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Hugh Freeze says Ole Miss' 2017 recruiting class is a 'penalty'

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Freeze was candid with recruits, mentioning bowl bans and scholarship reductions to targets and their families.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 National Signing Day saw a handful of sizable catches by Hugh Freeze, who has now netted three four-stars, 19 three-stars and a two-star in this recruiting cycle. With the 30th-ranked recruiting class according to 247Sports’ composite calculator, Freeze is under no illusions about the effect of looming NCAA penalties on his ability to land top-tier talent.

“We’ve suffered penalties,” he said at a NSD presser, “This recruiting class: it was a penalty. To be under the cloud we’re under.” That’s an understandable position, and as Freeze was first to point out, the uncertainty about timing and severity of NCAA punishment rendered this year’s recruiting project a difficult one. To be sure, Cam Akers, Mississippi’s best prospect since Marcus Dupree, very probably took one look at the sanctions looming over Oxford and high-tailed his way off to FSU.

Nor has that NCAA cloud slipped the notice of rival coaches, who rightfully weaponized Ole Miss’ arcane situation out on the recruiting trail. “Unfortunately there were several [schools which] thought it was a prime opportunity. Won’t forget who they are,” said Freeze.

So, when heading into visits with prospects — high school players with heads full of OLE MISS CHEATIN’ — Freeze employed candor over obfuscation. According to Antonio Morales at the Clarion-Ledger, he laid out a time frame of NCAA penalties and described what a worst case scenario would look like. He openly discussed potential bowl bans and scholarship reductions with recruits, and there’s a certain appeal in that transparency.

Whatever disappointment his head coach may feel in this year’s haul, however, new offensive coordinator Phil Longo feels pleased. “We’ve got two quarterbacks that I’m happy about,” he said on SEC Network. He glowed over newly signed receivers JaVonta Payton and Braylon Sanders, the one a three-star out of Tennessee, the other a three-star from Georgia.

Whatever happens with the NCAA investigation, Freeze’s characterization of this class — with its attendant dip in overall talent rating from last year — fairly well demonstrates the coach’s frustrations out on the trail. And indeed, more than any bowl bans or scholarship reductions, the mere threat of those punishments has already soured his ability to pull in four- and five-star talent.