isn't necessarily a good one to take when attempting to build a winning SEC team. We've also talked about how resulting claims of victory originiating of this approach are overwhelmingly misleading at best, although I prefer to call them "false."
Well, Dan. How might one spin this? Per Rivals' ranking of Mississippi high school football players, the Rebels have three of the top-ten and will likely end up with six or seven of them, if the recruiting rumors are to be believed. Furthermore, if the hype and rumors are to be believed, Ole Miss could end up with 15 members of the top-25. What then would State fans have to say? "Well, 'tleast they stayed in state!"
Really though, all of this becomes quite simple to understand when the workings of a logical, objective mind (something which I do not possess) is applied. When compared to Arkansas and Mississippi State, Ole Miss is, right now, the far more attractive program to prospective SEC footballers.
Arkansas has, without any doubt, a facilities advantage over, frankly, most of the Southeastern Conference. They've also got a head coach whose reputation as an offensive coach is only marred by his reputation as a person. And life in Fayetteville apparently ain't half bad either. But therein lies Arkansas' problem: Fayetteville. The northwestern corner of Arkansas is simply too far away from the Mississippi Delta, south Louisiana, Florida, and the other hotbeds of SEC caliber high school talent.
Regarding Mississippi State, sure, they won the Egg Bowl and have gotten great press lately, but if you're a 17-year-old Mississippian, your memories of Mississippi State aren't exactly stellar, Egg Bowl victories or not. As homeristic as it sounds, these kids are impressed with Ole Miss' television appearances, SI Covers, and kickass Cotton Bowl swag. Sorry, Dan Mullen, your kids aren't going to appreciate $41.27 gift cards to the Barnhill's Buffet more than our players appreciate the flatscreens and watches AT&T gives out to Cotton Bowl athletes.
Sure, Arkansas and State have their draws, but right now, Ole Miss has an excellent draw, not only with Mississippians but also especially with athletes from Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida - states whose talent levels are so deep that even some of their "2nd tier" players are worthy of SEC scholarships - who have not been not offered by their respective SEC powers. Remember, over the past two seasons Ole Miss has the fourth best record in the conference, sitting one game back of Georgia and one game over LSU. These younguns have short memories and, honestly, that plays into our recruiting advantage significantly.
Hawg fans and Dawg fans: Houston Nutt is a good recruiter. Or, if he's not a good recruiter, his staff undeniably is. Furthermore, his situation at Ole Miss is a favorable situation to recruit to. Despite whatever it is that you want to believe, the proof is in the pudding. Players like him and want to play for him. Furthermore, Ole Miss has become a highly desirable place for SEC caliber football players. Of course recruiting isn't over, and of course Arkansas and State could pull in great recruiting classes of their own. But Houston Nutt continues to do exactly what he has done for two seasons in Oxford: disprove his doubters.
*I use Rivals.com rankings. I think a lot of people cherry-pick which star counts to use in order to tailor an argument. In order to avoid that, I exclusively rely on Rivals in lieu of Scout or ESPN.
**I know recruiting coverage isn't a science, but it's accurate enough to matter. I know that not all of these guys could make it to campus. I know some will underachieve while others overachieve. I know there's a reason the games are played. I do. Please spare us.
***I apologize for the rambling. This wasn't written in one sitting; I'm busy.