Bo Pelini's “Moneyball” recruiting gamble

Jeff WilliamsAnalyst IFebruary 9, 2009

Earlier today, we linked up to an article in the World-Herald detailing the Huskers’ new recruiting strategy of giving greater consideration to recruiting athletes from traditionally strong high school programs.

The theory goes like this: Players from dominant high school programs understand the work necessary during the season and offseason to ease the transition to college. In addition, the Huskers hope the winning ways of their recruits will infect the hallways and meeting rooms at Memorial Stadium.

"The thing you know you’re going to get with these kids is that they’re going to have great work ethic, character, probably good grades, and a lot of them will be able to handle the grind — what it means to be a college football player," said Jaydon McCullough, coach at Plano (Texas) High School.

The fact that the Huskers have actually coordinated a recruiting strategy and are accounting for ‘character’ in their player evaluations, is a nice break from the Callahan ‘Tom Lemming propped-up, JUCO-loving, five-star recruit-chasing’ recruiting classes, where many a four-Star recruit have never even contributed.

Think about this : If Bo Pelini has more success in finding players who might be slightly less talented but stick it out all four or five years, the Huskers will already be a better team. That’s also why the walk-on program is so key for building depth.

Here are some ways players from winning high school programs are benefiting college programs:

  • Higher Standards
  • Accustomed to external pressures like Buddy Garrity
  • Accustomed to playing a longer season and into the playoffs

It also helps with players in clutch situations. No doubt, the Huskers have fallen short on the ‘clutch’ scale in the last few years, but having players who have already played in big games, and state championship games in Texas, Florida, and California are classified as ‘big games’, helps the Huskers deal with the pressures of college football.

Pelini and Crew are also doing the right thing long-term by going after high school players and not JuCo’s. While JuCo’s are valuable additions, the core of the program has to be in the hands of lifelong Cornhuskers that are ‘fully invested' in the Husker program.

Players aren’t dumb, and they’re certainly not immune to emotions. When a coach brings in a couple of JuCo’s at one position, that can create internal friction and additionally, JuCo’s are ’stigmatized’ within college football teams.

Think: Joe Ganz and Sam Keller.

Among the many reasons the Huskers had such a disastrous 2007 is due to the gross negligence in the coaching staff in promising the starting job to Sam Keller.

Now, I don’t have any ‘proof,’ of this. But I also don’t have a failed drug test by Mark McGwire in 1998 but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t juicing.

Although the Husker Company Line in 2007 was ‘the contest is neck-and-neck,’ did you ever really think that Callahan didn’t talk down his current QB’s when selling Nebraska to the Keller Family?

He totally wanted to make a splash too with sportswriters who would then brand him a ‘genius’ when Keller took the Huskers offense to the next level.

Lesson Learned: Cody Green might not be the savior. He’s got to earn it and Bo Pelini knows it. The Huskers are excited to have a four-star recruit from Texas, but expectations need to be tampered down. It’s very doubtful he will lead the Huskers to the 2009 Big XII North.

The savior might end up being Taylor Martinez who was given little chance to compete at QB but might work his way into the starting line-up due to grit. That’s basically what Joe Ganz tried to pull on Sam Keller.

Look at the past two QB’s who were successful at Nebraska: Zac Taylor and Joe Ganz. Both had to beat out higher-rated talent to ultimately become two of the most effective offensive players for Nebraska this decade.

Wasn’t Harrison Beck suppose to be a Heisman finalist this year?


2005 Thinking: How many Husker fans though Harrison Beck and Marlon Lucky were going to carry Nebraska to the promise land this year? Every single one of them.


2007 Thinking: Wasn’t Sam Keller going to be All-Big 12? Once Sam comes in, those passes Taylor missed on will be complete.

Let’s just not crown Cody Green the starting QB in 2009. I really would like him to be redshirted. I don’t think there is anything wrong with waiting a year to play (unless you are talking about getting with a woman). But then again, if they are good enough to play as a freshman, they better be the next Tebow or you better have a lot stronger units on your football team.*

Baylor started Robert Griffin which paid off because he might be the next Tebow .

Tyrod Taylor started (a red shirt true freshman ) for Virginia Tech and VT was able to make up for his mistakes with a stout defense .

Nebraska is going to need a steady hand at QB next year. Losing Ganz is a step back but we have a chance, a decent chance, to win the Big XII North in 2009.

*Denotes ‘Huskers Gameday Maxim'