A slow summer. A solid fall. A downer December. A fast finish. And, at the wire, two quality picks, and one whale lost.
Nebraska football can certainly live with its 2010 recruiting haul, especially as quarterback Brion Carnes and safety Corey Cooper committed to NU on Signing Day. The class is fourth or fifth in the Big 12 overall, and first or second in the North, depending on whether you think Missouri’s collection of skill talent trumps NU’s trench bunch. (I don’t.)
But in 2011, the Huskers will have their chance to get fat off the recruiting lamb. And Bo Pelini and his staff will put on the 365-day full court press to get it done. Bo seems to know it, too, having landed three commitments for 2011.
“We have a nice group of kids committed for next year already,” Pelini said Wednesday. And NU has lined up more visitors before Junior Day in the spring.
I hate to get all futuristic on you when you’re still luxuriating in the 2010 bath. But Wednesday kicked off what I expect to be the most ambitious year of Bo’s tenure at Nebraska. With a narrow loss in the Big 12 Championship and the blowout Holiday Bowl win, Bo’s confidence turned the corner. He’s thrown out phrases - “five times better,” “Nebraska’s back” - that suggest he’s ready to hit the next part of the process.
“I came here to win a national championship and to win championships,” Pelini said. “And I recruited a class that I fully believe will get that accomplished.”
Most new coaches sign their defining class in year two. That’s the “regime change” class. Or the “you made me promises, promises” class. Look at Bill Callahan in 2005. Nick Saban in 2008. Rich Texas A&M's Mike Sherman in 2009. Rodriguez in 2009. Auburn’s Gene Chizik in 2010. Saban, in fact, has signed three massive classes in a row - 32, 27 and 26. Folks, that’s the whole football team. And that’s what you call scholarship turnover. Bama has a national title in back pocket - and more to come.
Pelini, meanwhile, has held off. It’s a curious, impressive restraint, actually. He’s lived up to the old Bear Bryant adage: He took Bill Callahan’s recruits and beat guys he once recruited to Oklahoma.
Because so much of Callahan’s 2007 class didn’t redshirt - and will be counted upon to carry NU to a Big 12 title in 2010 - Pelini has gambled, to some extent, with two small classes (20 and 21 signees in 2009 and 2010) in a row. Texas employed this same strategy in 2008 and 2009. We’ll see if the Horns get away with it. While Bo signed 28 in 2008, six of those players left the program within a year.
Bo could have cut more dead weight from the program, or handed out fewer scholarships to walk-ons, to create more room in 2010. He didn’t. All hands on deck for a huge 2010 season that will be won with Callahan’s last class and Pelini’s first two. Provided NU produces the boffo year fans expect, Bo should have 25 or more scholarships to hand out for 2011, and that’s when he can make the big push with the nation’s best skill players.
As for 2010?
It’s a talented, deep class on defense - second best in the Big 12, I say - even without stud defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, who committed to UCLA. NU got its fill of interior defensive linemen and padded depth at defensive end. JUCO linebacker LaVonte David is, at the very least, a special teams dynamo next year, and potentially more. Safeties Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson have prototypical size and speed.
Bo is rightly building the side of the ball that best gives him a chance to win the Big 12 North. A great defense can carry an offense looking for an identity. Not in every game, and not forever, but the 2010 bunch matches up exceedingly well to any offensive haul in the Big 12. Yes, including UT and OU.
NU paid close attention to the trenches, too, signing 10 offensive or defensive linemen. It takes discipline to do that, because linemen rarely play well without a redshirt season.
We’ve already rehashed offensive recruiting enough in the last two months. The Huskers have one season - 2010 - to prove themselves to top-flight skill talent and patch over a washout 2008 class and this thin 2010 bunch.
NU arguably has a commit from one of them in Arlington (Texas) quarterback Jamal Turner. San Antonio running back Aaron Green, brother of Nebraska cornerback Andrew Green, is another. Two more signature, top-flight receivers. And more speed. Much more speed.
“The best recruiting tool is to win,” Pelini said. “We’re starting to do that.”
Well, yes and no. Winning helps. But a clear vision - and sheer salesmanship - are the best formula. Saban parlayed a 7-6 season in 2007 into one of the great recruiting classes in the last 10 years, which has already produced Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Terrance Cody and three other starters on the 2009 national title squad.
Anecdotally or statistically, there’s a connection to getting top-shelf talent - no matter where Rivals and Scout rank it - and turning around that talent in short order. Pelini sloughs off those services, to some extent, because he doesn’t always think they’re accurate.
“I like our football team,” Pelini said. “As long as we stay on track of where we are and the direction we’re headed and they keep working the way they are, I like our football team…we want to develop each and every guy on our team and if we do that, we can compete with anybody in the country.”
That confidence in infectious, and it speaks to Pelini’s holistic recruiting philosophy: The selling doesn’t end when the LOI is faxed.
“Recruiting just started today,” Pelini said. “Now it’s our job is to take these young men who have high goals, high expectations, and help enable them to make those dreams come true. And I believe that’s where this staff is at its best.”