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Mississippi, no joke, makes a big splash on football signing day

Rebels, who have not won a Southeastern Conference title in nearly 50 years, land several prized recruits to steal the thunder from other high-profile schools.

February 06, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Grayson High School football player Robert Nkemdiche, right, the nation's top recruit, is congratulated by his brother Denzel during Robert Nkemdiche's announcement to play college football for Ole Miss.
Grayson High School football player Robert Nkemdiche, right, the nation's… (David Tulis / Associated…)

The Southeastern Conference conducted its annual player draft Wednesday in advance of winning its eighth straight national title next season.

There's nothing like national SEC signing day, with other conferences participating the way the Washington Generals participate against the Globetrotters.

OK, that's an incredible, attention-grabbing, inflammatory, hyperbolic reach.

This reign of terror won't go on forever … will it?

There were a few encouraging push-backs out there as Ohio State, which lured former Florida Coach Urban Meyer out of retirement to make the Buckeyes into an SEC team, ended up battling Alabama and Florida for recruiting-day supremacy.

Two other schools, Notre Dame and Michigan, also finished in the consensus top 10. What these schools also have in common is both were blistered on the field last season by Alabama.

And Alabama isn't getting worse after another incredible day of after-Christmas player shopping.

More disturbing is the fact a school that hasn't won the SEC title in nearly 50 years emerged as the top story of signing day.

Mississippi, which for so many years liked to brag, "We don't produce All-Americas, we produce Miss Americas," had a historic player procurement haul.

It started when the nation's top prospect, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, wearing colorful suspenders, announced on ESPN he would be attending school in Oxford. It helped greatly that his brother Denzel is already on the Rebels' roster, but Nkemdiche's commitment started a downhill barrel roll that didn't end until the fax machines stopped humming.

Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for, said 13 of the SEC's 14 schools could claim they had "winning" recruiting days — the exception being recent Big 12 Conference addition Missouri.

"SEC depth is crazy," Farrell said.

But it was Ole Miss that had everyone buzzing. The Rebel recruiting yell was heard as far away as the Miami Heat locker room.

"Ole Miss ain't messing around today," LeBron James tweeted. "Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy."

Didn't someone else just say that?

Ole Miss' class ended up No. 5 in RecruitingNation, No. 7 in, ninth in and No. 6 in

Farrell said Mississippi's strike garnered attention because it was sort of like man bites dog.

"Which one of these doesn't belong in the top 10?" Farrell said. "Ole Miss just sticks out."

Among the blue chips joining Nkemdiche are offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and receiver Laquon Treadwell.

"A year ago if you said the No. 1 wide receiver, the No. 1 player in the country, and the No. 1 offensive lineman were all going to Ole Miss, you'd say, 'You're absolutely crazy,' " Farrell said.

What has separated the SEC from others in the last decade is extraordinary interior line talent. Alabama's offensive line blew Notre Dame halfway back to South Bend, Ind., in last month's Bowl Championship Series title rout, and there is no defensive lineman anywhere within a country mile of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.

Nkemdiche gives Ole Miss that kind of potential stopper presence, although we'll certainly hold judgment until the Rebels actually play a game. Ole Miss finished only 7-6 last year, 3-5 in the rugged SEC West. The Rebels got blown out at home, 66-31, by a Texas team that amassed 767 yards.

"I think today has the possibility of being a program changer," third-year Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze said.

Not surprisingly, Oxford being in the South, some people are convinced Ole Miss must have cheated to score this kind of recruiting class. The chatter got so loud Freeze took to Twitter last week to challenge social media to a cyberspace fight.

"If you have facts about a violation, sent it to," Freeze tweeted. "If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family."

Freeze had to remove the post after the school got bombarded with slanderous accusations and multitudes of insults directed toward the players' families. Ah, life in the SEC.

First-year Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema found out first-hog-hand. His recruiting class was supposed to include top running back Alex Collins out of Florida. Collins, though, didn't sign as scheduled, and it was rumored his mother stole his letter of intent because she did not want him to leave the state.

What about the other leagues?

Well, Ohio State and Michigan carried top-10 days for a Big Ten Conference that would still probably rather talk about Big Ten basketball.

And, if you didn't know better, you'd think the Pac-12 Conference was reclassified to Football Championship Subdivision. UCLA had an outstanding day, cracking the top 10 in many guessing indexes while clearly surpassing USC for premature bragging rights. UCLA may have even added enough good players to beat Baylor in a Holiday Bowl.

USC, if you believe rankings, played the end of recruiting about as well as it did the Sun Bowl. The Trojans had more "decommits" than Taylor Swift.

Stanford, coming off its first Rose Bowl win in four decades, placed No. 63 in the ratings. Don't panic, Cardinal fans, you signed a small, 12-player class and have 14 starters back from a team that could definitely still beat Ole Miss.

Oregon, the Fiesta Bowl champion, never needed top-10 classes to win under Chip Kelly and is apparently taking the same approach with new Coach Mark Helfrich. Oregon finished in the No. 20 rankings range but was able to flip defensive end Torrodney Prevot from USC.

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