Ole Miss is New Miss.
The Rebels were the sultans of signing day, surprising many by landing what was the most-talked about class Wednesday.
Coach Hugh Freeze, after just one season in Oxford, Miss., secured a top-10 class powered by three five-star recruits, led by Grayson High defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
As the commits came rolling in recently, some observers were left scratching their heads, wondering why players were choosing Ole Miss, which hasn’t won a SEC title since 1963?
“It doesn’t always have to be Alabama or LSU,” Nkemdiche said, sporting a red Ole Miss hat and Ole Miss suspenders. “What makes the program is the players.”
Ole Miss bagged one less five-star recruits than the Crimson Tide, who are the defending national champs. The Rebels signed as many five-star recruits in a few hours as they had in the previous six years combined.
In addition to Nkemdiche, the nation’s top-rated player and whose older brother, Denzel, plays for the Rebels, Ole Miss signed Rivals’ top-ranked wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell of Crete, Ill., and offensive tackle, Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Fla.
What in the name of Nick Saban’s beloved process happened?
“We were able to sell, ‘here’s what we want our vision to be, and let’s do something new and fresh here with you guys,’” Freeze told CBSSports.com. “In order for us to do it, it takes all of you to come. Our coaches did a great job of selling that vision and building those relationships.”
Denzel Nkemdiche, a linebacker, was in Oxford when the chemistry started to brew. He said his brother and Treadwell began to hit it off with the other recruits and players, many of whom visited on the same weekend.
Soon, it felt like more than just two people from the same family. Momentum started to build as one recruit began recruiting others.
“Being able to get all those big-time recruits in town the same weekend, that was huge to show those boys our personality and our characteristics,” Denzel said. “We felt like a team, and they weren’t even there yet.”
Even LeBron James, who knows something about the recruiting gravity of stars, took to twitter about Ole Miss’ class: “Ole Miss ain’t messing around today! Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy.”
Freeze defended his integrity before signing day by tweeting that anyone who thought he or his staff were doing anything improper were welcome to contact Ole Miss’ compliance department. He told CBSSports.com on Wednesday that the critics need only to think about the natural tie-ins he had with some of the recruits and the quality of the campus to understand why the Rebels’ signing day was so successful.
” … The same critics say that Oxford is the No. 1 college town to live in, and The Grove is the No. 1 tailgate experience and we are the No. 2 safest city in America,” he said. “I understand there are going to be critics. It’s unfortunate that the kids get tied up in it.”
They must be dancing in The Grove.
Freeze, in his first season, led the Rebels to a 7-6 record and their first bowl win since 2009. But that record was deceiving because most wins came against struggling or lower-level teams.
The Rebels were blasted by Texas (66-31), rolled by Alabama (33-14), edged by Texas A&M (30-27) and bowled over by Georgia (37-10).
After his younger brother’s news conference Wednesday, Denzel predicted those struggles are a thing of the past.
In fact, he said the Rebels may do much more.
“There’s no doubt we have the talent and work ethic to play for a national championship in the next few years,” he said.