There’s an old saying that goes “to whom much is given much is expected,” and if the last few weeks were any indication, that phrase certainly holds true in college football recruiting. There are few places in sports where the stakes are higher, and where the vitriol from opposing fans, coaches and schools is more fierce than in the days and weeks leading up to Signing Day.
That was especially true this year at Ole Miss, where the Rebels hauled in a recruiting class for the ages, one which made the Rebels’ rivals ask one simple question: “How the hell did they pull THAT off.” After all, it’s not often that anyone but college football’s most traditional of powers (think Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State) pull in Top 5 classes nationally. Let alone a program which just finished a 7-6 season under a first year head coach, and went 2-10 as recently as two seasons ago.
Only that was the reality at Ole Miss and when that recruiting class did come together, the accusations flew fast and furious from all corners. Fans from every other school in the country (except for Ole Miss of course) assumed that the Rebels had to be cutting corners. I mean, they just had to be.
Eventually the accusations got so fierce that Coach Hugh Freeze had little choice but to put out an ultimatum to those doing the accusing: Put your money where your mouth is, and prove that we’re cheating. Or shut up.
Freeze even sent out this tweet to prove his point.
RT @coachhughfreeze: If you have facts about a violation, email email@example.com. If not, please don't slander the young men
— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) February 1, 2013
Freeze eventually erased the tweet, but his point was clear. He wasn’t going to take crap from anyone.
Whatever the case, when Freeze did put out that offer- and the opportunity to share any recruiting improprieties with the Ole Miss staff first-hand- apparently a number of opposing fans actually did take him up on that offer.
That’s because on Friday, Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork told the Northeast Mississippi News on Friday morning that the school received upwards of 80 “tips” from opposing fans:
“We had … I don’t know the exact number of responses. As of that Friday I think it was 75 or 80 on that first Friday that coach Freeze put out that message. Most of them were not anything of substance. There were a few that had stories that caused us to say, ‘OK, we need to look into these.’ But nothing has come to light from those,” Bjork said.
“We get things every day in our compliance world that we have to track down or follow up on and make sure that it’s either more severe than others or things that just don’t have any validity to them. Right now we haven’t seen anything related to those emails.
“We will continue to stay diligent and continue to remind the Ole Miss family, our staff and our student-athletes of the dos and don’ts.”
As my colleague Allen Kenney pointed out, frankly, the only surprise here is that the number of “tips” Ole Miss received wasn’t higher.
At the same time, we’re not the least bit surprised that so much digging by so many fans, brought in such little dirt.
The simple truth is that if you follow recruiting, you know that few do it as well as Freeze and his staff. That diligence started last summer when Freeze took an unusual approach to getting the Ole Miss name out there, and continued straight past Signing Day, where after inking one of the top classes in the country he was already making an impression on the Class of 2014 kids.
More importantly let’s also not forget that in addition to a lot of hard work, Freeze is the first to admit that the Rebels’ success in 2013 was due to a lot of dumb luck as well.
After all, it certainly helped Ole Miss that the brother of the nation’s No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche (linebacker Denzel) just so happened to play for the Rebels. It also helped that the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver Laquon Treadwell also happened to have a high school buddy on campus. And that safety Tony Conner just so happens to hail from South Panola High School, a high school football factory which has been a feeder school for Ole Miss since long before Freeze was ever offered the Ole Miss job. It will continue to be long after he leaves as well.
Point being that for Ole Miss, the 2013 recruiting cycle really proved to a perfect storm for success. Add in a relentless coach, with a program which closed the 2012 season strong (beating their cross-state rival and notching a victory in a bowl game), and one that also got a couple of lucky breaks along the way, and all of a sudden, that highly ranked class makes a lot of sense.
What never made sense though was cheating.
Ole Miss and its compliance staff proved that.
For updates all off-season, on stories all across the college football landscape, be sure to follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.
Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.