Orgeron faces uphill battle

For Ole Miss, the year 2005 will be evaluated by the recruiting season rather than by won-lost results.

For Ole Miss, the year 2005 will be evaluated by the recruiting season rather than by won-lost results.

The win over Citadel was great to get but certainly not significant as far a gaining any respect in our league. A win over Alabama, Auburn or LSU would be significant but it is not likely to happen. To beat any one of those three would be an upset of classical proportions.

On the other hand the Rebs can, and should, beat Kentucky. They should be an even bet against Arkansas and Mississippi State. That means if the dice roll in the Rebels favor they will finish the current season with five wins and six losses. It would be disappointing, certainly in view of Coach Ed Orgeron's preseason optimism but, frankly. It is the best we can hope for with our present talent level.

I say that with all due respect to the team members. They are a gritty bunch and goodness knows they have tried to be competitive. But as a group they are too small, too slow and too inexperienced to match up in the "bigger" games, barring an out-of-body, surreal performance along the line.

So we get back to the original premise. The answer is a great recruiting year and it won't be easy. As we wrote a week or two ago, Mississippians like to believe their state is filled with Division I level high school football players. It isn't true. Not only is there less blue chip talent in our state than most of our SEC sister states, at least 40% of those won't qualify academically.

The Rebels this year had commitments from several players with standout potential who are now in junior college or prep school because their grade point averages or ACT scores did not reach the current NCAA standard. A couple of those kids would likely be starting. Most would be playing to some degree.

This isn't a one year problem and it is not ours alone. I heard the announcer of the Oklahoma-Texas game say that in 2003 the Sooners had one of the finest recruiting years in the country. People raved about it. The school signed 24 players. Today, less than two years later, only 10 are still on the team. The rest are gone. Who knows where?

Not only is there a shortage of eligible talent in Mississippi, what is available is split - somewhat - four ways, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi and Jackson State. Certainly not equal splits, but splits nonetheless. Name another SEC school with a similar problem.

But that still isn't the end of it. We divide up what is available among our four state schools but lose some to raiders from the outside. Understand this. LSU, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, and even Memphis, don't go after our red chippers. They've got plenty of red chippers of their own. They seek to sign our blue chippers, the best we have, and unfortunately, too many times they are successful.

LSU started the season with six players from Mississippi High Schools or Mississippi junior colleges on their roster. Auburn had four. Alabama three, Tennessee three, even Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia each has one.

That's a total of 19, not including those who have chosen schools outside the SEC.

This is not a new problem. What is sauce for the other guy's goose is equally so for our gander. Of the 77 players the SEC listed on the Rebel pre season roster, an amazing 35 came from outside our state, everywhere from Florida to Illinois to Indiana to Pennsylvania. Of the four Ole Miss players listed with All-Star potential in the SEC Media Guide two came from outside the state, McKinley Boykin of Bessemer, Alabama, and Patrick Willis of Bruceton, Tennessee. Only Tre Stallings of Magnolia, Mississippi, and Mike Espy of Madison, Mississippi, are native sons.

And so there is the problem. Orgeron isn't likely to rebuild the Rebel program with all in-state players. There aren't that many and many are dyed in the wool fans of other schools. He'll have to recruit other states who will fight him tooth and nail for their own blue chippers. That means he is most likely to sign red chippers he believes have blue chip potential. You don't turn a program around overnight when that is the path you are forced to follow.

This is not pessimism, although admittedly it sounds that way and will be read that way by some Ole Miss supporters. It is realism. No one loves Ole Miss any more than I do but I'm not foolish enough to believe that in July and August 2006 we will have reason to believe the program will be vastly improved over this year's probable 5-6 record. The restoration of the Ole Miss football program is going to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. How long the evolution is going to take is unknown, but it starts with the 2006 recruiting class.

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