We are officially two weeks out from National Signing Day, that sacred First Wednesday when the pious forgo their salaried duties to instead sit at home refreshing Rivals.com every 13 seconds and expend massive amounts of emotional capital over the hat choices of 18-year-old football players. Ah yes, that's the stuff.
Ole Miss is sitting pretty with a 20-player commit list that ranks as high as third overall and includes the nation's No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 offensive tackle, and a top-six defensive tackle. Behind those three five-stars are 12 guys who are rated as a four-star by one service or another, giving this class more depth than Hugh Freeze's historic but top-heavy 2013.
The scary thing, if you're another SEC West team at least, is that Freeze's 2016 class will not only be deep, but could end up adding just as much top-shelf talent as 2013. The Rebs are still very much in the hunt for the nation's No. 1, No. 9 and No. 15 overall prospects. If Freeze can bag two of those, it would give him five five-stars and four of the top 15 players in the country.
Here's a quick look at five big-name prospects Ole Miss fans should be paying attention to between now and Feb. 3. Some of these are admittedly outside shots, but should at least have a red and blue cap on the table.
(All rankings are from Rivals.)
5-star Rashan Gary
No. 1 overall, No. 1 defensive tackle
6'5, 295 pounds, runs a 4.74, can play inside or outside on the D-line -- if there was ever a replacement for Robert Nkemdiche, it's Gary. The unanimous No. 1 overall prospect in the country is thought to be a Michigan lean, but there's been some talk that Gary is interested in playing college ball with Ole Miss O-line commit Greg Little, who he spent a lot of time with during the Under Armour All-American Game. Georgia, Auburn and Clemson are also in the mix, and don't count out USC, which made a big impression on his mom during an official visit last weekend.
5-star Mique Juarez
No. 9 overall, No. 2 outside linebacker
Gary is sexier in terms of ratings, but Juarez is significantly more important in terms of team need. Ole Miss is loaded on the D-line but is in desperate straights at linebacker, where C.J. Johnson and Denzel Nkemdiche are gone. A versatile player with the athleticism to play pass coverage, the speed to get out to the flats against spread teams and the size to plug holes against the run, the Cali native is a perfect fit for Dave Wommack's 4-2-5 defense and could be an immediate starter as a freshman. But the Rebs have to beat out UCLA, which has the advantage of being close to home, and Bama, which has been cranking out first-round NFL linebackers for years.
5-star Jeffery Simmons
No. 15 overall, No. 1 strong-side defensive end
The top-rated player in Mississippi tore it up during Army Bowl practice week and earned himself a fifth-star at every major crootin site except for ESPN. Last weekend found him in Starkville, where a lot of national scouts are predicting he'll end up next season. But Ole Miss is very much in the game. He's in Tuscaloosa this weekend, then closes out his official visits in Oxford for the big Jan. 29 Crootapalooza, so the Rebs will get the last word.
4-star A.J. Brown
No. 53 overall, No. 9 wide receiver
After a visit to Tuscaloosa last weekend, all signs seem to point towards Bama.
For strictly schadenfreude purposes, however, it's amusing the Starkville native has no plans to make an official to State and will instead visit Cal this weekend and Ole Miss for Crootapalooza. That probably just means Oxford throws a better party than Starkville, but getting Brown
on the Square on campus at least gives Freeze a shot.
4-star D'Vaughn Pennamon
No. 171 overall, running back
Flipping the script here a bit, Pennamon is already committed to Ole Miss ... but recently visited Texas A&M and will be in Tuscaloosa this weekend. He hasn't formally reopened his recruitment and might just be doing his due diligence, but where there's smoke...
Pennamon jumping ship honestly wouldn't be the worst news in the world, though. Ole Miss already has two other running back commits in this class (including consensus four-star Justin Connor) and will be gunning for 2017 Bama commit Cam Akers, the top-ranked player in Mississippi for next year's cycle.