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Ole Miss football’s youth allows Lane Kiffin and his staff to recruit with purpose

Patience is a virtue and time is abundant.

Josh McCoy / Ole Miss Athletics

A healthy dose of negative brouhaha surrounded Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss’ recruiting efforts over the last few days. The 2020 class finished outside of the top 25, and the 2021 class currently sits No. 87 in the nation. Some of the criticism is warranted.

However, the rankings don’t quite paint the whole picture. All is well.

The landscape of college football changed greatly in the last year since the introduction of the transfer portal. High-profile players are on the move more than ever, and it shifts roster management toward more of a professional model. Kiffin addressed this notion in his opening press conference, effectively capitalized on a system of which many programs have yet to adapt, and brought in general manager Matt Lindsey to help lead the charge with a pro mindset.

Since December, the Rebels have added an immediate impact linebacker in Jacob Springer, filled the tight end void with Kenny Yeboah’s 6-foot-5 athleticism, added a weapon to an offense that wants to go fast in Dionte Marks, added depth to the secondary with hard-hitting safety Otis Reese and raw-talented corner back Deane Leonard, and took a low-risk, high-reward chance on huge defensive end Tavius Robinson. Not one of these six transfers count toward a (completely subjective !!) recruiting ranking, but at least four of the six would have an opportunity to start at most FBS programs. Whether this year or next, once they get in the weight room with Wilson Love and work technique under an elite on-field staff, all could earn notable playing time at Ole Miss.

Kiffin is doing exactly what he said he would do.

“Like I mentioned before, this is a different era of college football,” said Kiffin after his first National Signing Day in Oxford. “It’s more like the NFL with how you manage your roster. We left ourselves some room for some kids that are still out there. Some grad transfers, some regular transfers, and also, we can save some for next year too. I think going through this process is different than before.”

This process, and 2020, are certainly different.

No matter how many things change around him, one thing stays the same for Kiffin at this stage in his career— rank doesn’t matter, talent does. He has made it clear that he doesn’t want to sign recruits for sake of signing recruits. The team is already full of youth and packed to the brim with coachable ability; why waste a scholarship on a guy who isn’t going to step in and make a difference?

Ole Miss’ 2020 roster breaks down like this: 20 seniors, 27 juniors, 25 sophomores and 29 freshmen. Of the senior class, three are on special teams (one already slated to be replaced by five-star kickers Caden Costa or Land Gebhart) and four likely will not see the field in a significant capacity. In truth, without factoring in how they perform on the field this season, it’s not a group that stands out as irreplaceable.

As a result of the numbers, patience is a virtue.

Instead of hitting the recruiting trail for sake of roster size, the approach to 2021 can focus on quality over quantity. Both Jeff Lebby’s high-octane offense, and the multiple-scheme defense of D.J. Durkin aren’t plug-and-play opportunities for just anyone. A five-star or four-star recruit may be a great player, but he won’t necessarily fit in Ole Miss’ new-look systems. Both sides of the ball require a certain type of athlete and with few graduates needing to be replaced in the spring, Kiffin can take a composed approach to finding those guys.

When the 27-man junior class graduates after a full year without the current pandemic recruiting restrictions, the class ranking can play a bigger factor. But for now, considering the unique circumstances of his first year, time is not of the essence and pinpoint accuracy with targeted recruits makes more sense than casting a wide net.

All good things come with time.