Locking down in-state recruits is absolutely paramount in college football recruiting. This point is even more crucial when you’re A) one of (if not the) biggest universities in the state and B) your state annually produces truly elite prospects.
So for the Ole Miss Rebels, in-state recruiting is of the utmost importance. They are the flagship institution of the Magnolia State (sorry Mississippi State fans, it’s true though), and the state of Mississippi is always amongst the highest of NFL players per capita.
Second year head coach Hugh Freeze understands this. His predecessor, the inept Houston Nutt, failed to understand this, at least until it was too late.
Under the first three years of Nutt, the Rebels signed an average of 3.67 prospects ranked in the top 20 in-state. Contrastingly, Dan Mullen of the Bulldogs took advantage of this, and signed an average of 10.33. The last two years of the Nutt era averaged out at nine out of the top 20, while Mullen averaged 12 out of the top 20. It’s very easy to see how the Bulldogs overtook the Rebels as the premium football program in the state from 2009 until recently.
In comes coach Freeze, who full well understands how important it is to lock down in-state prospects, and instantly prioritizes it.
While Freeze’s first class shouldn’t really count since he had just under a month to assemble it, he still managed to snag the top player in Mississippi, defensive end Channing Ward.
By the time the 2013 class rolled around, the first full class Freeze was able to assemble, the Rebels landed three of the top four prospects in-state, and seven of the top 20. Then he also cleaned up out-of-state as well, landing 5-star prospects from Florida, Illinois and Georiga.
The Rebels’ class ranked as high as 5th by some services, while the Bulldogs landed a borderline top-25 class. Borderline top 25 is still a very good class, but there’s a huge gap between the prospects on a top-5 class and top-25 class.
Now the gap is growing even bigger between the recruiting successes of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, especially in-state.
Right now, just past the halfway point of the 2014 recruiting cycle, the Rebels have eight of the top 20 players in-state. The Bulldogs have, brace yourselves State fans, ONE. One player (Jamoral Graham) in their current class is viewed as a top 20 player from the state of Mississippi.
So dominant in-state right now are the Rebels, they have five of the top 10 players in-state and could be close to switching Markell Pack, the number six player in-state, from Florida State.
The Rebs aren’t showing any signs of slowing down, either. They just landed the top player from the state yesterday, 4-star guard/tackle Rod Taylor and are now expecting one from his high school teammate, 4-star end Breeland Speaks (the number five player in-state), any day now. It’s very realistic that the Rebels could land eight out of the top 10 players in-state when all is said and done.
The Bulldogs enjoyed a quiet run of success, both on the field and on the in-state recruiting trail, during the second half of the Nutt era. But now the tide has changed dramatically, and if the Bulldogs don’t adapt and make changes, they could go back to being the regular cellar-dweller of the SEC West. If the Rebels continue their improved quality of play on the field and the Bulldogs don’t, their success, or lack thereof, on the recruiting trail will only be exacerbated.
The highest priority right now should be focusing on rebuilding the connections within the confines of beautiful state of Mississippi.