TLV #185 - Trying to Temper Expectations

Laremy Tunsil - USA TODAY Sports

This column appeared in last week's issue of The Local Voice.

There are not too many negative things one could say about the 2013 Ole Miss Rebel football freshman class. One could lament on the recruiting prospects that got away, those who eventually signed their names other schools' letters of intent, but aside from that a complaint such as "Hugh Freeze recruited too many good players" will largely fall on deaf ears in and around Oxford.

After attracting football talent of a caliber coveted by the Alabamas and Floridas of the college football world, shocking much of the sport's recruiting obsessed fan bases outside of our own, and earning seemingly endless media coverage and scrutiny as a result of it, it is not too difficult to fathom how and why we Rebel fans would have such high expectations for this group of freshman. We think they are talented and capable, and we will be damned if we did not have much of the college football world confirm as much when they reacted to our successes in the way that they did. I too expect these athletes to make us proud in the years to come, but I do so with caution. Our expectations are not a bad thing in and of themselves, but we cannot allow them to lead us to disappointment, at least not in year one.

Consider Robert Nkemdiche, for example. The consensus number one overall prospect in high school football for this past signing class inked with our Rebels after being introduced to Oxford, the Ole Miss campus, and the Rebel coaches by his older brother Denzel. He's a pass-rushing end who, despite not having played a down of SEC football, is likely already being schemed against by opposing offensive coordinators. He is an inhuman blend of size, strength, and speed, and is likely to contribute, if not start, right away. Some are even comparing him to South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in terms of his size and abilities - an apt comparison out of high school at least, considering that Clowney himself was the top prospect as a defensive end. However, to expect a Clowney-esque performance out of the gate would be asking a lot of Nkemdiche. As a true freshman, Clowney notched 36 tackles, eight sacks, and 12 tackles for a loss. Those are numbers which are not at all shabby, but they are numbers which suggest that Clowney, like any defensive end, will be schemed against and is liable to, therefore, seem nearly nonexistent at times.

Or, better yet, consider wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and his superior counterpart Donte Moncrief. The former was rated as the top high school wide receiver for this past year, and the latter is the budding Ole Miss legend who could very easily be the best wide receiver this program has ever had. But even Moncrief didn't eclipse 500 yards during his freshman season and only caught four touchdowns over a 12 game span.

Or Michael Oher even, whose Blind Side fame has allowed we Rebels to almost completely forget that he played offensive guard as a freshman, not left tackle, in spite of his being viewed as the prototypical athlete for that position. So while Leremy Tunsil may be regarded as the left tackle of the future for this program, that future likely does not begin in a few weeks in Nashville.

Of course, then there's also the awful possibility of a player getting injured or, more innocuously, simply not living up to his billing. Both happen literally every year in the sport. Football nor college football recruiting are sciences. Sure, one can predict with decent accuracy what sorts of events will and wont take place over the course of a season, but there is no way to know for sure, making the prediction business a difficult one indeed. Some teams will surprise; others will stumble. Some players will outperform their expectations; others will underwhelm. Knowing this allows us to understand that our emotional investment in the successes and failures of a group of 18-year-olds is, at best, silly and innocuous fun and nothing more.

This is not to say not to get excited. Heck, me saying as much would be incredibly hypocritical, because I myself have beautiful visions of Robert Nkemdiche dropping a Stone Cold Stunner on Vanderbilt's quarterback to open our season- with freshman safety Antonio Conner returning the ensuing fumble for a touchdown, naturally. I, as a fan, want these guys to be every bit as awesome as I've been led to believe they are. That said, I cannot hold it against them or even this staff if that simply does not come true. Crazier things have happened, especially in Oxford, Mississippi.

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