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1. You’re not Ohio state, but you lost players like they did.
For anyone following college football recruiting this year, you know Ohio state is Bukkake’ing the rest of America with a class that, at least on paper, has never been replicated. It is plausible to assume the Buckeyes will sign a staggering 12 top 100 consensus overall players, perhaps not coincidentally a similar number of their selected players in the first three rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft.
What people often have overlooked in the wake of the Scarlett wave that was the 2016 draft class, the literal “red wedding” of the Buckeye roster, is what happened to the Ole Miss Rebels. Mississippi, losing perhaps the best trio in all of football in offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, and do everything lineman/fullback/wild cat QB/synthetic pot smoker Robert Nkemdiche. It is also oddly overlooked just how highly these three players should have been drafted, if not for the profoundly bizarre circumstance.
Starting with Tunsil, a legitimate option for the Titans with the number 1 overall pick before character concerns gave way to the character assassination that was his gas masking of illegal substances for the world to see, is perhaps the best overall offensive line prospect of the last several years, possessing the sort of elite athleticism and refined technique almost unheard of in a kid his age.
Ndkemdiche, my pick to be the #1 overall selection prior to the debacle that was his junior season in Oxford, ran into similar issues to Tunsil, with a certifiably insane brother, tumbles from balconies resulting in injury while using substances of varying illegality, a “poor attitude” and willingness to fight his fellow Rebels, an incredibly versatile defensive lineman that can not only stop the run, but absolutely assault the quarterback (just ask Jake Coker) fell to the bottom of the first round.
And finally Treadwell, the best overall receiver in the nation last year, at nearly Calvin Johnson size with elite (but not CJ elite) athleticism. The best part of Treadwell, even more shocking due to his choice to attend Ole Miss, is his character, intelligence, and probably most importantly: Tijuana hooker level ball skills. If it’s in his general area, bet on Treadwell to come down with it.
So this all sounds great, right? Not when you lose all three and replace them with touted, but totally inexperienced, players. In a season in which the Rebels touted all three healthy superstars, 2015 ended without a SEC Championship. Without perhaps the greatest trio in school history? The championship drought will only be extended.
2. You’re in the SEC West. Sorry.
As I broke down in the preview edition of the SEC West, the West is at the pinnacle of college football, with all but the Big Ten East languishing behind. This season the LSU/Alabama two-headed monster is perhaps stronger than ever, with both teams featuring elite defenses, laden with 2017 NFL Draft picks, and perhaps the greatest running back of all time in Baton Rouge.
The Rebels, though talented, will be inexperienced on both sides of the line and at linebacker, aside from quarterback the most important positions for in-game experience, in my opinion. With a murderers row of a schedule and road matchups that would likely make the rest of the nation fold up shop and move to the ACC, the young Rebs will struggle through the SEC gauntlet.
Fortunately, Chad Kelly — the self-anointed “best quarterback in the country” — returns, though he’s nowhere near the best quarterback in his own conference.
3. Hugh Freeze is not an elite in game coach.
Yea, I saw the Sandra bullock movie, too. I know the guy won big in high school. But so did every loser I pass in the coffee shop before work, wasting away with donuts and a bevy of regret, incessantly recounting “when we won state.” It’s pathetic for them, and it’s pathetic for Mississippi fans.
The reality is this: Maybe the producers of that movie felt the same, as they chose to include Sandy Bullock basically telling Coach Freeze how to handle his star player and a talented squad.
But no matter how you slice it, Freeze has never won at the major college level, not even as a coordinator or assistant a la Mark Stoops, Kirby Smart, etc. Only the “expert” websites give trophies for recruiting, and Freeze has yet to prove he is capable of consideration anywhere near the realm of the SEC titans that stack his own division.
While he has had success against Nick Saban of late — though I maintain Saban welcomes one early loss per season to humble what must be a reprehensible arrogant Crimson Tide roster most years (I’ll extrapolate on that conspiracy theory at some point) — Mississippi just plain has a hard time closing.
Freeze, looking to entrench the Rebels as a national power, must first win a conference championship, with all roads leading through Tuscaloosa.
Ole Miss starts the season 1-3 and all hell is breaking loose in Oxford. Losses to FSU, Alabama, and a shocker at home to Georgia dooms the Rebel season before it really even began.
Freeze holds the team together, however, winning seven of their final eight games of an extremely front-loaded schedule, with a lone loss to LSU and Les Miles. Mississippi finds themselves in a mid-tier bowl (Outback I’m guessing) and more questions than answers entering 2017.
Reasons for hope:
Freeze brought in perhaps his best overall class in 2016, though it is unlikely in the miniature NFL that is the SEC west much can be expected of the touted class of the Rebels. Recruiting is the lifeblood of the program, though, and so much will ride on this class in the near future.
2. Shea Patterson
Maybe my favorite QB recruit of all time, Patterson is Johnny Football without the arrests and self-hatred. An elite athlete, a lighting fast release, and an open competition at QB in 2017 should have Shea a household name shortly..
Image via YouTube