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Senior College Football Columnist

Mailbag: Ole Miss' stunning recruiting success turning heads

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send me your questions via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:

From @SportsGuyTy: Which recent recruiting class in college football most closely resembles what OleMiss is likely to pull off on Wednesday?

None.

I can't recall any upstart (one that isn't a traditional Top 25 kinda program) ever creating such buzz this close to signing day in college football. Granted, we have a relatively small window of about 10 years or so since folks have been ranking and paying much attention to the world of college football recruiting. I looked back at the recruiting rankings for college hoops and it seems like that world is a lot more prone to this kind of thing.

According to Rivals' basketball recruiting rankings, Florida State in 2003 had the top-ranked class. Oregon also created a splash with a class in 2004 headlined by Top 10 prospect Malik Hairston. USC did something similar when its class had O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson. Same with K-State 's class starring Michael Beasley, Bill Walker and Jacob Pullen in ‘07.

Obviously, this kind of thing sparks a lot of suspicion. When I worked on Meat Market, I recall coach Ed Orgeron telling his staff that if Ole Miss landed (top-ranked recruit) Joe McKnight, the Rebels would get investigated by the NCAA. Hugh Freeze, who was an assistant under Orgeron, knows skeptics are out there. People are already whispering. Then again, I've talked to a bunch of college coaches in the past two weeks and there's a lot of skepticism swirling about the dealings of a lot of schools, not just ones that aren't traditional Top 10 schools. I've heard plenty of gossip about some of the shady dealings of the big schools, too. They range from how a recruit from a very modest background has been able to afford to take numerous unofficial visits to a school several states away to high school coaches completely steering a kid to a certain school. But no doubt Ole Miss has emerged as the biggest story of Signing Day.

Jason Kirk at SB Nation had an interesting article examining this topic, titled “Is Hugh Freeze's 2013 turnaround too good to be true?

Kirk looks at other schools that have made a huge one-year jump in the recruiting rankings and found that only 2005 Nebraska has done what the Rebels may be in the process of doing. (Cynics also noted that those Huskers did have John Blake on Bill Callahan's staff as an ace recruiter.) The thing is, every program save for one on Kirk's list except for Ole Miss has been a traditional powerhouse. The lone exception: Stanford in 2012, which was coming off consecutive top-eight finishes and back-to-back BCS bowl trips.

To me, the most relevant example from Kirk's research of an outsider program making some national recruiting noise was Tim Brewster's Minnesota team in 2008. (They were ranked No. 17). But that class didn't have any of the recruits that are creating the buzz the level of who Freeze is close to landing. There wasn't a single five-star in the Gophers class. Last year, Vandy and coach James Franklin got a lot of attention for reeling in several blue-chippers early. (Vandy?!? Right, Vandy.) But still, that class (with three four-stars and zero five-stars) only ended up ranking No. 29. This Rebel class is on a whole different level in terms of star power.

It's not just Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit. As I mentioned the other day, Ole Miss also has a commitment from the nation's top wideout, Laquon Treadwell, a player some rival college coaches think has more of a gap between himself and every other receiver than there is between Nkemdiche and all other DLs. Word is that Treadwell, whose buddy, CB Anthony Standifer, was signed by the Rebels last year, has been a great recruiter for Ole Miss.

The Rebels also already have signed the nation's top JC player, DT Lavon Hooks. In addition, they have committed Top 30 recruit Elijah Daniels, who is a five-star DE, and four other four-star recruits: WR Nick Brassell; RB Kailo Moore; DT Jarran Reed and RB Mark Dodson. Those guys alone plus Nkemdiche would blow away any other “upstart” class. But there's also speculation that the Rebels could also land the nation's top OT, Laremy Tunsil, five-star safety Tony Conner and maybe the country' No. 2 player as well in Missisippi State commit Chris Jones although I'm told Jones probably stays with State. Still, this sounds like a No. 1 class potentially, not just a top 10 class.

Ole Miss had a top-15 ranked class in 2006, which Orgeron signed the day I started working on Meat Market. That class actually exceeded expectations but did so more because of its three-star guys than due to the two five-stars (QB Brent Schaeffer and DT Jerrell Powe). Some of the unheralded three-stars who really shined were Dexter McCluster, DE Greg Hardy, DB Kendrick Lewis, WR Shay Hodge, and CB Cassius Vaughn. I will add this: Freeze and many of his assistants helped bring in that class and I've seen how hard those guys do work.

It'll be fascinating to see how Freeze closes and then what happens with this group in the aftermath.

In the face of some of that skeptcism, later in the day Freeze used his Twitter feed to combat some of the rumors:

@CoachHughFreeze: "If you have facts about a violation, send it to compliance@olemiss.edu. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family"

And, to answer a question I've gotten a lot in the past few weeks, no there isn't going to be Meat Market II for me. I don't have the energy for it.

From @Danhodes: so, Virginia's never-ending assistant coach turnover? What's up with that?

Virginia, from what I've heard, is struggling with ramping up the commitment that other programs have made in terms of staffing and support of its football program, and that certainly isn't helping the situation.

Bill Lazor came in and did a nice job improving a bad offense, but last season UVA backslid, and having a down season in Year 3 for a head coach is really problematic. That makes it seem like the program has the wrong kind of momentum.

Mike London is well-respected, especially for the kind of man he is and the things he's done, and he also won big at FCS Richmond. But he really needs a bounce-back season in 2013. He's 16-21 and just 8-16 in ACC play in three years. If UVA can't get to at least seven wins, I suspect the school will be tempted to look in a new direction. And maybe then the school steps up with a stronger commitment. For London's sake, it'd be better if it does so sooner than later.

From @caseymoto: why isn't the Alabama story bigger about using banned products?

Good question. My guess is because the story broke during Super Bowl week and was attached to what came across as a much larger story since the banned substances were linked to NFL great Ray Lewis. On top of that, there was another PED story swirling around Alex Rodriguez that broke. But this story about the accusations connected to the Tide's BCS title team that defeated LSU in New Orleans will have legs. For more on it, Kevin Scarbinsky detailed the connection between S.W.A.T.S., Alabama and the NCAA on Friday.

If they've given or sold their products to football players at Alabama, Auburn, LSU and other SEC schools, as they claim, Ross and Key may have jeopardized the eligibility of some of those players. They may have participated in NCAA violations. They certainly provided players opportunities to disregard the warnings of their coaches and schools about dealing with the controversial supplement company.

The players aren't blameless themselves. Despite two cease-and-desist letters in the last three years from Alabama to S.W.A.T.S., Ross and Key said some players didn't cease or desist from dealing with the company. As Ross said, “When the players call me, they are disregarding (the school's warning), too.”

. . . It would be an NCAA violation if the players got the products for free or at a discount not available to the general student population because of their status as football players. Under “Prohibited Forms of Pay,” the NCAA Division I manual includes “Preferential Treatment, Benefits or Services” under Bylaw 12.1.2.1.6 and defines it this way: “Preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual's athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete.”

From @MikeTay41771686: we Trojan fans just want the media to be fair! It seems when SC or Kiffin is thought to do something wrong, it's reported.

The reality is Lane Kiffin lost the benefit of the doubt with the media and a lot of other folks before he left Knoxville. Then he led his team at USC to a strong 2011 season, going 10-2. There were a lot of stories written in the run-up to the 2012 season (where the Trojans would be the preseason No. 1) about how Kiffin had matured. But the past five months was loaded with one head-shaking story after another linked to Kiffin. Was every one of them his fault? Probably not. Were some of them his doing? Yes. And so with that, people (the media included) have stopped buying just about anything he says.

No question the guy is a convenient target who seemingly can do no right in a lot of people's eyes, but this situation didn't happen overnight. And while such distractions may not be the reason why USC underachieved in 2012, going 7-6, they sure didn't help anything.

From @abellwillring: Will the scandal involving the NCAA's investigation into the Miami infractions result in UM getting off scot-free?

I doubt it. Then again, you have to remember that Miami already has sat out two postseasons, including bypassing a spot in last year's ACC title game. In addition, the NCAA did suspend many UM players for parts of the 2011 season. So there can't be a "scot-free" after that.

My hunch (guess) on what I thought the NCAA COI would do with Miami later this year was hefty scholarship reductions (between 5-10 a year for three years) and maybe one more postseason ban. But that was before last week's stunning 180 by NCAA President Mark Emmert announcing that the NCAA will investigate its investigation of Miami.

My colleague Dennis Dodd wrote a column saying the NCAA should just give up its Miami investigation and let UM go as a mistrial. I suspect the case is much too high-profile for the NCAA to do that. Of course, the irony here of the case being too high-profile like the words the NCAA's COI used to describe Reggie Bush is rich. That's what this case was for the NCAA and yet despite months and months of lead time, Emmert still claims to have been blindsided. So the connection to Paul Dee's "high-profile" explanation seems even more dubious for the NCAA when you consider the NCAA's new legislation about holding head coaches accountable for the screw-ups of their underlings.

Miami has said it has cooperated with the investigation (something that USC under AD Mike Garrett didn't do to help its cause), but I still expect even after this embarrassing mess on the NCAA's hands, it'll still feel compelled to hand down significant scholarship hits, but now maybe not anything more than the two postseason bans.

From @BryanDFischer: Bruce, why the salmon-colored shirt in your new avatar? I'll hang up and listen.

I'd been meaning to change avatars for a while. A few days ago, I came across this photo that I can't ever recall taking. It wasn't a TV screen grab or some picture from an event. So for the time being, that's my new avatar.

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