In the 1990’s, Nebraska football produced three national championships, four Outland Trophy winners, numerous All-Americans and a 49-2 record at one point. During that time the Husker faithful would commonly rave about “the next great player” who was waiting in the wings ready to excel when his number was called upon.
Times may have changed for the Big Red but the practice of having a player capable of performing at a high level when another goes down or moves on certainly has not. Schools like Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Georgia and Notre Dame have dominated the recruiting trail over the last five years and have no problem keeping their depth charts stocked full of top tier talent that is ready to go.
Nebraska is no stranger to the concept of having strong depth but it’s certainly been a long time since that’s been a reality across the board. The 2016 season is an example of that when a key starter such as the quarterback goes down and the offense can turn into a shell of its former self as the backup comes in.
While the last few years of Husker football have been an eye-opening experience of what a depleted depth chart looks like, head coach Mike Riley has steadfastly worked to rebuild a strong roster top to bottom. When you look closely look at the prospects Riley has brought in, the talent behind their names begins to stick out when you compare it to recruiting classes of past.
Over the past two years, Riley has brought in recruits coveted by major programs and has begun to level the playing field with the rest of college football’s best teams, something that Nebraska has been searching for since Tom Osborne left the sidelines.
The difference in quality between Riley and one-time head coach Bo Pelini is quite staggering. Over the course of his first three years as Nebraska’s head coach, Pelini brought in 70 recruits that boasted 253 offers from major college programs. By contrast, Riley signed eight fewer recruits that had a total of more than 485 major offers.
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What’s even more telling is comparing the level of schools that modern-day Nebraska is going up against for recruits versus those more prominent during the Pelini era.
Alabama — a school that wasn’t on any recruit offer sheets during Pelini’s time at Nebraska — showed up six times for Riley recruits as did Auburn, Michigan State, Texas and USC. Notre Dame and Ohio State offered five times total while Florida and LSU gave out four chances at a scholarship apiece.
That’s 48 total offers for Riley recruits going against some of the best in college football. Compare that to the recruits brought in under Pelini who had a total of 12 offers from those same schools.
Riley and staff continue pulling in major prospects during this recruiting cycle with offer sheets equally large as their 2017 counterparts, if not larger. It’s conceivable that the class of 2018 may actually average out to a number of major offers close to the last cycle’s with fewer total recruits.
It’s clear that to Riley is not just the X’s and O’s — It’s the Jimmy’s and Joe’s who make the real difference in rebuilding the future of Nebraska football.