(Originally Published with Athlon Sports)
Breaking ground on the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ $155 million athletic complex has been put on hold. But an emotional roller coaster was quickly constructed and has been ridden daily for several weeks now. Most recently, everyone connected to the program couldn’t help but be well aware of the silence that filled Memorial Stadium last Saturday.
The Huskers were originally slated to clash with the Purdue Boilermakers. Instead of testing former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s game plan, the roster has been squaring off against Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren.
Meanwhile, Scott Frost continues to sell his vision of a return to prominence while the unknown of conference play looms large. Three recent recruiting additions came over the span of 14 days with tight ends Thomas Fidone and AJ Rollins joining linebacker Mikai Gbayor all making their intentions known as of Sept. 4.
But there’s a troubling trend among attrition lately: Floridians don’t appear interested in sticking around long.
Thirteen players from the Sunshine State have signed on the dotted line to represent the Big Red under Frost’s guidance. Six have transferred out while two weren’t able to meet the necessary academic requirements. Most recently, Nebraska lost one of its crown jewels from the newest recruiting class in outside linebacker Keyshawn Greene, who announced his intention to transfer to Florida Atlantic.
The root of this problem isn’t known for sure. Factors like culture or scheme fit could’ve easily been the culprit during the quaint times of even one year ago. But it’s hard to think COVID-19 hasn’t magnified the significance of distance from home and perhaps the current lack of a season that now-former teammates are working to restart.
Those at the top of the program have repeatedly preached a commitment to locking down elite recruits from the Midwest region and within the Big Ten’s footprint. No program that wants to be a frequent member of Top 25 polls and eventually the College Football Playoff will stop emphasizing national recruiting. However, that mantra’s significance looms significantly larger than usual considering the circumstances faced today.
Some good news for Frost is it appears that a perfectly-timed uptick in quality talent to pluck from the Midwest and familiar recruiting ground (states such as Colorado) is upon us. The 2018 class saw five prospects rated as composite 4-star recruits by 247Sports. The next two classes featured seven in each. The 2021 and 2022 groups tout a combined 17 (10 in ’21, 7 in ’22) with potential for those numbers to jump as evaluations continue.
Have a look at the quantity of high-profile potential additions not far from Nebraska’s base of operations in both this cycle and the one immediately following it.
|2021||Jake Rubley||QB||12||189||CO||Kansas State|
|2021||Trey Zuhn||OT||22||270||CO||Texas A&M|
|2022||Dasan McCullough||ATH||7||46||KS||Ohio State|
Departures from the 2018 class aren’t too surprising. Not only was it built during a transition period for Nebraska football as a whole, but its new head coach was pulling double duty between two schools. Selling those excited about the potential of what’s next in Frost’s immediate future to follow him to the Midwest makes all too much sense.
Interestingly, 2019 was the nation’s 17th-best collection of athletes yet none were from Florida. Losing three quality contributors like safeties Jaiden Francois and Henry Gray from the 2020 bunch was painful. Seeing Greene depart considering the circumstances is understandable but only intensifies the struggle.
As Frost and his staff look to lock up a third straight Top 25 class — a feat not seen since 2004-06 during the Bill Callahan era — expect the majority of their remaining 2021 commitments to come from different parts of the country.
But being able to benefit from a recent spike in the emergence of highly regarded recruits from familiar territory is nothing short of a blessing for Frost. The possibility of future classes at least halfway filled with players whose families can make much shorter road trips is quickly becoming more and more plausible.