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3 things to watch for during Ole Miss’ Early Signing Period

The Rebels need to nab impact players on Wednesday.

Evan Hilbert-USA Today

The official National Signing Day is still over a month and a half away, but Wednesday brings a brief three-day window of ‘crootin insanity. From Dec. 19-21, any prospect who’s already made up his mind can sign early with the team of his choosing.

This year’s Early Signing Period could make or break Matt Luke’s attempts to steady a program still rearing from NCAA retribution. Pure volume has Ole Miss perched at 20th in 247Sports team rankings, but Wednesday could shift that dramatically in either direction. Hit on elite prospects like five-star defensive end Nakobe Dean or four-star Raydarious Jones and Luke could have the makings of a resurgence. Whiff on top targets and what little programatic momentum and fan support remain could vanish.

This is a very, very important day for the Ole Miss football program.

Here’s what you should be keeping an eye on Wednesday.

Can Ole Miss beat out Nick Saban and Kirby Smart for Mississippi’s top recruit?

Five-star linebacker Nakobe Dean has been the Rebels’ No. 1 target for two years now. A top-20 prospect nationally, Dean would be the biggest defensive signee since Robert Nkemdiche; given the current precariousness of the Ole Miss program, you could make an argument that Dean’s signature would be even more impactful than Big Rob’s.

The odds aren’t great, mind you. 247’s Crystal Ball has the Rebels in a distant third behind Georgia and Bama. But there are a few good reasons to think he might don a Rebel hat during his 1:20 CT announcement ceremony on ESPN.

  1. He grew up just a 45-minute drive up I-55 from Oxford and has made more unofficial visits to Ole Miss than any other school.
  2. His brother, Nicholas, is a sophomore tight end at Ole Miss. Remember that the Rebels got into the Robert Nkemdiche sweepstakes because his brother was already on the team.
  3. Just this week, Dean was throwing up the Landshark during the Mississippi-Alabama all-star game.

Can Ole Miss finally find some defensive playmakers?

Dean isn’t the only elite defender being chased by Ole Miss. Hell, he’s not even the only one from Horn Lake High.

Dean’s teammate, four-star athlete Raydarious Jones, seems to be trending towards LSU after visiting Baton Rouge two weeks ago. At one point, Jones was listed as 100 percent Ole Miss on his Crystal Ball; now that’s down to 30 percent.

Years of high-profile misses on signing day have left the Rebels defense starved for playmakers. For all of Hugh Freeze’s recruiting prowess, his failures on that side of the ball during his last few cycles doomed Ole Miss—the Rebels have finished 72nd, 113th and 109th in defensive S&P+ the past three years.

Wesley McGriff, Freeze’s errant defensive coordinator hire in 2016, is gone, replaced by former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. Any chance for the new hire’s success begins with finding immediate impact players in the 2019 class.

Will Phil Longo’s departure have an effect?

Just a week and a half ago, Ole Miss’ offensive coordinator was hired away by North Carolina. In past years, the coaching staff would have had over a month to steady ties with prospects that Longo was recruiting. But the Early Signing Period has drastically accelerated that schedule—Longo hasn’t even been replaced yet.

Whether that will have tangible results on Wednesday is yet to be seen. One of the top targets to keep an eye on is Grant Tisdale, a three-star dual-threat QB out of Texas who was being primary recruited by Longo.

Tisdale, who’s been committed to the Rebels since April, recently removed all the Ole Miss information from his Twitter bio. Still, most of the experts think he’ll end up in Oxford.

The Ole Miss coaching staff will also be holding its breath with a couple of three-star O-line commits. Tackle Nick Broeker has been on flip watch since receiving an offer from Ohio State in October and Georgia native Jeremy James is on shaky ground after taking a last-minute trip to Columbia, Missouri last weekend.

We’ll find out on everyone’s favorite ‘crootin holiday.