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The biggest surprises … so far

Every recruiting cycle is filled with surprises, and this one certainly has been no different. To say the least, we have seen shocking commitments, head-scratching de-commitments, powerhouses struggle and upstarts thrive.

Will Robert Nkemdiche be a Rebel?

On the eve of National Signing Day 2013, here are five things most of us probably didn't see coming.

1. Rise of the Rebels

Anyone who tells you they knew Ole Miss would have this much success is full of baloney.

In Hugh Freeze's first full recruiting cycle as head coach in Oxford, his Rebels, coming off a 7-6 season, are the single biggest story in recruiting. Right now, they're No. 11 in the 247Composite team rankings, putting them ahead of programs such as Southern California (we'll get to the Trojans in a bit), Oklahoma and Texas.

And guess what?

They aren't done, with several major prospects -- including No. 1 overall recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche -- likely bound for Oxford. There's a chance Ole Miss could land the Nos. 1, 2 (defensive end Chris Jones) and 3 (offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil) prospects in the Top247, which would be the mother of all recruiting coups. If Freeze & Co. pull that off, his program might not just be the story of this recruiting cycle, but arguably of any recruiting cycle.

In college football, it takes more than one strong class to build a power.

That said, this is certainly a good start.

2. Peaks and Valleys at USC

It seems like only yesterday when some were proclaiming Southern California could very well be on its way to producing the best class in history. Not program history. College football history.

Today, the Trojans have plummeted to No. 12 in the 247Composite rankings. While that's still respectable, things certainly have gone in the wrong direction.

At one time, USC had 17 commits. After losing a few more on Tuesday (including defensive end Jason Hatcher and defensive back Jalen Ramsey), the Trojans now have 12. That's it.

For Lane Kiffin's program, the last six months have been forgettable.

After starting the 2012 season ranked No. 1 by a lot of people, the Trojans inexplicably finished 7-6. Then commits started falling by the wayside.

Now, some perspective. It's certainly not the end of the world in Los Angeles.

For USC, the good news is that what remains is an extremely talented group filled with four-star and above prospects.

The bad news: UCLA might finish with a higher-ranked class, though in truth the Bruins' larger class size will have something to do with that. Nonetheless, finishing behind UCLA in anything football-related is not exactly welcome at USC.

Can the Trojans finish strong Wednesday and erase some of this negativity? It's possible.

3. Dog Days

At Texas A&M, it has been quite a run. Flash back to a year ago, and a lot of folks thought the Aggies would struggle mightily during their debut season in the Southeastern Conference. Heck, a 6-6 season might have satisfied some.

Well, you know what happened. The Aggies had their sixth win by Oct. 27. They finished 11-2. They won at Alabama. They destroyed Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

And, of course, their quarterback -- Johnny Manziel -- won the Heisman Trophy.

The success during the 2012 season has carried over into recruiting. No question about it.

Right now, Texas A&M has 32 commits and a No. 7 ranking. That's fourth best in the SEC and eight spots ahead of Texas.

Kevin Sumlin's program is having success in its home state and elsewhere. The Aggies have pulled commits from seven states, a sign of the program's broadening appeal perhaps.

The biggest get for Texas A&M arguably is five-star athlete Ricky Seals-Jones, a player many had pegged for Texas way back when.

4. Something's Bruin'

Just a few miles up the road from USC, Jim Mora's UCLA Bruins are -- without much fanfare -- putting together an outstanding class that could finish in the Top 10 … and maybe better. Right now, UCLA is holding strong at No. 10 in the rankings, and they're likely to add more players to the class Wednesday, with one possibility being four-star quarterback Asiantii Woulard from Florida.

UCLA has done particularly well up front on offense, with three four-star commits.

Thus far, the Bruins have struck gold in California with 14 in-state commits. But they've also gone to places such as Florida and Tennessee.

More and more prospects seem to be mentioning the school these days. That in itself is a big step for a program looking to make a big leap forward.

5. Holding it together … and then some

The success of Alabama this cycle has been well-documented. And deservedly so.

But let's not overlook what's going on at Auburn. When Gus Malzahn was hired to replace Gene Chizik, there were some early de-commits, notably defensive lineman Dee Liner.

But lately, Malzahn's program has hit some homers -- and may have more on the way.

On Sunday, five-star defensive end Carl Lawson announced his intentions to honor his commitment. Not that long ago, the Tigers added four-star receiver Tony Stevens. They also landed running back Peyton Barber, a player Auburn thinks will fit perfectly into its offense, to flip from Ole Miss.

On Wednesday, the Tigers have a shot at landing five-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams and five-star cornerback MacKensie Alexander.

Auburn went 3-9 in 2012, was winless in the SEC, fired its coach and now might finish with a Top-10 class.

That, friends, isn't too shabby.

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