December 23, 2008

Rebels set for strong recruiting finish

January should be an interesting month for Ole Miss, as the Rebels have put themselves in the enviable position of have a handful of slots available for several top targets. The bulk of Houston Nutt's second class is done. The Rebels figure to bring in a full 25 initial enrollees, meaning the Rebels will likely sign 30-32 players on Feb. 4.

As with any class, there will be players on the commitment list who won't qualify academically. Some of the players who will sign national letters-of-intent will be guided to junior colleges or prep schools. A couple of others will likely be grayshirted, meaning they will wait until January 2010 to enroll and go on scholarship.

And if it's a typical recruiting year, there will be surprises and disappointments, last-minute changes of heart and enough theatrics to make Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie jealous. Still, look for the Rebels to close with a flourish and a top-30 signing class.

The following is an overview of where the Rebels stand now, which prospects (to the best of our knowledge) are still on the board and's guesses as to Ole Miss chances to sign the remaining targets, ranked on a 1-10 scale, with 1 signifying virtually no chance and 10 signifying a stone cold lock to sport the red and blue at the college level.

QUARTERBACKS: Ole Miss wants to sign a signal-caller, and with Clayton Moore off the board, the focus has clearly shifted to Meade, Md., four-star Raymond Cotton. From all accounts, the Rebels lead for the former Auburn commitment, with Southern Miss, Arkansas and possibly Florida in the mix. Cotton will visit on Jan. 9. Alabama commitment AJ McCarron is scheduled to travel to Oxford on Jan. 16, but his commitment to the Crimson Tide is extremely solid.

Likelihood of signing with Ole Miss:
Raymond Cotton: Neal McCready-- 7; Dave Childers -- 5
AJ McCarron: Neal -- 1; Dave -- 1

Current commitments: None

RUNNING BACKS: It's never been difficult for Nutt and Co. to sign running backs, and that hasn't changed this year. Four-star Kendrick Hardy remains on the board, and while the belief here is the Rebels would still take his commitment happily, his recruiting no longer seems to be a pressing priority. Southern Miss appears to be Ole Miss' chief competitor.

Likelihood of signing with Ole Miss:
Kendrick Hardy: Neal -- 5; Dave --

Current commitments: Gabriel Hunter, Korvic Neat, Rodney Scott, Tim Simon and ATH Demond Washington.

WIDE RECEIVERS: The Rebels would love to land commitments from two or three more wide receivers between now and National Signing Day. The Rebels appear to lead for Patrick Patterson and Eric Williams and are very much in the mix for Tyrece Gaines, Lamar Scruggs and Ja-Mes Logan. Chad Bumphis, after some sort of "miscommunication" being ironed out between he and the Rebel staff, may or may not be on the board as well. This is one of the most interesting spots on the board, as the Rebels may be inclined to take an extra wide receiver commitment at the expense of another area on the roster. The prospects on the list are that good. The Rebels are a longshot at best at the nation's No. 1 wide prospect, Bastrop, La., wide receiver Reuben Randle, but sources have indicated that Randle's family have consistently told Ole Miss that the Rebels are indeed in the mix.

Likelihood of signing with Ole Miss:
Patrick Patterson: Neal -- 7, Dave --
Eric Williams: Neal -- 7, Dave --
Tyrece Gaines: Neal -- 4, Dave --
Lamar Scruggs: Neal -- 5, Dave --
Ja-Mes Logan: Neal -- 4, Dave --
Chad Bumphis: Neal -- 2, Dave --
Reuben Randle: Neal -- 1, Dave --

Current Commitments: Terrell Grant, Montez Phillips (also being recruited as a free safety.

TIGHT END: Ole Miss has its sights set on Nashville, Tenn., two-sport star Zaccheus Mason, who has offers from the Rebels, Tennessee and Memphis, with Georgia and others moving in quickly. The Rebels lead, however, as Kent Austin has done a fantastic job on Mason's recruitment. Knoxville, Tenn., tight end Daniel Hood remains on the radar as well, though no one is quite sure of his status.

Likelihood of signing with Ole Miss:
Zaccheus Mason: Neal -- 7, Dave --
Daniel Hood: Neal -- 3, Dave --

Current commitments: Thad McHaney (Could move to either line of scrimmage or remain at tight end).

OFFENSIVE LINE: No position has caused more concern for Ole Miss coaches and fans alike than the offense line, which will lose Michael Oher, Darryl Harris and Maurice Miller after the Jan. 2 AT&T Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech.

The no. 1 player on the Ole Miss board is Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy offensive tackle Bobby Massie, who says virtually nothing to media covering his recruitment, thereby engendering a new rumor every day. Ole Miss appears to have replaced Miami in the top three for Massie. That's the good news. The bad news is the top two _ Alabama and Georgia, in some order _ has consistently remained on top. The Rebels will get a visit out of Tennessee commitment Aubrey Phillips and there are a couple of prospects being recruited as defensive linemen who could well end up with Mike Markuson's group next fall.

Likelihood of signing with Ole Miss:
Bobby Massie: Neal -- 4, Dave --
Aubrey Phillips: Neal -- 2, Dave --

Current commitments: Logan Clair (signed), Michael Brown, Emmanuel McCray, Aaron Schulte.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: With Fletcher Cox falling off the possible board at a rapid rate, Ole Miss' emphasis at defensive end has shifted even stronger to Alex Williams, Victor Gray, Justin Kitchens (also an offensive line prospect) and Ceasare Johnson (strong sign-and-place candidate). At defensive tackle, the Rebels would love to land Josh Boyd, but their chances are slim. The odds are much better with four-star Corey Gaines, who appears to have narrowed his finalists to Ole Miss and Arkansas. The Rebels could end up getting involved with Mobile's Terrance Coleman, and West Helena, Ark., standout Eric Smiley appears to be a strong sign-and-place candidate.

Likelihood of signing with Ole Miss:
Fletcher Cox: Neal -- 2; Dave --
Alex Williams: Neal -- 6, Dave --
Victor Gray: Neal -- 6, Dave --
Justin Kitchens: Neal -- 4, Dave --
Ceasare Johnson: Neal -- 6, Dave --
Josh Boyd: Neal -- 2, Dave --
Corey Gaines: Neal -- 6, Dave --
Terrance Coleman: Neal -- 2, Dave --
Eric Smiley: Neal -- 4, Dave --

Current commitments: Markell Lee, Mike Thomas (also an offensive line prospect), Cameron Whigham.

LINEBACKERS: The Rebels will definitely add another linebacker or two to their commitment list between now and Feb. 4, and there are several strong candidates. Largo, Fla., product Mike Marry has a long list, but Ole Miss has always been near the top of it. The Rebels will be a factor in the race. Former LSU commitment Willie Ferrell is playing things close to the vest, but Ole Miss has been a steady force in the race for his signature for awhile. He's teammates with Alex Williams, and that can only help the Rebels' chances. Lithonia, Ga.'s Joel Kight will visit next month, and the Rebels have done a strong job with him as well and could be the leader unless Georgia Tech offers. The Rebels are a sleeper for four-star outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, but LSU and Alabama are the favorites there. Kim Dameron has done a terrific job on Sulphur, La., outside linebacker Tahj Jones, and the Rebels are set to truly challenge LSU for his signature.

Likelihood to sign with Ole Miss:
Mike Marry: Neal -- 6, Dave --
Willie Ferrell: Neal -- 5, Dave --
Joel Kight: Neal -- 5, Dave --
Barkevious Mingo: Neal -- 2, Dave --
Tahj Jones: Neal -- 4, Dave --

Current commitments: Demarcus Knight

CORNERBACKS: No single area was a higher priority for Ole Miss this season than cornerback. The Rebels would like to sign at least four _ and maybe more _ cornerbacks who can come in and challenge for early playing time. Demond Washington, listed as a running back here, could easily end up at cornerback in the fall. With that in mind, the Rebels are still pushing hard for South Florida commitment Ricardo Dixon and are moving closer to issuing a scholarship offer to Neptune Beach, Fla., standout Marcus Berg. Dixon's teammate, Korvic Neat, said Dixon was torn between the Bulls and Rebels, while Berg has stated that Ole Miss would be very tough to beat if the Rebels offer. Pine Bluff, Ark., athlete Jesse Grandy, likely a cornerback at the college level, is also very high on the Rebels.

Likelihood to sign with Ole Miss:
Ricardo Dixon: Neal -- 5, Dave --
Marcus Berg: Neal -- 4, Dave --
Jesse Grandy: Neal -- 5, Dave --

Current commitments: Ryan Campbell, Artice Kellam, Charles Sawyer.

SAFETIES: Ole Miss is in great shape with several safety prospects and figure to close strong in this area. Batesville, Miss., strong safety David Conner is a strong Ole Miss lean, though Auburn and Mississippi State are somewhat in the mix. Miami's Frank Crawford has indicated that he'll commit to Ole Miss as soon as he visits. The Rebels are also a strong contender for Daytona Beach, Fla., standout Jonathan Scott, whose brother, James Scott, transferred to Ole Miss from Ohio State earlier this fall. The Rebels are also in the mix, to varying degrees, for Louisville, Miss., athlete Dennis Thames and Tulsa, Okla., safety Terrell Williams. Finally, former South Panola star Darius Barksdale, now at Hargrave, has indicated that he wants to sign with Ole Miss in February. The question mark with "Tig" remains academics.

Likelihood to sign with Ole Miss:
David Conner: Neal -- 8, Dave --
Frank Crawford: Neal -- 9, Dave --
Jonathan Scott: Neal -- 6, Dave --
Dennis Thames: Neal -- 1, Dave --
Terrell Williams: Neal -- 5, Dave --
Darius "Tig" Barksdale: Neal -- 8, Dave --

Current commitments: Jamar Hornsby, Dele Junaid

KICKERS AND PUNTERS: Ole Miss, from all accounts, really doesn't want to let Andrew Ritter get away, and Nutt invited the Jackson, Miss., kicker up for an unofficial visit last week to make sure both parties were seeing eye-to-eye. Ritter said Monday that he now understands the Rebels' position and considers what they have on the table _ he wouldn't be specific, but it sounded like a grayshirt offer _ a full scholarship offer. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Southern Miss appear to be the real candidates for Ritter's signature, with LSU serving as a wildcard of sorts.

Likelihood to sign with Ole Miss:
Andrew Ritter: Neal -- 7, Dave --

Current commitments: P Tyler Campbell.

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