Earlier this week Bleacher Report columnist Edwin Weathersby listed Ole Miss among his five schools whose bowl games most matter for their recruiting efforts.
I’m not putting a whole lot of stock into this bowl game as it relates to the current recruiting class, the first full class for Hugh Freeze.
Obviously, when you line up and play you want to win. That will be the case when the Rebels take on Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham on Jan. 5.
But there is nothing Freeze can do in the bowl game that will matter more to his fan base than he did by winning — and how he won — the Egg Bowl against rival Mississippi State.
For Freeze to help Ole Miss end a three-game losing streak after having endured taunts and billboard campaigns meant more to fans than would beating Pitt. I think a dominating SEC home win would mean more to recruits too.
However, the bowl game should not be taken lightly. There’s a sense of euphoria for simply reaching a bowl game and rightfully so, understanding where this program was when Freeze took over.
If Freeze can get recruits to look at the big picture, the academic issues at the beginning, the depth issues at key positions, the unknown factor of a first-year junior college transfer as your starting quarterback … If recruits consider those factors plus how close this team was to winning seven or eight games, they will see a program with momentum.
The bowl game represents the last memory for Freeze’s 2012 debut season, and sometimes the last memory is the strongest. To go in and flop, to be lethargic and suffer a decisive loss is not the memory anyone wants to take into the off-season and could cause some recruits to wonder if Ole Miss would be their best choice.
But in no game this year has Ole Miss really been so flat and lethargic. There’s no reason to think the Rebels won’t be prepared to face a Pitt team that pushed No. 1 Notre Dame to overtime before losing.
Winning the bowl game is certainly the preferred outcome and would only serve to fan the flames of the fire Freeze lit under his fan base by beating Mississippi State in such dominating fashion.
Losing a competitive game against a quality opponent in Pitt will not take him off message in recruiting’s home stretch.