Thanks to the NCAA, Ole Miss is poised to have the worst recruiting cycle in the Hugh Freeze era—the 2017 class ranks 52nd in the country less than 24 hours before National Signing Day. But let’s not let that distract us from how successful his staff has been since arriving in Oxford.
Until the past few years, the norm for Ole Miss fans was to settle for decent-at-best recruiting classes and hope for coaches to overachieve in the player development and deployment stages of college football. Given the recent recruiting success under Hugh Freeze, player acquisition has been less of a struggle, but hasn’t necessarily propelled them to the top of the conference in terms of overall talent.
With Signing Day around the corner, I thought it’d be worth examining the progression of Ole Miss recruiting into the Freeze years to see just how much has changed.
Quality recruiting data only goes back so far, so I started with the 2005 recruiting class to track Ole Miss coaches’ recruiting success. Here’s a basic look at how the Rebels have ranked both nationally and in the SEC. I’ve excluded the 2017 class, not only to prevent readers from spiraling into a drinking binge, but also because it’s unclear where exactly they’ll finish.
Keep in mind: the lower the number on this graph, the better.
It comes as a shock to no one that once Freeze got settled in Oxford, Ole Miss rose up in the recruiting ranks. While the norm up until that point was for them to settle for middling classes by SEC standards, they regularly began competing for top prospects. The 2014 and 2015 classes are remembered by many as weak finishes, as the coaches missed on big targets like Bo Scarborough and Drew Richmond, but that view is lacking some perspective. Each of those “disappointing” years surpassed just about every pre-Freeze class by a number of measures.
Another simple, yet informative, way of measuring a team’s talent base is the blue chip ratio, which is the percentage of players that are four or five-stars.
It’s unrealistic to think that an Ole Miss roster will ever consist of more blue chips than two or three-stars, but they’ve gotten closer over time, even surpassing 50 percent with the 2016 class.
This would lead one to believe that the team has enjoyed much more depth, but recruiting success has been more concentrated at certain positions than others. Here’s a positional breakdown of the last four cycles.
It’s no secret that Freeze’s staff has excelled at securing offensive talent while missing out on critical defensive signatures, particularly at linebacker and cornerback. The graph above highlights those stark differences, showing zero blue chip linebackers and just three four-star corners, two of which were JUCO transfers. All of this is to say that while general trends in recruiting have been on the rise in Freeze’s tenure, it hasn’t resulted in depth at every position.
The elephant in the room during this discussion is the 2017 class, which has failed to secure big-time commitments due to anxiety over the NCAA investigation, currently ranked 52nd in the 247 composite. It’s not likely that they’ll to move dramatically up the rankings after signing day, but some additions on defense would fill a few gaps that other higher ranked classes have fallen short of doing, such as Breon Dixon (already signed) and possibly cornerback Chevin Calloway.
It’s also worth mentioning that despite ranking 47th nationally, Freeze’s first class provided a number of key contributors over the next few seasons, many of whom were missed in 2016, such as Mike Hilton and Trae Elston. The logic here only goes so far, but it’s not out of the question that some potential playmakers are hidden behind less than stellar recruiting ratings. Ole Miss can’t afford more than one bad cycle, but this year’s commitments may not be all for naught.