This time last year, Ole Miss was the talk of the college football world.
Then second-year head coach Hugh Freeze was coming off a 7-6 season and was putting the finishing touches on his first full recruiting class in Oxford. That class included defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's top overall prospect; Laremy Tunsil, the nation's top offensive tackle; Tony Conner, the nation's second-best safety; and Laquon Treadwell, the nation's third-best wide receiver.
The Rebels finished the 2013 recruiting season with the nation's No. 8 class in the final 247Sports team rankings.
This recruiting season?
There's very little buzz surrounding Ole Miss' 2014 recruiting class. If you're a Rebel fan, that's incredibly good news.
Because it's currently ranked 13th in the nation, has one 5-star commitment and 10 4-star players. It doesn't have the buzz because Freeze has done his job. He has raised the expectation level both internally and nationally for the program on the recruiting trail.
"Given the drama, the fireworks and the subsequent big finish for Ole Miss last recruiting cycle, it's understandable that the 2014 class may have the perception of being underwhelming by comparison," said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports.com. "The reality is, though, that this Rebels class is one of the best in the country and includes the top four prospects in the Magnolia State, according to 247Sports Composite rankings."
|Top 5 High School Players in Mississippi in 2014|
|1. Roderick Taylor||Callaway||Jackson, Miss.||OG||Ole Miss|
|2. C.J. Hampton||Meridian||Meridian, Miss.||S||Ole Miss|
|3. Markell Pack||Purvis||Purvis, Miss.||WR||Ole Miss|
|4. Breeland Speaks||Callaway||Jackson, Miss.||DT||Ole Miss|
|5. Aeris Williams||West Point||West Point, Miss.||RB||Miss. St.|
Ole Miss' recruiting classes have bounced from the teens to the 30s to as high as 71st since 2008. Now, Ole Miss is a consistent player in the living rooms of some of the nation's top prospects.
The class includes several elite players who have already enrolled, including 4-star safety C.J. Hampton. Combine Hampton—a 6'1", 195-pounder from Meridian, Miss. who boasts a 4.48 second 40-yard dash—with Conner, and Freeze has all the making of a stout defensive backfield for the foreseeable future.
Once 5-star offensive guard Roderick Taylor, 4-star wide receiver Markell Pack, 4-star defensive end Garrald McDowell and 4-star defensive tackle Breeland Speaks get to campus this summer, the depth that Ole Miss needs to seriously contend for the SEC West will exist.
"This class brings in more depth on the defensive line and adding ultra-athletic guard prospect Roderick Taylor to Laremy Tunsil and company really gives the Rebels the workings of a stellar offensive front in the coming seasons," Shurburtt said.
That's why this class is so important.
Last year's was fantastic, and had a nice combination of sizzle and steak. This one serves as a second course of filet mignon.
"Sure, it's not the top signing day storyline like it was in 2013, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Freeze and company are continuing to add serious talent in Oxford," Shurburtt said.
As the old saying goes, "It's not the X's and the O's, it's the Jimmy's and the Joe's." Freeze and his staff already have the play-calling acumen to be successful. Over the last two seasons, the Rebels have been getting the final pieces of the puzzle in place.
Keep an eye on Ole Miss on national signing day. The players it already has committed are enough to call this class a success. If Freeze can get a flip or spring an upset down the stretch, it might get the "sizzle" to this year's "steak."
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.