Ole Miss recruited a top class, but Rebels will need more in SEC


Here are a couple of realities about college football in the 21st century:

Reality No. 1: There's big-boy football and then there's everybody else. Alabama proved that again last January in South Florida. Notre Dame had a nice team that found a way to win all of its regular season games. After a couple of possessions in the BCS title game, it was obvious we were looking at Men vs. Boys.

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Reality No. 2: There is no offseason anymore in college football. Yes, there are stretches where games are not being played but constant conference realignment (Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, Louisville to the ACC), postseason upheaval (new four-team playoff in 2014), and off-the-field scandal keep the sport front and center year around -- even during March Madness. The popularity of college football and the money that goes with it is a major reason why the Big East just played its last conference basketball tournament as we have known it.

I've been gone for a little while since the BCS title game, catching up on family business, but it is good to be back.

Did I miss anything interesting? It turns out that I did. Here are five tasty nuggets that bear some discussion:

NCAA is off to terrible start in 2013

When the NCAA's new sheriff, Mark Emmert, came on as president, he vowed to get tough on the cheaters. And folks, there is a big difference in breaking the rules and cheating. He threw down some pretty serious stuff last summer when he all but shut down the Penn State program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Now the NCAA is in court with the governor of Pennsylvania, who believes a voluntary athletics association does not have the right to take $60 million from a state-supported university and do with it what it believes is appropriate.

Then Emmert had to go through the public embarrassment of admitting some of his key enforcement people did not follow their own rules in an effort to make a case against the University of Miami. Emmert had to fire Julie Roe Lach, his head of enforcement, and promise to do better in the future.

Here is the problem: Miami says the entire case against the school should come to an end because of the misbehavior of the investigators. The NCAA says it will throw out some (about 20 percent), but not all, of the case because it maintains Miami and those representing it did a bunch of bad stuff. Miami president Donna Shalala says her school has suffered enough with a self-imposed a two-year bowl ban. If there are additional penalties levied later this year it is possible -- actually probable-- that Miami would go to court.

A lot of people -- but none of them college presidents -- have called for Emmert to step down, claiming the enforcement process is broken. The enforcement process clearly needs to be revamped. But I don't see Emmert being forced out. He has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but a lot of presidents support him. I just want a ringside seat for Emmert vs. Shalala, two politically tough fighters. Now that could be entertaining.

Saban still a step ahead of everybody

Earlier this year the NCAA threw up its hands and admitted that it can't enforce a bunch of the rules in recruiting. So they tried to rip about 24 pages out of the rule book and just rely on people to police themselves when it comes to the number of people on staff, electronic messaging and mailings. Of course, Alabama's Nick Saban looked several steps down the road and saw it as an opportunity to set up an NFL style player personnel department run by Kevin Steele, former head coach at Baylor and longtime defensive coordinator. When schools whose pockets aren't so deep started figuring out what it could potentially cost to keep up with Alabama they started pushing back on the NCAA. In short the schools were saying: "Hey, we like freedom, but not this much freedom!" Now the NCAA is putting the changes on hold.

Ole Miss signed one of top recruiting classes

Hey, you got a problem with that? Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze took some risks in recruiting his first full class in Oxford. He and his staff had the audacity to try and recruit the very best players in the land, just like Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State and those other brand names. And there is nothing that drives a college football fan crazier than an opposing school that doesn't know its place on the food chain.

Ole Miss identified about a dozen of the very best players in the country and got them to all visit Ole Miss on the same weekend. Then they used family and personal connections to try and get the players to recruit each other to Oxford. It worked.

Ole Miss got the nation's No. 1 player, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (whose brother was already at Ole Miss) who had verbally committed to Clemson. They signed the nation's best high school wide receiver in Laquon Treadwell of Crete, Ill. They signed one of the nation's best offensive linemen, Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Fla., who was thought to be a lead-pipe cinch to sign with Georgia.

Opposing fans said Freeze and his staff just had to be cheating because, in their mind, there is no logical reason that Ole Miss can suddenly get that many good players. After all, Ole Miss has never played in the SEC title game and has not won a conference title since 1963.

Freeze finally had it up to here with those critics and said, in so many words: "If you've got some evidence then bring it on and we'll deal with it." Freeze's compliance guy got 85 emails, many of which were less than flattering.

A lesson to be learned here: Don't challenge a Southern football fan to accuse you of cheating. He'll take you up on it. He may not have any proof, but he will gleefully make the charge.

The challenge for Ole Miss is putting together at least three recruiting classes of similar quality. It's the only way the Rebels are going to challenge Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the Western Division in the foreseeable future.

Johnny Football learns how hot spotlight can be

It was a ruling that only the NCAA in its circular logic could make. Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner as a redshirt freshman, is not allowed to share in any of the money that Texas A&M makes from selling a likeness of his jersey. And he certainly can't sell the jersey himself. But he and his family ARE allowed to put together a company to copyright and prevent others from using the term "Johnny Football" to make a buck.

Again, he can't make money from the sale of merchandise carrying his name or likeness. But if his company catches somebody using the name without his permission he can sue them for damages. If he is successful he can keep THAT money.

So the creative minds of college football fans wondered if this was just a back door way to get players money. Let's say a booster purposely violates copyright and gladly gets taken to court and gladly loses. No, the NCAA says, you can't do that. And so it goes. If we could harness all the creativity that is employed trying to get around the NCAA rules, we would wipe out the national debt tomorrow.

Jadeveon Clowney started an interesting debate

Here is the question: If you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you're going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft if you are healthy, why play a third season of college football? If you feel confident you'll go first even if you don't play a down, what is there to gain by playing 12-13 additional games as a college junior? There is certainly a lot of lose.

Clowney watched South Carolina teammate Marcus Lattimore, a dead-lock first-round pick two years ago, tear up his knee twice. He watched Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel suffer a season-ending injury during his mandatory one season of college basketball. Both will still play professionally but they will probably lose money on their first contract because of the injuries.

There was never any chance that Clowney was going to sit out this season. In fact, he has set personal goals of setting the NCAA sack record (27 by Derrick Thomas of Alabama in 1988) to the Heisman ceremony in New York. But who's to say that some mega-talented kid down the road won't listen to a family "advisor" and just spend his third college season working out and getting ready for the draft? At some point, it's going to happen.

OK, we're off and running. We'll be back on Wednesday to talk about the new rules, which could lead to ejections for head shots to defenseless players. I talked to Steve Shaw, the supervisor of officials for the SEC, about how the rules are going to be enforced. Some of what he said might surprise you.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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