Ole Miss Cleans Up on Signing Day, Hoosiers To Play On-the-Road Conference Nemesis

By Debbie B.

For Wednesday’s National Signing Day, the usual suspects had been expected to clean up (which they did) but a dark horse emerged with a good day: Ole Miss, grabbing this year’s top recruit, Robert Nkemdiche.

On Thursday, No.1 Indiana (20-2, 8-1) will take on Illinois (15-8, 2-7). While the Illini only have two conference wins, they own the Hoosiers when they play in Champaign.

Is Indiana on upset alert?

Ole Miss Grabs Top Recruit

Robert Nkemdiche

Defensive end Nkemdiche kicked off 2013 Signing Day by signing with Mississippi on Wednesday.The Loganville, Georgia native selected the Rebels instead of LSU and Florida.

The  6-foot-5, 260-pound  player wasn’t the only No. 1 player to commit to Ole Miss; No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, No. 1 wide receiver Laguon Treadwell as well as ESPN 150 top offensive lineman Austinn Golson  and ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner will join him.

This group represents the Rebels’ top recruiting class.

In addition, Nkemdiche will continue playing with his good friend and high school teammate, David Kamara, a three-star recruit.

So why choose Ole Miss? Nkemdiche said, “I feel like it’s the right place for me. I feel like they can do special things, and they’re on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother [Denzel Nkemdiche], we can do something special.”

For Nkemdiche, it wasn’t a sudden decision. He watched his brother Denzel sign with the team two years. The younger Nkemdiche wasn’t a top recruit but in his last two years of high school, he had two straight 18-sack seasons; a top prospect was born.

Ole Miss’ turnaround was another draw. After 2011’s 2-10 season, in 2012 under sophomore coach Huge Freeze, they finished 7-6 and beat Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

For Ole Miss, they will hope the little brother can follow in big brother’s footsteps. Defensive back Denzel was the team’s 2012 leader with his 82 tackles (13 for a loss).

But at the end of the day, Alabama again cleaned up, grabbing the No. 1 recruiting class for a second straight year as it edged out Florida and Ohio State.

The Crimson Tide signed 25 players to national letters of intent with 18 ranked in the ESPN 300.

Looking ahead to 2013,  Alabama’s quarterback A.J. McCarron has 12 to 1 odds to win the Heisman.

Is Indiana Cursed in Champaign?

Hoosiers Center Cody Zeller

On Thursday, Indiana will try to hit 5-0 on the road for conference play (last done in the 1992-93 season) but to do so it will need to dodge its 10th of 11 loss in Champaign.

Indiana started the season as No. 1 but saw its perfect record end on Dec. 15 against Butler. The team’s second loss came against Wisconsin on Jan. 15 but it reversed course and have now won five consecutive Big Ten games.

Their biggest win to date was Saturday’s 81-73 victory over then No. 1 Michigan. This came on 19 points and 10 rebounds by sophomore Cody Zeller as well as double figures by all of the team’s starters.

But for the Hoosiers, playing in Champaign is a different story. They have lost three straight games as well as nine of 10 on the Illini’s home court. The last win came pre-coach Tom Crean on Feb. 7, 2008, 83-79, in double OT.

Crean said of this week’s games, “We know that the challenge is great this week in going to Illinois and then to (No. 10) Ohio State (on Sunday).”

In their last meeting on Feb. 9, Indiana won 84-71 on their home court. They go to Champaign averaging 83.8 points per game (No. 2 in the country) and No. 6 with its 50.1 field-goal percentage mark.

As for the Illini, they’ve lost their last six of seven games but they can score: 72.1 points per game. With a Thursday loss, it will represent a season-worst fourth straight loss.

But history won’t help for Thursday as the Hoosiers will get the win (-7.5, 149 o/u).