Could this be the recruiting class that gets the Nebraska football program over the four-loss plateau?
I hope so. I really do.
There are good signs. The Cornhusker seem to be regaining control over the 500-mile radius around Lincoln, and are making progress in the Deep South, especially Florida. There is no sign of a drop-off recruiting in Texas. And most importantly, there are linemen – a whole bunch of linemen. Good grief, does Nebraska ever need linemen, and the Huskers went out and got them – five on the offensive side, six on the defensive side.
Bo Pelini and his staff worked overtime to sign a consensus Top 25 recruiting class. That's been about par for Nebraska over the past 40 years. Now we'll see if they can develop that talent. The biggest need is an offensive and defensive line that will hold up against Michigan and Ohio State over the next few years.
It's tempting to say that better times lie just ahead. This is the sixth class signed by Pelini, and consensus seems to indicate it's his best thus far. Running backs Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby probably will contend for playing time right away this fall. Quarterback Johnny Stanton will battle Tommy Armstrong to back up Taylor Martinez. Josh Banderas, son of Husker tight end Tom Banderas, is a much-needed local boy who Husker fans hope will make good in the Lincoln Southeast tradition of Barrett Ruud.
But defensive line play will be the measure of how fast and how far Husker football rises. After having one of the best d-lines in the nation in 2009 and 2010, the Huskers fell off the map over the next two years, and they have a lot of ground to make up. So that makes it hard to be optimistic too quickly.
This will be the youngest NU defensive line in recent history, and I frankly, that's a good thing because you might as well start from scratch after a season when you finish 90th in rushing defense and then graduate Eric Martin, the only player who could consistently rush the passer. The season-ending injury to Baker Steinkuhler showed just how thin the Huskers are on the d-line.
Pelini has signed 10 defensive linemen over the past two years, and that's a good start toward rebuilding the weakest link of the Nebraska football program. With Chase Rome gone for good and senior Thad Randle hampered by nonstop knee problems, the depth chart is wide open for someone – anyone – to step forward. Will it be redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine? Sophomores Kevin Williams or Aaron Curry? Maybe it'll be one the players who I consider the highlight of this year's class – defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice, defensive end A.J. Natter and and junior college defensive end Randy Gregory. When you grab a player away from Nick Saban – in this case, offensive tackle David Knevel – it's certainly an encouraging sign. So is signing Dwayne Johnson, who seemed destined for Arkansas. The Huskers need a few of them to become difference-makers within two years and at least one by this fall.
It's good to see the Kansas City metro area well represented by Collins and offensive lineman Zach Hannon, plus linebacker Michael Rose from last year's class, and since I have small-town roots, I'm pulling for Nathan Gerry of Sioux Falls, S.D.
There is some promise in the 2013 walk-on class, which includes an interesting story in punter Jordan Bellar from Norfolk Catholic. He'll try to be the third consecutive Nebraskan to walk on and play a vital role in the Husker kicking game.
These are mostly Nebraska kids. In-state walk-ons have been the soul of this program for decades, and it's good to see more of them volunteering to undergo a brutally tough process in order to chase their dream. Less than a generation ago, young men just like them used to win championships at Nebraska. Will this be the class that finally brings a conference championship back to Lincoln?
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org