Ole Miss Football: Transfers fill short-term needs but don’t build champions

Ole Miss Football Head coach Lane Kiffin. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Ole Miss Football Head coach Lane Kiffin. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

What can Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels learn from Georgia’s march to a second-straight national title, capped by the Dogs’ unprecedented 65-7 mauling of TCU in the championship game?

Driving home from a meeting, listening to the tail end of the game, and marveling at its magnificent lopsidedness, I was stunned by an announcer’s observation: The 2022 Bulldogs had just six transfers on their roster. Six!

A quick scan of the Rebels’ roster from last year reveals 25 players who started their college playing careers somewhere that wasn’t Oxford; 17 of those players were new to UM in 2022.

I get it. This is 21st Century Corporate Football; the transfer portal, name, and image licensing deals and bloated, mercurial super conferences are here to stay. The Rebels won rave reviews for their transfer haul last year and most of the newcomers acquitted themselves with distinction.

When Ole Miss started the season 7-0, Kiffin looked like a genius. We were ranked in the Top 10, cruising toward a New Year’s Day bowl game and – dare we dream it? – a possible playoff spot. Everybody knows what happened over the last third of the season: Egg Bowl loss. Texas Bowl loss. One and five finish for a final record of 8-5.

OK, so 8-5 is a good record, especially in what was projected as a rebuilding year in Oxford. But is that where we want to be? Not me. I want Ole  Miss to build a program that can sustain success at the highest level for more than a year or two at a time. Like SEC rivals Alabama and LSU. Like Georgia.

A team built with players from the transfer portal – no matter their talent or character – won’t be as cohesive as a team built over years in the gym, during two-a-days, pranks in the dorm, bitter defeats, and hard-won victories. A team builds its identity organically, not with plug-in players with limited shelf-life.

Ole Miss obviously isn’t Georgia (yet); Kiffin, like coaches before him, is trying to create a program that makes top players’ wish lists, but we’re not there (yet). All recruits want to play at the next level; most know they’ll need to develop further in college to get there. Bringing in big transfer classes to fill roster spots doesn’t scream “player development.”

Kiffin and his staff need to do the hard work. We know they can recruit; now they need to prove to us they can build teams.