Despite Nebraska’s strong finish to the 2012-2013 recruiting season, the Cornhuskers still only mustered the 17th ranked recruiting class in the nation.
At most schools, that would be cause for celebration or, at the very least, contentedness. In Nebraska, however, fans refuse to accept anything except number one. And the groans from Husker Nation this spring have evidenced that.
Luckily, 17th is nowhere near the pinnacle of recruiting for the Big Red. With a couple key improvements, Bo Pelini will be able to elevate Nebraska to the next level of college football recruiting.
More so than any other demographic, high school kids love stuff. Apparel, equipment, facilities, you name it. So if Nebraska wants to establish its name as a destination for America’s best talent, it needs all the bells and whistles that go with it.
And for the most part, Nebraska has them. In recent years, the university has thrown big bucks into the locker room renovation, new stadium entertainment systems and most recently the East Stadium expansion. But it must continue.
As much as any other historical football power, Nebraska loves its tradition. Pelini must value and savor that tradition while encouraging changes such as these that can excite prospective players. Because hate them or love them, revolutionary ideas like Nebraska’s black unis against Wisconsin are what gets players excited to represent their university.
When a prospective player signs a letter of intent, he is committing just as much to playing for a group of coaches as a school. So when coaching changes are made, a player’s entire college football experience is thrown into question.
While heading coaching changes garner the most attention, assistant coaching changes can affect players just as much. Despite not being the faces of the program, these assistants will likely have more daily interaction with some of the players than the head coach.
So after the frequent changes at offensive and defensive coordinators, in particular during Bo Pelini’s tenure, it is easy to see how recruits could be concerned that the coaches they are meeting during their recruitment will not be the ones to see them through to their senior year.
Added consistency from Pelini’s staff will increase recruits confidence in the direction of the program and likeliness to commit to play at Nebraska.
When Bo Pelini or any other coach steps into a recruit’s home, he is not just selling himself, his team or even the University of Nebraska. He must sell the young man on his conference too.
To this end, Pelini’s staff must shift its recruiting focus geographically. Obviously to become a recruiting giant, they must still pursue recruits of particular quality from Florida, Texas and California. But to fill out the bulk of the class, the Husker coaches would do well to look to Big Ten country instead of their more typical hunting grounds in the Big 12’s backyard.
This process has undoubtedly already begun as evidenced by Nebraska signing more Ohioans with each passing year since announcing its move to the Big Ten, and this must continue. Because selling a recruit on your program is hard enough, not to mention convincing a young man raised on SEC football that he should continue his career in the Big Ten.
The biggest blemish on Bo Pelini’s otherwise impressive tenure in Lincoln has been the ways in which his Husker teams have lost. After all, his 49-20 record while at Nebraska is nothing to be ashamed of. His losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State last season, however, certainly are.
Top-notch recruits are winners, they are used to being winners, and they want to play for winners. It is as simple as that. Why else did Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida tally the four best recruiting classes in 2013 while also claiming the top four spots in the season’s final AP poll? It was no coincidence.
If Bo Pelini wants to join this elite level of recruiting, he can start with coaching up the talent he has and demonstrating that Nebraska is an elite program. Because elite programs do not concede 70 points, particularly against 7-5 football teams.
As I have discussed at length previously, Nebraska recruiting is at its best when prospective players make the trek to Lincoln to see a Husker game day in person.
Anyone can be told about the noise, the Sea of Red and the statewide obsession with the team. But nothing drives the point home like experiencing a fall Saturday in Lincoln firsthand.
After all, most of the Huskers’ top players come from recruiting hotbeds like California and Florida, places that do not usually lend themselves to positive perceptions of Nebraska. If Pelini can get high schoolers to come visit in the Fall, the chances they return the following August to play are much better.