Up until the early 2000's the world of college football recruiting was largely a mystery to the common fan. One day you just opened the newspaper and saw a list of names that signed with your favorite program. Then came the internet.
In the early 2000's you started seeing various websites pop-up exclusively dedicated to the 16, 17 and 18 year olds and what program would gain their services. Never mind that the majority of people working these sites and evaluating talent have coached a high-major college football game in their lives. It didn't matter, the pressure was on for every major program to get a top 5 or 10 class year in and year out. That after all was the only way to compete for a national title.
Enter the book Meat Market, which follows Ole Miss for a season leading up to signing day 2007. The team is led by Ed Orgeron, the same that won the national title with LSU in 2020, in his pursuit to fill out a dominant class and compete against the likes of LSU, Alabama, Texas and others. The book is comical at times, frustrating at others and leaves you openly rooting for Orgeron. Of course you know how it plays out in hindsight with Orgeron being let go after the 2007 season where he went 3-9.
What Did I Learn?
1. I've read this book several times over the years, so in my most recent read I wouldn't say I learned a lot. However, looking back on this in 2009 when I first bought it was eye-opening. I had a general idea of how recruiting worked and even worked side-by-side in Penn State's recruiting gate during the 2007 season. However, this made me take another look at the cut-throat nature of the SEC.
2. I knew little about Ed Orgeron, but immediately liked him. He didn't fit the mold of the average pretty boy southern gent with the visor. He is a get down and dirty grind it out kind of guy. He was my kind of guy and someone I respected reading the book. Players seem to love him and his style, but his knock was his lack of polish.
3. I didn't really have any clue how many total players you had to offer to put together a good class. When you're a 2nd-tier SEC program like Ole Miss you really have to cast a large net. The state of Mississippi, although football rich, isn't a well populated state. You've really got to cover the entire southeast United States to build a good class. The challenge with a wide net is in that era it was more difficult to maintain a relationship with a kid four states over than it is today.
4. You really get an eye-opening look at academic and specifically pushing kids over the line to eligibility in this book. There were several players committed to Ole Miss that weren't initially eligible. There was a lot of checking in to see where kids stood. I would imagine a lot of premiere programs skipped over a handful of the Ole Miss kids because the risk of him not qualifying wasn't worth the reward of him joining the roster. In this way Ole Miss tried to wedge their way into a niche. You got a decent look at southern poverty, especially with the poor black community of the south.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.