For Ole Miss football, this transfer and recruiting class has to deliver. Veteran sportswriters Parrish Alford says Head Coach Lane Kiffin won’t be content to stay around for 10-win regular seasons with no real threat to win a championship.
Method and madness are often closely linked, and Lane Kiffin has told us, if only in imagery, of his plans.
More than two years ago Kiffin talked about the “free agency” that’s come to college football.
Whether he likes it or doesn’t like it is beside the point; he understands that free agency is here to stay, and the portal is his madness.
He’s got an efficient, organized group in The Grove Collective that understands how to compete in the Name, Image and Likeness world.
Combining method, madness and now means it’s not completely surprising that Ole Miss has the top transfer classes in college football.
It’s a group that is defense-heavy with eight of the 10 on that side of the ball. The class was ranked No. 2 by 247Sports going into the Christmas Eve weekend when a commitment from Texas A&M defensive lineman Walter Nolen, a prime time pick-up, vaulted the Rebels past Colorado. Nolen, the No. 1-ranked player in the portal, has the size and skill to play on the interior or the outside.
Ole Miss has five defensive players ranked among the top 60 in the portal according to the 247 rankings.
Edge rushers Princely Umanmielen (Florida) and Tyler Baron (Tennessee), cornerback Decamerion Richardson (Mississippi State) and linebacker Chris Paul Jr. (Arkansas) are also potential high-impact guys.
It’s not the first time Kiffin has hit the portal hard. This plan didn’t begin after Kiffin and the Rebels were humbled 52-17 at then-No. 1 Georgia in early November, but that loss highlighted the differences between an SEC champion dreamer and a team with a realistic chance to win the conference title and more.
There are two key parts to his method, one being his own commitment.
A year ago Kiffin had his bizarre public courtship with Auburn that ended with him remaining at Ole Miss.
The second key part to the method is defensive coordinator Pete Golding, who Kiffin hired from Alabama a year ago.
“Pete’s been unbelievable.He’s always been a relentless recruiter. He’s done a really good job of improving our defense on the field and now. He really didn’t have a chance last season because he didn’t have an off-season because of how late he got here. His relationships with players from previous recruiting went a long way too. Like I said, maybe we won’t be very good, but we’ll look really good coming out of the tunnel,” Kiffin said.
The transfers have grabbed the headlines, but it’s not only about the transfers.
Ole Miss on Signing Day added Lake Cormorant defensive lineman Kam Franklin, ranked a five-star by Rivals, and Deion Smith, the former LSU signee, ranked the No. 1 JUCO prospect by Rivals and On3.
As Kiffin sifted through the ashes in Athens he lamented his lack of five-star talent compared to Georgia’s, and he wasn’t wrong to do that.
There was a lot of star talk that night. In the recruiting industry five stars are rare. In Mississippi, the players on those Signing Day lists who have four stars by their names are celebrated. Truth is, in the ratings game most four-stars are closer to the three-star kids than their more highly starred brethren.
There’s less certainty with the four stars.
Sometimes a three-star kid of moderate ability excels as a big-impact player on a college team because of a combination of work ethic, coaching and the intangibles. Maybe an injury creates an opportunity allowing the player to get on the field early and his career takes off.
Those are great stories when you can get them, but there’s a lot that has to go right for that story to have a happy ending.
Those are the stories that can help good coaching staffs win nine or 10 regular season games and maybe make their way to a New Year’s Six bowl, or as the postseason landscape changes, think 12 seed in the playoff field.
But that’s not the level at which Kiffin is competing right now. He’s done that twice in four seasons at Ole Miss.
He wants to succeed on a higher plane.
This class, transfers and key pick-ups in the more traditional manner, is important for several reasons, not the least of which is timing.
Kiffin won’t be content to stay around for 10-win regular seasons with no real threat to win a championship.
Ten is a mighty impressive number in these parts, but soon Kiffin suitors will convince him he’s done all he can do at Ole Miss. Maybe that suitor is a marquee college program. Maybe it’s a second shot at the NFL. That Raiders gig, after all, was a long time ago. Whatever the case, Kiffin, with his wandering eyes, will become bored with 10 wins when the losses to the SEC’s elite teams weren’t close.
He doesn’t fit the mold that many have described for the Mississippi teams through the years, that coach that would win eight or nine games most seasons, sometimes 10, and stay for decades.
Ole Miss lost only to the SEC’s best teams this year but against neither Georgia nor Alabama were the Rebels a threat to win.
This transfer class needs to deliver, but they won’t have to deliver alone. The Rebels have key pieces returning on both sides of the ball. The class will have its impact players, but it’s also providing that quality depth long sought in Mississippi.
The Rebels don’t need to win the championship next year, but they need to do something that tells Kiffin those suitors are wrong. Maybe that means to get to the playoffs and win a game. Maybe it’s what would be a second-straight win against LSU and knocking off Georgia in the same season.
For now, the class has created so much positive energy it’s made an upcoming Peach Bowl against No. 10 Penn State almost an afterthought. What a boost it could be to off-season momentum if the Rebels pull out a win.
Kiffin lost interest in Ole Miss at the end of last year. He was critical of his talent level relative to his goals after the Georgia game. Now in his mind he’s done something about it.
He and this class need to make a big splash on the national scene not just with points, yards and sassy social media posts but with wins.
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