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Riley, Huskers hitting their stride with recruiting

Nebraska adding talent to return to national stage


With last week's addition of Booker T. Washington (Miami, FL) defensive end Guy Thomas, the Huskers now have 13 known commitments in their 2017 class. With 20 scholarship seniors, they probably have around 10-12 more spots to fill taking into account annual attrition. This is exactly where Mike Riley and his staff wanted to be at the halfway mark of the 2017 class. Nebraska wanted 12-15 kids on board by the time the season rolled around and they are right on track.

But it's not just that they are hitting their numbers that should have fans excited about the future. No, it's the quality of players that are saying yes to Riley and his assistants. It's the fact that Riley is filling needs early with several of his top targets. They have already secured their class quarterback. They're almost done with their offensive and defensive lines. They are nearly full at wide receiver and linebacker, and are at the point where they are just waiting to see which blue-chip recruit fills those few remaining spots. They don't have a defensive back or class running back yet, but they are being very selective with those positions and are in on some elite talent.

The casual follower of Husker recruiting is probably excited to see that seven of Nebraska's thirteen commitments are rated as a four-star recruit by at least one of the four major recruiting sites. I am here to say that this class is even more impressive than that.

Why? Well, first off, most of the people who work for recruiting sites are journalism majors. Most have never coached and sadly, many never played the sport on even the high school level. Second, these sites base a lot of their opinions off of how well kids perform and test athletically at events they put together. Nationwide camps like Nike's The Opening and National Football Training Camps, the Rivals Camp Series and 247Sports' National Underclassmen Combines are the High School equivalent of the NFL combine. And any NFL GM will tell you that falling in love with a guy primarily based on his performance at the combine often turns out to be fools gold.

Don't get me wrong, athletic ability is an important factor when projecting kids to the next level. But there is only so much you can learn from kids practicing in shorts and a t-shirt. Those camps give you a good idea if a kid has the talent and athletic ability to play at a high level, but just like the NFL combine, a true scout will always go back to a guy's tape.

Bottom line, if you want to know the quality of players that Nebraska is getting, then you need to look at who they are beating in order to get those commitments. With Riley, Nebraska is going toe-to-toe with the 'Big Boys' and winning their share of fights. And they are doing it at a clip not seen in Lincoln in quite some time. How often can you remember Nebraska going into states like California, Florida and Texas and beating the in-state and regional powers for a recruit? Going back to 2002, I came up with Marlon Lucky (2005), Harrison Beck (2005), Rex Burkhead (2009), Tyler Moore (Husker legacy, 2011), Aaron Green (Husker ties, 2011), Jamal Turner (2011), Charles Jackson (2011), Terrell Newby (2013) and Adam Taylor (2013). That's nine cases in the previous thirteen classes prior to Riley being hired. This staff has already accomplished that feat six times since signing its first full class last year. Examples from the 2016 class being Lamar Jackson, Patrick O'Brien and Marquel Dismuke. The 2017 class already has Tristan Gebbia, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Guy Thomas representing that achievement.

College coaches are the best judges of talent. You don't really think that Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, Jimbo Fisher - or any college coach cares what guys like Mike Farrell, Steve Wiltfong or Brandon Huffman think, do you? All told, scouting services usually assign roughly 350-400 players with a four-star grade. Most schools will make somewhere between 200-300 scholarship offers in a recruiting class. Do you really think schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame, Georgia, USC, Michigan, Oklahoma - or Nebraska offer kids they don't consider to be among the best players in the country? In other words, their version of a "five-star" or "four-star" prospect.

It always baffles me when Nebraska gains a commitment from one of the top players on their board - only to hear a comment like, "He is only a three-star recruit." Let me ask you this, would you rather gain a commitment from a kid who is rated a four-star prospect by a recruiting service with offers from middling Power Five schools, or from a kid with offers from USC, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Missouri, Arizona and Arizona State - but is "only" a three-star prospect according to the services? Well, that kid is Robert Porcher IV, who has 34 scholarship offers and was one of the first players John Parrella reached out to after taking the job at Nebraska. In fact, Porcher received his Husker offer on February 22 - the same day Parrella was hired. Rivals gives Porcher two stars, by the way.

The aforementioned Guy Thomas has offers from Alabama, Florida State, LSU, USC, Miami, Auburn, Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Missouri, Maryland, Pittsburgh and several others. Yet 247Sports and Scout give him three stars. What are reputable defensive coaches like Nick Saban, Pat Narduzzi, Kirby Smart, Dave Aranda, D.J. Durkin, Clancy Pendergast and Don Brown seeing that guys at those websites aren't? A better question is, who cares? Whose opinion are you going to take?

The 2017 class isn't an anomaly, either. The pieced-together 2015 class and their inaugural 2016 class also show signs of promise. While the classes were ranked a modest 30th (2015) and 25th (2016) according to 247Sports' composite rankings, I think Mike Riley's reputation for spotting talent is proving those rankings to be a bit low. The average recruiting class has about a 40-50% miss rate. Meaning that those players represent the ratio of recruits who don't pan out for one reason or another. It could be because of injury, transfer or simply not living up to expectations.

Looking at the 2015 class, while it's still early, I think you can already see evidence that Riley will exceed the 50-60% success mark. The class had 21 signees and has lost two (Jordan Stevenson and Adrienne Talan). If you look at the 19 remaining players, you will recognize several key contributors for the 2016 season and beyond. Dedrick Young, Stanley Morgan, Aaron Williams, Devine Ozigbo and Antonio Reed showed their potential last year as true freshmen. They're not the only guys from that class who are likely multi-year starters with All-Conference potential, either. Spring ball and early returns from fall camp have been kind to Khalil and Carlos Davis, Jalin Barnett, Eric Lee, Avery Anderson, Lavan Alston, Tyrin Ferguson, Michael Decker, Alex Davis and DaiShon Neal. The staff still has high expectations of Mohamed Barry, Christian Gaylord and Matt Snyder as well. I think the 2015 class will be a significant part of the foundation of an eventual Big Ten West championship team.

The 2016 class will eventually be proven just as talented, in my opinion. Already we have heard reports of how impressive several members of the 21-man class have looked. Tre Bryant, Derrion Grim, Lamar Jackson, Matt Farniok, Boe Wilson, DiCaprio Bootle, JoJo Domann, Pernell Jefferson and Marquel Dismuke have been singled out already. By the end of August, I anticipate others being talked about as well.

Based on who's on board so far - and the caliber of remaining Husker targets - the 2017 class could exceed them both. There is no doubt that Mike Riley and this staff are starting to acquire the talent needed to put Nebraska back on the national scene.


Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all football website N2FL.com. He served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on recruitment and talent analysis, including the NFL Draft. You can email him at N2FL@hotmail.com.

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    1. Huskerfan Aug 20, 2016
      I agree, we are getting a lot of good athletes to at least come and visit on their own dime. I don't remember hearing this happen very much prior to HC Riley getting here!
    2. Blutarsky Aug 20, 2016
      How do you know a recruit has the offers he says he has?
    3. Pop Corn Aug 19, 2016
      I can see some folks being skeptical about some jaded, dyed in the wool, kool aid drinking, Husker fanatic gushing about the splendiforus and glorious state of the current recruiting class. But I figure that I really aught to pay a little more attention to an analyst that actually is in the business and isn't apt to be so biased as us Go Big Red guys.

      I might add that having coached in a small Nebraska high school for over 20 years, I noticed that I was a lot better coach (meaning won a lot more games) when I had really good athletes and not so good when I didn't. If NU ever gets to the point that the stables are filled with top notch football players they will return to greatness. My way of thinking is that it is about 90% athletes, 5% coaching and 5% luck.

      Thanks, Jeremy. I enjoyed and appreciated your perspective.
    4. One Man Jury Aug 19, 2016
      Right on, Jeremy!
    5. Red Reign Aug 19, 2016
      I agree great write-up.
    6. WARCHILD Aug 19, 2016
      I'm sorry, but I just don't agree. I feel like a lot of people are hyping up this class to be better than it is. We'll likely finish near 25 again, which simply is not good enough. Every year I hear the same excuses and I'm sure this year will be no different. Truth of the matter is that until we shell out the cash for a big-name established coach, we're not going to attract the level of recruits we need to win championships.
    7. TrailBossHusker Aug 19, 2016
      Great write-up! Enjoy & respect your perspectives. I see no lost momentum. A pause maybe as the focus is getting the team ready to play ball. Come Fresno St. game, I see recruiting heating up big time. A great bunch of recruits coming for the game. It seems an unending argument about star rankings ... it's so old ... I prefer and defer to the coaching staff on who they recruit. They know way more than I do and most certainly most of the members here...Looking forward to the season! GBR!
    8. gardenjam Aug 19, 2016
      Lass - was that a Freudian slip?

      I agree with Jeremy. There is no science about this and there's a lot of subjectivity. However, I am more swayed by who is recruiting a kid vs how many stars he has.
    9. SoCalRed Aug 19, 2016
      Lots of rationalization for a lass that still ranks in the high twenties, and which appears to have lost momentum. Here's hoping all those top of the board prospects come through and that your apparent effort to make uses for lower rated recruits extends to the more talented NE players who've committed.