Here’s a sobering thought. Taylor Martinez, the quarterback who is about to start his third year as Nebraska’s starting quarterback, was born in 1990.
That means he was seven years old when Nebraska won its last national title. And he’s going to be a junior, one of the elder statesmen of the Cornhuskers. That means newly-committed quarterback prospect Johnny Stanton was three or four when Scott Frost lifted that trophy in the Miami night.
Much ink has been spilled in the last few years about Nebraska’s ability to recruit talent. Recruiting was a centerpiece of Bill Callahan’s reign, and that ended so poorly that many Nebraska fans turned their backs on the whole concept of recruiting as necessary to be successful. Bo Pelini, of course, knows that he’s got to have talent to work with if Nebraska is going to win at the level expected by the Nebraska faithful. He’s been working hard, having success in the junior college ranks, and seems to be putting together a solid class for 2013.
But Nebraska isn’t the easiest place to sell top-flight talent to. Nebraska doesn’t have year-round beautiful weather. It doesn’t have picturesque beaches. It doesn’t have gorgeous mountains. So what is Nebraska’s selling point to convince top recruits to wear the scarlet and cream?
One of the biggest points is tradition. Nebraska can proudly point to the five national titles adorning the skyboxes on the west side of Memorial Stadium and residing in the bowels of the structure. Come to Nebraska, and be part of a winning tradition.
It’s a powerful argument. But with every year that passes, that argument loses its strength. And there will come a point in the not-too-distant future when the titles of the seventies and the nineties simply won’t be relevant to recruits making their college choices.
So, is Nebraska's trophy drought a threat to NU's place in college football's elite?
As it sits now, Nebraska’s recruits won’t remember a time when Nebraska was relevant on a national basis. They will depend on their parents and their coaches to tell them about Nebraska’s glory days – and it’s not too far in the future where even the parents of many recruits won’t remember those glory days.
Of course, Nebraska still has a number of other recruiting advantages, such as a passionate fan base, great athletic facilities, and great academic support. Those things will help bring some kids to Lincoln regardless of Nebraska’s success on the field. But Nebraska’s biggest recruiting weapon is its’ history of success. And when the team hasn’t won a conference title since 1999 and hasn’t played in a major bowl since getting throttled by Miami in the 2001 national championship game, the clock begins to tick on how much weight those past glories will hold in the minds of recruits.
The Children of the Corn are hungry for success, as they are every year. But in addition to the natural desire to see Nebraska win, NU fans should feel a sense of urgency. Every year that Nebraska gets away from past glories without new trophies to display makes recruiting harder, and makes the task of getting back to winning titles all the more difficult.