Freeze Begins Long Road Back
By Matt Smith
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After one conference win in two seasons, Ole Miss begins a new era with its 2012 class.
Life in the SEC West isn’t easy right now. Three of the teams in the division finished the season ranked in the top five of the polls, and a fourth just won a national title in 2010.
Not only is Ole Miss lagging behind the division’s elite, but they also lost by 17 and 23 points to Kentucky and Vanderbilt respectively as part of an 0-8 season in the SEC. The Rebels find themselves right back where they were four years ago when Ed Orgeron was fired after a winless conference season.
Houston Nutt was relieved of his duties in November, and former Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze was given the unenviable task of turning around the Rebels. It will be nine months from his hiring date until results can be seen on the field, but with his first recruiting class in Oxford now in the books, there is at least some tangible evidence of his progress.
Ole Miss was only able to sign 17 players as things currently stand, due in part to 28 players coming onboard a year ago. Although the small class puts the Rebels near the bottom of the SEC, they were able to land two Rivals.com four-star players.
Channing Ward, a defensive end who may have been the most impressive player in the Under Armour All-America Game, has signed on to be a Rebel next fall. Despite offers from nine other SEC schools, the Aberdeen, Miss. native chose to stay in his home state.
The Ole Miss backfield has a major hole to fill with the departure of Brandon Bolden, but Murfreesboro, Tenn. four-star running back I’Tavius Mathers is on his way to Oxford and could be the starter from day one with 5’7” incumbent Jeff Scott not built to be an every down player.
The biggest news on National Signing Day out of Oxford was landing three-star defensive back Trae Elston. The Oxford, Ala. native had offers from Clemson, Florida State, and USC in addition to nine other SEC schools. With junior college transfer Dehendret Collins the only other defensive back signed, landing Elston represents a major coup for Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.
As usual, the Rebels focused on players close to home, signing seven players from Mississippi and two others from nearby Memphis. Elston was one of three players from neighboring Alabama to sign with Ole Miss.
There are no overnight fixes when you’re in the toughest division in college football. It’s hard to recruit without on-field success, and it’s hard to have on-field success without recruiting success. Freeze’s staff has preached the ability to play right away at Ole Miss as opposed to other programs as its main selling point.
The Walk of Champions at Ole Miss is one of the most famous pregame rituals in college football. The road to victories will be a lot longer and a lot bumpier than the walk through the Grove, but with the 2012 class signed, the trek can now begin.