While he is unsure if it is a cloud or the silver lining, Hugh Freeze knows what to expect this spring.
The second-year head coach at Ole Miss is on the heels of a 7-6 season in which his team won the Egg Bowl and a bowl game. He also signed the No. 7 recruiting class in the country.
It is that last point that has him most concerned. The 33-spot improvement from No. 40 last year was the greatest gain of any BCS automatic qualifying school in the country. It is making expectation Freeze's greatest enemy.
Freeze secured the top player in the country, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville (Ga.) Grayson. He also landed the top receiver in the nation, Laquon Treadwell of Crete (Ill.) Crete Monee, and the top offensive tackle by signing Laremy Tunsil from Lake City (Fla.) Columbia. All were five-star players.
The class was rounded out with nine four-star players representing Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas. By comparison, Ole Miss' class of 2012 had only two players rated as four-stars and it did not have one five-star player.
Freeze said there are no one-year wonders in the SEC and that those who believe that Oxford is destined for automatic glory may not have their feet on the ground.
"The reality is we had a surprising year and a very surprising recruiting season to most," he said.
"The facts are that the league we play in, particularly this side, they have had five classes like this over the past five years."
Alabama has won the national recruiting title in four of the last five seasons. Auburn and LSU have been top 15 recruiters in that same span. New-to-the-division Texas A&M was in the top 15 last year and the top 10 for the class of 2013. Arkansas and Mississippi State have fluctuated more, but neither is an also-ran in the recruiting industry.
Freeze said that, while he will push to get all he can out of his players, winning on the recruiting path does not lock victories onto the scoreboard.
"For us to expect to do something out of this world with just one full year of recruiting, I think, is a bit premature," he said. "Winning and losing can be your enemy."
Ole Miss was not alone in its rise in the recruiting rankings from 2012 to 2013, but of course there are others that went the other way. Here's a look at four other teams on the rise, followed by five who made a dramatic drop.
TEAMS ON THE RISE
KENTUCKY: Up 33 spots to No. 29 from No. 62 The Skinny:Mark Stoops. Plain and simple. What Stoops has done since his arrival on campus has piled onto the so-so recruiting that was being done by Joker Phillips. Stoops has redoubled his efforts on kids who were on the fence and has made a run at players who were not initially interested in Kentucky, and he has gotten them. There is a buzz in Lexington, and it is being felt in the Ohio River Valley, where the program has landed several kids out of Cincinnati. Quotable: "Part of this rise is just a recent run, because before Mark Stoops got there this was a pretty down class. He got a couple of high-profile junior college players, including four-star Za'Darius Smith, and then went into Ohio and got three kids, Jaleel Hytchye, Kyle Meadows and Lovell Peterson. I think that he found a perfect plan and is going after it. He didn't give up on this class and is showing he can get players into Kentucky." -- Woody Wommack, Rivals.com Southeastern analyst
IOWA STATE: Up 29 spots to No. 58 from No. 87 The Skinny: One has to go back to Earle Bruce from 1973 to '78 to find a coach at Iowa State who left with a winning record. Through four seasons, Paul Rhoads is as close as anyone has come at just three games under .500 and, yes, that is the good news. The combination of an improved product on the field and Iowa being down the last few seasons is starting to make a difference in recruiting. Iowa State isn't a juggernaut, but it is fighting for respectability. Quotable: "Paul Rhoads is proving to be a really good coach and someone kids believe in. Landing Jake Campos from an in-state power (West Des Moines Valley) was a big statement because he is the type of kid who either goes to Iowa or goes somewhere else. If he can keep getting guys like that on campus, it will start a cycle that feeds itself." - Mike Farrell, Rivals.com national analyst
KANSAS: Up 28 spots to No. 46 from No. 74. The Skinny: Kansas suffered through a 1-11 season with its lone victory coming against South Dakota State. It was held to 17 points or fewer in seven games, and Charlie Weis struggled to get the team in the gear that fans expected. All of that, somehow, made players want to come to the school, and it has pushed the class into the top 50 nationally. Quotable: "Kansas is killing it with junior college kids, almost taking a page from Kansas State in that respect. JUCO kids are obsessed with getting to the next level, and they look at Kansas and see a place with immediate playing time. They see Charlie Weis and his Super Bowl rings and think that this is a place that can get them to the next level. Being able to help some of these guys get there will likely determine if this kind of approach can be sustained at Kansas." -- Rob Cassidy, Rivals.com West analyst
WEST VIRGINIA: Up 24 spots to No. 24 from No. 48 The Skinny: WVU followed an explosive start to the season with a strong close to the recruiting season. The team landed six players after mid-January, and they included the top player, receiver Shelton Gibson from Cleveland (Ohio) Cleveland Heights. The move to the Big 12 seems to have boosted the stock of the program, and its dip into the junior college ranks helped score points in the Rivals formula. Quotable: "West Virginia did a very good job on selling guys in the Midwest. Getting Shelton Gibson and Darrien Howard and Grant Lingafelter from Ohio was a big move for them because it is not an area that they usually hit hard or have much success in. Those are three of the top five players in the class, and without them it wouldn't be in the top 25." -- Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt
FIVE WHO TOOK A TUMBLE
STANFORD: Down 58 spots from No. 5 to No. 63 The Skinny: This was a small class, just 12 commitments, and there is no real reason to panic for Cardinal fans. There are four players with four stars in this class, including two U.S. Army All-Americans: linebacker Peter Kalambayi and quarterback Ryan Burns. The class might stay small, but it will still have the quality that has been expected from the program. Next year, it will be a bigger class and likely will boost Stanford back into the teams on the rise.
COLORADO: Down 31 spots from No. 36 to No. 67 The Skinny: This was a moderate class with 19 signees, but none was rated as a four-star player. The season did not go as anyone expected in Colorado, and the Buffs were relatively noncompetitive in many games. The results cost Jon Embree his job after just two years, and he was replaced by San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, who scrambled to finish this class. There is some optimism as MacIntyre worked his magic at San Jose State -- which was in just as bad a shape, if not worse than this Colorado program that may be at an all-time low.
GEORGIA TECH: Down 28 spots from No. 56 to No. 84 The Skinny: This is yet another small class, which hurts the raw numbers of recruiting. The Yellow Jackets signed only 14 players, and none was a four-star. This was an incredibly talented year in Georgia, and the program was shut out of all the best players. The highlights of the class are Ricky Jeune of Montvale (N.J.) St. Joseph's and the anomaly of being the only program to sign three unrelated players with the same last name: Chris Griffin, Corey Griffin and Ty Griffin. This class does not have a linebacker, which could be a concern.
TEXAS TECH: Down 25 spots from No. 26 to No. 51 The Skinny: A disappointing season on the field combined with a coach who was never truly embraced made it tough in the early going. When Tommy Tuberville skipped town for Cincinnati, it all but stalled the process. Texas Tech actually closed the year with a decent run after the class sat at No. 86 with just over two weeks left until signing day. The bright spot here is that new head coach Kliff Kingsbury loves recruiting, and he has been the toast of the town since getting on campus. There is plenty of upside here and hope that a risky hire will make good.
BOSTON COLLEGE: Down 24 spots from No. 63 to No. 87 The Skinny: This can be excused as another small class with just 15 signees, but there are seven two-star players and that is cause for concern. The team has struggled in recruiting, and this year typifies that because there are no four-star players and more alarmingly there were no offensive lineman signed. There are many needs for the BC team, and a class like this may be a two-year issue. New head coach Steve Addazio is respected in the Northeast, and he will have his work cut out for him.