Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss football didn't have a huge signing day. On purpose. Get used to it

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — Picky. High standards. Didn't reach. These are the words coach Lane Kiffin has had to start using to categorize Ole Miss football's signing class.

Seemingly, Ole Miss had a good day Wednesday to kick off the early signing period for the Class of 2022. The Rebels flipped a priority recruit, snagged three more unsigned players and held onto just about all the players they had committed. They started the day ranked No. 35 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings and by 2:30 p.m. they'd climbed to No. 21.

But it's still a weird class. A small class. A purposely weird, small class. 

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"For the most part this was all high school knowing that the other aspect of this is older guys with transfers," Kiffin said. "That'll be ongoing. For a while, all the way through when we start school in January because they don't sign NLIs again. We're going to anticipate a lot of movement there and signees there, which is why by design this is a small class compared to the amount of scholarships we have available. We were very picky. We had high standards. Didn't reach."

Ole Miss signed 16 players on Wednesday. Four of them are four-stars. There really isn't too much of a difference between ranking No. 17 in the composite rankings as the Rebels did last year and No. 21 where the Rebels sit now, but the pulse feels different.

Last year was about "Merry Flipmas" and the joy of putting together a big class to build a program around. This year it's about saving numbers for the transfer portal to build with veterans and being selective with which high school talent you allow into the program.

"More than ever, we look at the best players," Kiffin said. "Just getting our 85 to be the best that we can and we can. From when we got here to even this year, even though we have a really good team, I wish we were deeper and we didn't have to play players on both sides of the ball as much as we do. That's an ongoing process of finding the best players."

Don't mistake the attitude shift for a bad recruiting class. It's just different.

The Rebels started the day by flipping three-star offensive tackle Falentha Carswell from his Miami commitment. Shortly thereafter, Ole Miss signed three-star offensive tackle Cam East, who was a Mississippi State commit until Dec. 3. By 10:45, the Rebels signed un-committed three-star athlete Tyler Banks to play linebacker. Then, just before noon, Ole Miss got a commitment on live TV from four-star linebacker Jaron Willis, the highest-rated player in the Rebels' signing class.

Four-star defenders Zxavian Harris, Taylor Groves and Nick Cull should all help the team immediately. Three-star running back Quinshon Judkins has the skill set to factor into the rotation early and the Rebels' continued focus on rebuilding the offensive line resulted in not just Carswell and East, but also three-star Preston Cushman.

Ole Miss got better Wednesday. Linebacker and offensive line were holes and they were addressed. The secondary reloaded with three new defensive backs who can fill gaps left by three veterans graduating. 

Not every hole was filled, though. The Rebels didn't sign a quarterback and only signed one defensive lineman. Expect those areas, along with looking for immediate help at wide receiver, to be big focuses in the transfer portal. 

That's the flexibility afforded by recruiting this way. There's a three-day window in December and a day in February when you can sign high school players. You can sign portal players any time.

Kiffin said he expects the portal to fill up after bowl season and again after spring practices. The coach wouldn't say how many scholarships he's holding onto, but he did say it's "much higher" than the number of players he signed. 

The plan is to keep adding the best talent throughout the year, not to prioritize adding the most talent in one window. Kiffin is playing the patience game.

"You (can) say 'Oh, I have this many at this position, but I don't feel good about these guys playing because they're not good enough,' " Kiffin said. "I'd much rather have the best players."

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.