Hugh Freeze’s rebuilding project at Ole Miss is moving ahead of schedule. The first-year head coach led the Rebels to a 7-6 final mark, including a bowl game win over Pitt. The BBVA Compass Bowl capped a finish that has to please Rebel faithful, following up Ole Miss’ rout of rival Mississippi State.
And, it would seem, Freeze’s debut was merely the foundation for much bigger things. He has experience making quick work of turning around a program. By his second season at Arkansas State, the RedWolves were 10-game winners and Sun Belt Conference champions. Freeze attracted talent to Jonesboro that went on to win a second Sun Belt title after his departure. Players like Ryan Aplin thrived under his tutelage, and Freeze helped mold others like Demario Davis into NFL prospects.
Armed with the allure of the SEC, Freeze and his coaching staff are on fire along the recruiting trail. The Rebels added Laquon Treadwell on Thursday, a commitment that improves Ole Miss’ 2013 signing class to No. 11 nationally, according to Rivals.com. Treadwell is a five star wide receiver out of Crete, Ill. who should find an immediate role in the Rebels’ uptempo offense.
The most notable change between the 2012 Rebels and the 2011 version was on offense. Freeze installed a quicker variation on the spread offense that produced 31.5 points per game. He inherited a tea that, at 16.1 points per game the season before, ranked among the nation’s most anemic offenses.
The Rebels’ inability to slow opponents hindered Ole Miss. Opponents averaged 27.6 points per game overall, but in losses, the Rebels gave up 39 per in losses. Freeze needs defensive support, and to that end, has recruited such noteworthy prospects as defensive back Nickolas Brassell and tackle Lavon Hooks.
But the cornerstone of a potentially program-defining corps is defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. Ole Miss has a positive outlook for landing Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 overall prospect in this class.
Originally verbally committed to Clemson, the Grayson High product’s pledge was never ironclad. Ole Miss has lingered in the conversation since Nkemdiche’s original commitment in June. The success of his brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, can’t hurt Freeze’s case. Denzel was named to the FWAA Freshmen All-America team with a team-leading 82 tackles — 13 for loss — and three interceptions.
Pairing the Brothers Nkemdiche would spell trouble for the SEC. Denzel roaming the midfield at linebacker and Robert blitzing off the edge? It’s an exciting situation to imagine.
Of course, others want Robert’s services. LSU has been in pursuit, and reports he may visit Florida persisted this week. UF head coach Will Muschamp has put together arguably the best recruiting for 2013, last week landing Alex Anzalone by way of Notre Dame-by way of Ohio State.
For either team, Nkemdiche’s signature on the letter of intent is a game-changer. He’s a different type of player than South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, despite playing the same position. However, similarities between the two are apparent. Each was a consensus No. 1 recruit. Both have the skill sets to contribute at an All-Conference level immediately. Each broke Clemson’s heart.
Clowney finished 2012 as an All-American and Heisman Trophy front runner for his junior season. With Nkemdiche expected to have similar impact, it’s no wonder programs are going all-in on landing his commitment. Should the winner be Ole Miss, Freeze will have the base for an SEC champion in the very near future. And it’s well established that being an SEC champion translates into national championship contention.