Hugh Freeze missed out on a generational talent on Tuesday night when Cam Akers, the top running back prospect in the nation, spurned his in-state school to commit to Florida State during a live ceremony.
It’s a demoralizing blow for an Ole Miss program in desperate need of momentum. Handicapped by the NCAA investigation and an ugly 5-7 season, the Rebels’ 2017 class currently ranks 48th in the country and includes just one commit rated higher than three stars. The commitment of Akers, who’s ranked as the nation’s No. 4 prospect regardless of position, could have sent a message to other recruits that the sky is not falling in Oxford.
As the only one of Akers’ six finalists who ran the ball less than 53 percent of the time in 2016, Ole Miss always faced an uphill battle in landing the star runner. The hiring of FCS Air Raid disciple Phil Longo as offensive coordinator could have had a negative effect, though Longo’s system is noticeably more run heavy than the typical Air Raid attack.
“I still believe, in order to win championships at any level, you have to be able to run the football,” Longo said earlier this month. “I want to run the football downhill. I want a very physical aspect to the offense.”
What the Rebels lacked in practical appeal, however, they made up for in the emotional appeal of being the in-state school. Ole Miss’ campus is located less than three hours north of Akers’ home in Clinton, Miss. and the Rebels had been recruiting him since he was an eighth grader. But that wasn’t enough to overcome Florida State, which, even without the NCAA investigation, is quite frankly a better program than Ole Miss. That Jimbo Fisher will send superstar running back Dalvin Cook into the NFL as a first-rounder in April makes Tallahassee even more enticing.
Assuming his commitment holds, Akers might be the single biggest recruiting loss ever for the red and blue. It certainly is the worst in my lifetime. Still, the return of Jordan Wilkins, D’Vaughn Pennamon and Eugene Brazley won’t leave Longo empty-handed in the backfield. If Eric Swinney can battle back from his second season-ending injury, Ole Miss could still have a very productive backfield in 2017.