Undefeated in Mississippi Part 2

Examining the winning paths of Mississippi State and Ole Miss from the recruiting point of view.

See part 1 here.

Here we are in the middle of October and guess what – Mississippi State and Ole Miss are both undefeated.

Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze have coached their teams up, they have each won big games this season at home and on the road, and each has plenty of players on their rosters that will be drafted into the NFL in the coming years.

Great coaches have to have great talent, so each has recruited well in recent years, right?

It could be looked at different ways by different fan bases.

Ole Miss on a Mission

Examining the last four classes, according to the Scout rankings, Ole Miss has an average ranking of 26 and Mississippi State’s classes average out at 31. In 2011 and 2012, the Bulldogs signed the higher class with the Rebels signing better classes the last two cycles.

That shows on the field this season with the Bulldogs being an older team, with many young players making big impacts for the Rebels.

The best class in that time frame was the one Ole Miss signed in 2013 which featured four five-star prospects: Antonio Conner, Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, and Laquon Treadwell. All are playing up to their ranking and all will be high draft picks in the near future.

”I believe he (Coach Freeze) brought in an exciting offensive and defensive system first,” says recruiting expert Yancy Porter. “That attracted players in his first recruiting class in 2012. He parlayed his first season with a bowl win which enabled him to land several national recruits that he had ties with like, Nkemdiche, Treadwell, and Conner."

Porter continues, "You had three to four national guys who were leaning heavily towards Ole Miss because of their built in ties and they were able to help recruit some other national guys down the stretch. Without having a bowl season in year one he probably would not have been able to pull it off."

Once that class was in place and he had another bowl game under his belt, the 2014 recruits followed pursuit because they felt like something special was brewing.

That something special could be happening in front of our eyes. Impressive wins at LSU, at home against Alabama, and on the road again at Texas A&M have the Rebels in a spot they are not used to being in – chased by Alabama, Auburn, and LSU at this stage of the season.

Freeze has shown he is ready to play with the top programs in the country and he has been recruiting against them from day one.

”Coach Freeze was not scared to go after the national recruits from areas outside of the traditional states they recruit from,” said Porter. “Freeze also has a southern charm about him which draws recruits to his team."

”They love the ‘family’ atmosphere that he has built under his program. Another area that has changed is that character and IQ are really important to this staff. They are not taking elite players who are in it for themselves. He recruits team guys, and if they aren’t, they get left out of the picture.”

Those ‘team guys’ are winning as a team in 2014, and the Rebels are putting together a season to remember. That success on the field comes from the success on the recruiting trial.

Here are the Ole Miss class rankings over the last four years:

2011: No. 20 (Signed 27)
2012: No. 58 (Signed 20)
2013: No. 10 (Signed 26)
2014: No. 18 (Signed 25)

Back-to-back top 20 classes the last two years and it will likely close strong in 2015. It is currently just outside the top 25 in Scout’s rankings.

Winning isn’t everything when it comes to recruiting, but it definitely helps. After getting his type of players, Freeze is winning more. Eight wins in 2013, seven in 2012, and already six in 2014.

That success is important.

”It’s huge they keep winning. Every new staff has a three year window to sell their ‘dream’ so to speak,” said Porter, “but then recruits want to see results. The biggest factor will always be the one-on-one relationships the coaches build with the players, but the next most important factor is going to be winning.”

Mississippi State Strategy

The winning Ole Miss is taking part in this season on the field is the same type Mississippi State is – maybe a little better. But both have unblemished records.

Mullen and his players have some impressive wins and he has a chance to play not just the SEC Championship, but the National Championship this season.

Since taking over in Starkville, Miss., this has been Mullen’s philosophy.

”Dan Mullen has said from day one that he is committed to Mississippi prospects. He wants MSU to be their state school where they know they can come and compete for championships,” said Steve Robertson, the Co-Publisher at Gene’s Page. “The Mississippi State staff rely a lot on camp evaluations and chase prospects with a talent trajectory that may or may not garner a high ranking by the recruiting services."

”They want who they want no matter who else has offered or hasn't offered. State is not scared to be the first school in the boat or, in some cases, the only school in the boat.”

Some examples: Mississippi State beating out Holmes Community College for Johnthan Banks, who went on to win the Thorpe award. Southern Miss was the only other school to offer Jameon Lewis and he was the top returning receiver in the SEC. Bernarick McKinney was a two-star prospect with one offer and he's going to be one of the first linebacker taken in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The same could be said for Preston Smith. He's another guy nobody really talked about and now he's the defensive end everybody's talking about. Scout’s Chad Simmons named him the Midseason SEC Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week on Scout.

Freeze has more star-power in terms of recent signees, but Chris Jones, a five-star defensive lineman that Mullen and company found early, they held off the Rebels late charge, and he is now likely one year away from being a top 10 pick in the NFL. This current class for 2015 has the Bulldogs at No. 10 and this is likely going to be the Bulldogs top class under Mullen with stars on both sides of the ball.

You can see things turning for the staff in Starkville.

Mullen finds talent and he loves toughness. He likes to see a lunch-pail attitude on the field and that is the type of recruits he is looking for.

”Mullen wants guys who value hard work. He preaches it throughout the process,’ said David Murray, a contributor to Gene’s Page. “He talks about relentless effort, but it's not just a slogan or a bumper sticker, it's a way of life.

”Guys who want to be told how great they are might be happier somewhere else. The Mississippi State staff is going to push guys to work harder than they ever have to get the most out of them. Mullen is not one who talks about what can't be done or what everybody else has. He sells Mississippi State and they push the Bulldog brand and show incoming guys what other guys have done with comparable talent.

”They're taking guys from small towns and showing them the path to a college degree, a great experience as a college football player and a chance to keep playing.”

A chance to keep playing is right.

They may keep playing into early December at a place called The Georgia Dome.

Recruiting is going very well this cycle and it has a chance to finish in the top 10 come signing day 2015. Here is a look at the last four classes, which is where a lot of the current Bulldogs came from.

2011: No. 48 (Signed 22)
2012: No. 18 (Signed 28)
2013: No. 20 (Signed 22)
2014: No. 39 (Signed 24)

No top 10, not even top 15 classes there, but that is almost guaranteed this season. This success on the field leads to success on the recruiting trail. A lot of credit needs to go to the MSU coaching staff for taking chances on players, for believing in their evaluations, and as much as anything, for their player development.

Last season the Bulldogs showed signs of turning the corner, this season it has turned it in a big way.

”There is really not a great difference [in the teams], said Murray, “2013 set the stage for 2014. Injuries and circumstances made Coach Dan Mullen re-vamp for available personnel, particularly on offense. It finally brought two transforming November overtime victories and a Liberty Bowl blowout."

Most key performers of that strong finish are thus further advanced in the system and far more productive, shown by record-setting scoring and yardage statistics on offense.

”So 2014 is not truly a different season, it is a natural progression of what began in late 2013.”

Epic Egg Bowl in the Making

What happens if both Mississippi State and Ole Miss continue to win, do not lose a game, and play the Egg Bowl on November 29 with both schools undefeated? It will be epic.

Many recruiting battles not only this cycle, but the ones in the near future could be won that day, and both staffs love to recruit the Magnolia State, it loves to say it’s the home-state team, and it loves to win recruiting battles.

Hugh Freeze signed Nkemdiche, Mullen signed Jones, and each will likely sign another top-ranked national prospect in the near future with what is going on in Oxford and Starkville.

The more recruiting battles you win, the more Egg Bowls you win, and the more SEC Championships you play for. This years Egg Bowl could have a lot riding on it on many levels and the teams only 100 miles apart look to be rising up on the field and in recruiting in the top conference in the country, the SEC.

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