In two seasons, Houston Nutt has led Ole Miss to back-to-back 9-4 marks and Cotton Bowl wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
That success has enabled Ole Miss to recruit very well; the Rebels' 2010 class was ranked 25th in the ESPN.com class rankings, and its 2009 class was ranked 22nd. What's interesting in Oxford, Miss. is how the Rebels built these past two classes. In a recruiting world that is so accelerated, more teams are evaluating and offering scholarships earlier and more recruits are committing earlier. So the Rebels did the opposite, committing prospects much later in the process.
Over the past two years, from Thanksgiving to national signing day (the first Wednesday in February), Ole Miss received commitments from an astounding 44 prospects in that time. In the old days -- about five years ago -- that would have been par for the course when it came to recruiting, especially in the SEC. But times quickly changed for everyone. Schools began locking up prospects earlier, but Nutt and his staff didn't follow the herd. And it worked, as evidenced by consecutive classes ranked among the best in the country.
This year, the Rebels surprisingly have 13 commitments already and it would appear that there was a philosophical change. But that's not necessarily the case. Nutt & Co. have done a great job of getting prospects on campus earlier this year and they know, like every other program, that once they get a prospect on campus, it gives them a better chance to land them. It also surprises recruits, especially ones not from the state of Mississippi, just how beautiful the Ole Miss campus is and how impressive the facilities are in Oxford. Prospects also see a stable program that, led by Nutt, has done well both on and off the field and it has led to earlier commitments. But that doesn't mean the Rebels won't close hard and fast like they have in the past two years. It just means they're off to a better start in 2010.
Who the Rebels have
The Rebels have landed one quarterback in three-star Maikhail Miller from Fulton (Miss.) Itawaba High School. A 6-foot-3, 225-pounder with a big arm, Miller passed for 1,955 yards and 16 touchdown passes and also rushed for 457 yards and 13 TDs. That's a pretty productive junior campaign.
Ole Miss is sitting on two running back commitments in Winona (Miss.) High School three-star RB Chelarvez Brown and Newpork (Ark.) High School RB Artez Brown. Brown at 6-1 and 185 pounds, runs well between the tackles and had 1,215 yards as a junior. Brown chose the Rebels over Arkansas, Baylor, Kansas and Memphis.
Wide receivers Donte Moncrief and T.J. Worthy are also heading to Oxford. Moncrief, a three-star from from Raleigh (Miss.) HS, is a do-it-all receiver with size (6-3, 200 pounds) and speed. Worthy, from Gadsden (Ala.) HS, is silky smooth and terrific with the ball in his hands. Worthy is a big play waiting to happen.
Mitch Hall and Ethan Hutson are two offensive line prospects committed to Ole Miss. Hall, from Russellville (Ark.) HS and the first commitment for Ole Miss' 2011 class, is better in pass protection at this stage. He has very good feet and balance and will likely play tackle in Oxford. His older brother, Matt, signed with Arkansas in 2008, but has since transferred to Ole Miss. Meanwhile, Hutson is a versatile offensive line prospect from Destrehan (La.) HS who can play anywhere on the line of scrimmage. He's athletic, has good feet and a mean streak. He has the pedigree, too; his father, Mark, is the offensive line coach at Tulane.
Defensively, the Rebels have helped their back seven with linebacker and secondary commitments. Serderius Bryant, from Sanford (Fla.) Seminole, is an undersized (5-9, 213 pounds) four-star outside linebacker who's speedy, athletic and very physical. Need proof? Over the past two years, he has 273 tackles. Marcus Mayers is a three-star OLB from Taylorsville (Miss.) HS who has good speed and plays well in space.
The Rebel secondary will get a boost from two Miami Southridge teammates, four-star S Gerrod Holliman and three-star CB Andrew Johnson. Holliman, the Rebels' highest-rated commit, is No. 43 in the ESPNU 150 and the nation's No. 3-rated safety. He is a ballhawk and always making plays. Holliman has great instincts and great range. Johnson is a 5-9, 161-pound cornerback who makes big plays, as evidenced by his eight interceptions this past season. He has good cover skills, is physical and fearless.
Another athlete who could find his way to the safety position is Cody Prewitt from Bay Springs (Miss.) Sylva-Bay Academy. He could play on offense as a receiver or even H back, or defensively as a safety or linebacker. Senquez Golson, from Pascagoula (Miss.) HS, is another good athlete who will probably play corner for the Rebels
Who the Rebels still want
With 13 commitments in the fold, the Rebels know they still have a lot of work to do on the recruiting front. Ole Miss wants to close hard in their need areas of offensive tackle, defensive tackle, linebacker and more help in the secondary.
They are one of the leaders for three-star running back DeVondrick Nealy (Monticello, Fla./Jefferson County). Tre Mason (Boyton Beach, Fla./Park Vista), Derrick Milton (Pineville, La./Hargrave Military Academy) and Marcus Caffey (Atlanta/Grady) are three other backs to watch for with Ole Miss. Four-star wideout Tobias Singleton (Madison, Miss./Central) leads a pack of receivers the Rebels are after that also includes Curt Evans (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade), Collins Moore (Madison, Ala./Bob Jones), A.J. King (Tampa, Fla./Armwood), Josh Pinkston (Forest, Miss/Forest.), DeAndre Sellers (Bastrop, La./Bastrop), and Nickalos Brassell (Batesville, Miss./South Panola).
On the other side of the ball, Ole Miss is among the leaders for defensive tackles Chuck Hunter (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) and Jesse Williams (Yuma, Ariz./Yuma Catholic). Some others who are high on the Rebels' board are P.J. Jones (Tupleo, Miss./Tupelo), Jonathan Jenkins (Perkinston, Miss./Mississippi Gulf CC), Terry Bell (Lakeland, Fla./Tenoroc) and defensive end Kameron Wood (Birmingham, Ala./John Carroll).
Cornerback Floyd Raven (Reserve, La./East St. John) currently lists Ole Miss and Texas A&M as his leaders. The Rebels would love to turn Mississippi State commitment Jermaine Whitehead (Greenwood, Miss./Amanda Elzy), who is the state's top defensive back. Ronnie Harris (Atlanta/Westlake), Deshazor Everett (DeRidder, La./DeRidder), JeVante Watson (Bastrop, La./Bastrop), Paul Turner (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) and Derek King (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy), Ryan Byrd (Greensburg, La./St. Helena) are a handful of defensive backs considering Ole Miss.
Another productive season on the field will likely yield another productive year off it, provided that the Rebels continue their winning ways on the recruiting front. Look for Nutt and his staff to work Mississippi and the South region hard. The states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana have been good to the Rebels and they will look to these areas once again to close with another potential top 25 recruiting class.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.