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Ole Miss joins the big boys on signing day

10:20 AM, Feb 6, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The fact that the big winner on National Letter of Intent Day came from the Southeastern Conference was not a surprise, but Ole Miss?

According to Scout.com, the Rebels had the 20th-best recruiting class in 2011, but only the 58th-best class last year. In 2013, they are projected in the Top 10.

This is a school with such alumni as quarterbacks Eli and Archie Manning, running back Deuce McAllister, linebacker Patrick Willis, wide receiver Mike Wallace and offensive tackle Michael Oher.

Seriously? The Rebels were 3-5 in the SEC West and 7-6 overall last season. Even worse, they were 2-11 in 2011. Defensively, they were 11th in pass defense and ninth in turnovers margin in the SEC.

So, the second biggest day of the year in college football began with the announcement of Robert Nkemdiche's plans for at least the next three seasons. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive juggernaut had offers from all of the country's powerhouse schools, including Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Oregon and USC. In fact, last June, he verbally committed to Clemson, then later had a change of heart.

Earlier Wednesday morning, Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 high school recruit, stood before a microphone and a national TV audience and broke the worst-kept secret in recruiting - his desire to play for second-year coach Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss next season.

Nkemdiche, out of Grayson High School in Georgia, selected Ole Miss after two straight seasons with 18 sacks and a chance to pair up with his older brother Denzel on the defensive side of the ball. Whatever the reason, the younger Nkemdiche will play in talent-heavy SEC. His quickness and intensity should fit well into chasing down SEC quarterbacks.

His signing doesn't make Ole Miss an automatic title contender, but it will give opposing offenses plenty to think about in the fall on Saturdays in Oxford.

"That was my parents' dream to see us play together," said the younger Nkemdiche at his press conference Wednesday morning. "It was important for me to make a family decision."

Freeze went head-to-head with the big boys of the SEC and came out still standing. Maybe the tide is turning in the SEC - no pun intended. Can you actually have too much talent on team? Is there enough playing time for everyone?

Freeze was not done on signing day. He tabbed two other five-star players in wide receiver Laquon Threadwell (Crete, Ill.) and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla.).

If the scenario falls into form, then the rich will be getting richer, regardless of what recruiting service you follow (Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN Recruiting Nation).

Scout.com projects the Michigan Wolverines with at least 27 commitments, including seven in the top 100 and four five-star players. In fact, the Big 10 places three in the top-10 overall classes (Ohio State at No. 2 and Nebraska No. 10).

Coach Brady Hoke enters his third year at Michigan. His biggest concern has been playing second fiddle to Ohio State, but that might change. The Wolverines have locked in five players, all in the top 10 at their respective position, including offensive lineman Steve Schilling (Bellevue, Wash.), linebacker Brandon Graham (Detroit) and perhaps the next great offensive tackle in Justin Boren (Pickerinton, Ohio).

Hoye might have found his next quarterback in David Cone out of Statesboro, Ga., but his most prized recruit is stud running back Derrick Green (Richmond, Va.).

Green stands at 5-foot-11, 230 pounds has outstanding power and size, but has to improve upon his breakaway speed and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, according to Scout.com.

Rivals.com is the place to turn for No. 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide followed up their second straight national title with a solid recruiting class, including 23 commitments and three five-star players. Among them are five players right in their own backyard: linebacker Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala.), tight end O.J. Howard (Autauga, Ala.), offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman (Roanoke, Ala.), defensive tackle Darius Page (Foley, Ala.) and athlete Ardarius Stewart (Fultondale, Ala.).

The two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide may not have the top- ranked recruiting class, but will grab at least 11 players in the top 150, according to ESPN. They will lose two juniors to the NFL Draft - running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner, along with a host of seniors, including offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, linebacker C.J. Mosley, center Barrett Jones and safety Robert Lester.

Don't feel sorry for coach Nick Saban. Last year's recruiting class might have produced a future Heisman Trophy winner in running back T.J. Yeldon and eight of the top 100 players, according to Rivals.com.

Over at ESPN Recruiting Nation, coach Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators carry the torch as the top class. The Gators garner 13 of the top 200 players, including two in the top eight - cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa, Fla.) and running back Kelvin Taylor (Bell Glade, Fla.).

Of the 14 SEC schools, Scout.com places five in the top 10 (Texas A&M, LSU, Florida, Alabama and Georgia). The lowest-ranked school is Kentucky at 47.

It doesn't matter what service you turn to, the same names appear close or near the top of everyone's list.

Some of the big question marks heading into this year's recruitment are:

With the departure of Chip Kelly at Oregon, can the Ducks keep what's been committed to them? Apparently, the best closer in the game is Ohio State's Urban Meyer, who might have just swooped in and flipped four-star athlete safety Dontre Wilson from the Ducks to the Buckeyes. According to Rivals.com, Wilson will bring more speed and playmaking ability to the defensive secondary.

Speaking of Ohio State, now that the Buckeyes are back from NCAA suspension, are they primed for a solid class? During the offseason, one of Meyer's goals was to replace outgoing linebackers John Simon and Etienne Sabino. He headed to Longhorn country and grabbed linebacker Mike Mitchell (Plano, Texas) out from under the arms of Mack Brown of Texas.

Can USC's Lane Kiffin survive without Matt Barkley and live with Max Wittek at quarterback? Kiffin nailed down perhaps the nation's top quarterback in Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash.) and defensive tackle in Kenny Bigelow (Elkton, Md.). According to one recruiting service, USC has as many five-star commitments (five) as two-time defending national champion Alabama.

Penn State enters Year 2 in the Bill O'Brien era. No one predicted what O'Brien did last season and now he's had a full year of recruiting. He picked up two solid five-star players in quarterback Christian Hackenberg (Fort Union, Va.) and tight end Adam Breneman (Camp Hill, Pa.). Although Hackenberg is the quarterback of the future, expect him to fit in nicely behind another solid recruit in junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson (Visalia, Calif.).

Now that Brian Kelly has decided to stay under the Golden Dome at Notre Dame, the Irish are looking to improve upon last year's 12-1 team. They have garnered at least 23 commitments, 14 of them on the offensive side of the ball. Wonder if that had anything to do with their lack of offense in the BCS national title game?

The Sports Network

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