Who had the better year on the recruiting trail: Ole Miss or Miss State?
On the eve of the Early Signing Period, we’re getting a pretty good idea of how the recruiting classes are shaping up for every team in the country.
For heated rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State, things are going pretty well. Each has what is considered a top-20 recruiting class and each is looking to close strong.
This begs the question: Who had the better year on the recruiting trail? Remember, this was essentially Year 1 for both coaching staffs, and each has been looking to capitalize on an historically great year for the state of Mississippi from a talent perspective.
Making the case for Ole Miss
According to 247sports, the Rebels have the No. 19 recruiting class nationally, which is pretty solid. Unfortunately, that’s only good enough for No. 9 in the SEC, which speaks volumes to how difficult it is to survive on and off the field in the best conference in America.
They have 27 players committed, which is more than anyone in the Top 25, with 5 4-star prospects and 22 3-star prospects. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that the enormous number of players committed certainly boosts their recruiting ranking, and that some teams that are lower than them (like Florida, for instance, with 10 4-stars committed) will jump the Rebels before it’s all said and done.
Having said that, there’s a lot of depth in this class, and I think it could eventually be to this staff what the 2012 class was to Hugh Freeze – a foundational staff. Remember, the 2013 class got all the hype (and headaches), but the class of 2012, while not necessarily high on 5-stars or pro prospects, provided a lot of good college football players.
The Rebels has benefitted from their potent offenses the past few years on the recruiting trail, and that trend is continuing with two 4-star WRs in Dannis Jackson and Jonathan Mingo, each of whom has the raw talent to be able to play right away, especially given the personnel losses. RB Jerrion Ealy, considered the No. 45 player nationally and No. 2 player from Mississippi, is the highest ranked player of the class. Of course, he’s also a threat to play professional baseball.
The Rebels have gone hard after offensive linemen in this class, and with 3 starters (LT Greg Little, LG Javon Patterson and C Sean Rawlings) and their best swing lineman (Jordan Sims) all either leaving early for the NFL or graduating, there’s a lot of both experience and production to replace. As of this writing, the Rebels have 8 offensive linemen committed, with 4-star OT Darius Thomas being the headliner.
But what about the defense? Remember, the unit that was dead last in the SEC in nearly every major statistical category? You know, the unit that had both little talent and depth? Surely Luke, unlike Freeze, would put a premium on the defensive side of the ball, right?
Of the Rebels’ 10 highest-ranked recruits, 2 play defense (4-star edge rusher Sam Williams and 3-star DT Patrick Lucas). It could be 3 if 3-star ATH Deantre Prince plays CB when he gets on campus, but you get the idea. Counting Prince, the Rebels have 11 defensive prospects committed (again, out of 27). Rebels fans are hoping and praying that this staff has a good eye for talent and are able to develop these prospects, because there’s no one like Robert Nkemdiche or Tony Conner, who can come in and be a game-changer right away.
If the Rebels are able to sign a Top 20 class this year, given the product on the field and considering both coordinators are gone, it should be considered a job well-done by Luke and Co. Especially when you consider that they’ve been dealing with sanctions (namely the limit of unofficial visitors) up until very recently. This staff finally has the opportunity to sell Ole Miss for what it is and not have to make excuses for past mistakes.
Making the case for Mississippi State
I’ve said this before, but my big concern when the Bulldogs hired Joe Moorhead was how well he’d be able to recruit Mississippi and the Deep South, given that his entire history was spent in the Northeast. The staff that he assembled would be crucial, as they’d need a lot of experience and ties to the region. Guess what? He did just that, and the Bulldogs have enjoyed success on the recruiting trail as a result.
As of this writing, the Bulldogs have the No. 17 recruiting class nationally, good for No. 7 in the SEC. They have 23 commitments – 7 4-stars and 16 3-stars.
State has done a very good job of using its high-profile defense, which was arguably the best in the country in 2018, to sell recruits, and the result is a class that is highlighted by several key prospects on defense. Four-star defensive linemen Nate Pickering, Charles Moore, De’Monte Russell and Ani Izuchukwu lead the way. Remember, the Bulldogs are replacing all 4 starters up front (assuming Jeffery Simmons leaves early, which he should), so they’re not only selling the fact that they know how to put players in position to succeed, but early playing time, too.
The Bulldogs are also losing a lot of production in their secondary, and have been putting a lot of focus to add depth there as well. They have commitments from 3 3-star cornerbacks and 3 safeties, including 4-star in-state prospect Jarrian Jones. JUCO transfer Fred Peters could be the heir apparent to Johnathan Abram.
Like the Rebels, the Bulldogs have gone hard after offensive linemen, and have 6 committed, with the headliner being 4-star OT Charles Cross from Laurel (Miss.), a top-100 player nationally thought to be an Ole Miss lean at one point.
Obviously, the guy most Mississippi State fans are excited to get onto campus is 4-star QB Garrett Shrader, from Charlotte, N.C., who is set to enroll early and go through spring ball. He’ll battle Keytaon Thompson to replace Nick Fitzgerald, and considering his passing upside, there’s a chance he wins the job before next season.
What we do know is that Moorhead handpicked Shrader, so now we’ll finally get to see him work and develop a QB he wanted, instead of one he inherited.
As a whole, this class is very balanced, with 11 prospects on offense (assuming 3-star ATH Lee Witherspoon plays RB) and 12 on defense, and they’ve done a very good job of addressing both needs and developmental players. Moorhead has also done a nice job of getting a head start on the in-state prospects for the 2020 class, as well, so Bulldog fans should be pleased overall with how recruiting is going right now.
So, who had the better year?
State. Why? The Bulldogs have done a better job of capitalizing on an historically great year for in-state talent. Ole Miss has been trying to sell their slogan of #MississippiMade, but it hasn’t been nearly as successful as they hoped.
Now, my answer might change if the Rebels are able to land 5-star LB Nakobe Dean of Horn Lake (Miss.), considered the 14th-best player nationally and the highest ranked in-state player since Cam Akers in 2017, but all indications are pointing towards him going to Georgia or Alabama.
Let’s also assume that Ealy, the No. 2 ranked player in-state and the Rebels’ highest ranked commitment, doesn’t even play college football. He’s considered by most pundits to be a top-15 prospect in the 2019 MLB Draft, and it’s really hard to envision him passing up generational wealth playing baseball so he can knock domes with SEC defenses for free the next few years.
Assuming the Rebels miss out on Dean and Ealy, and that no one else flips between now and Wednesday morning (which, let’s be real, is going to happen), the Rebels’ highest ranked in-state commitment would be Dannis Jackson, ranked by 247 sports as the No. 9 player from Mississippi. The Bulldogs will have signed 3 of the top-8 players, with Alabama snagging 2 and Auburn 1. Of the top 25 players from Mississippi, the Bulldogs have commitments from 8, while Ole Miss has 5.
For the Rebels to only sign 1 top-10 in-state player in an historically talented year for Mississippi? That’s a tough sell for a fan base that is extraordinarily unhappy right now.
I know, the Rebels have been behind the 8-ball the past year with the sanctions, but aside from the unofficial visit sanctions (which has been damaging), they’ve also been selling this class on the fact that they’ll come to Ole Miss with no sanctions and postseason eligibility intact. The opportunity to play is there, too.
State, meanwhile, was behind the 8-ball from the standpoint that they assembled this entire coaching staff just over a year ago and practically started from scratch on establishing relationships with prospects and building this class from the ground up.
So, in my humble opinion, on the eve of the Early Signing Period and with the caveat that craziness could still shake things up, I think Mississippi State has had the better year in recruiting.