Fourth in our series of Q&As with Big Ten bloggers on their 2013 recruiting class sees us sitting down with the new kids on the block, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Andy Ketterson from our fellow SBN blog Corn Nation graciously answered some questions on where the Huskers are now, and how the jump to a new conference may impact their recruiting.
BSD: What are your overall feelings of the 2013 class so far?
Andy: I’m probably less than overwhelmed currently, but I’m far from disappointed. Early on, it appears to be shaping up as a typical Nebraska recruiting class. Needs are being addressed, there’s a couple or three top guys, and it’ll somewhere in the 15th-25th rank nationally, but short on playmakers who are still signing with big names and the beaches.What areas/position groups do you think are most important for the 2013 class? How is this class measuring up to this so far?
TE, RB, CB & S have some potentially glaring holes and I'll try to take it position by position.
TE – Cotton & Reed are the only guys on the roster with any experience & they’re both gone after 2012. Sam Cotton was an OK grab last year, and Greg Hart looks like he has a good frame to grow & solid athleticism. But I’d still keep looking, because someone has to step up the year after next and I don’t think either of these two are it. Or David Sutton.
RB – Rex Burkhead’s graduation will leave only Abdullah & incoming frosh Imani Cross. Aaron Green’s transfer & Heard’s switch to CB thinned things out in a hurry. At least one RB will have to be nabbed and don’t be surprised to see Heard move back.
CB – Nebraska swung for the fences on a few guys last year and struck out. 5 of their 9 scholarship CB’s are juniors which will leave only 4 after 2013. Marcus McWilson is someone I’m very excited about – thanks again Cardinal Mooney! – but they need 1-2 more.
S – Same story last year as CB – big cuts, no contact. 3 seniors leave this year & the backups have little experience. Nathan Gerry from up I-29 in Sioux Falls could help here. A 3-star athlete with a nice offer list, 206 lbs & 4.42 forty. If he can survive the shock value of adjusting from South Dakota level high school ball to division 1, this could turn out to be a great sleeper pick.
What recruit in the 2013 class are you most excited about and why?
I would say Tre’vell Dixon, but until LSU makes their inevitable offer, I consider the commitment Dixon’s contingency plan at best. Marcus McWilson is a four star as well, but when I’m trying to determine just what kind of a context to put a star rating into, I like to look a kid’s offers & I’m a little surprised at the lack of star power going after him. So, even though none of the current commits blow me away yet, I’d probably pick local boy Josh Banderas from Lincoln who dad played TE for the Huskers in the 80's.
His film isn’t full of big hit highlights, but he does close in a hurry on wide plays, and he has the speed and athleticism to drop back into coverage. He also is one of the players that I want to subtract .15 from his posted 4.65 40 time instead of adding it. Dude weighs 220 & won the Class A 110 high hurdles at state with a 14.53. I’d love to see that kind of size & speed get good and pissed off in the 4th quarter.
Who do you think is the top target left for Nebraska?
I don’t know if he’s the top player on their list, but as the big blue chip names at QB have gone in other directions one by one (an annual theme lately), Devante Kincaid has suddenly become a crucial target for them. His 3-star rating is probably mostly attributable to his size (6' 175), because if you saw a 6’2’ 217 lb kid who rushed for 857 yards at Dallas Skyline his junior year while completing 71% of his passes for 3270 yards and a 37 TD 8 INT ratio, you’d probably be thinking four stars minimum. Nebraska is still thin at QB with only 3 on scholarship currently. Another quality signal caller is a must, especially if Martinez has another mediocre year but retains the starting job – this would make someone transferring a high probability.
Nebraska just finished its first season in the Big Ten. What, if any, impact do you think this will/has had on recruiting?
The effects are probably twofold. The staff has had a season to get familiar with a little more of the area. Previously, they hit only Ohio mostly due to the Pelinis’ history there. Now, they’re spreading out a bit more in the conference region and I think we’re seeing that with the early commitments.
In addition, the high school kids in Big 10 country have had a full season to watch the Huskers play a conference schedule & perhaps have even had a chance to see them in person.
Now that you're in the Big Ten, do you think the recruiting style of Coach Pelini and staff will change? If so, how will it change?
I know they’ve been saying Texas will remain a huge focus in recruiting, and it very may well be when chasing after their blue chippers, but I think this class is already showing a strategy change as far the middle/three-star type class fillers and diamond in the rough hopefuls. Look at the 11 commits so far: Ohio 4, Indiana 2, Wisconsin 1. Previously, we WERE going to Texas for these guys. Now we’re staying in Big 10 country.
And I guess it just makes sense – a middling Texas kid will get his share of offers from around his region and he doesn’t grow up dreaming of playing Michigan & Ohio St. So, why fly down there when we can fill those slots with the same type of kid who DOES want to play those games? Are we still going to pursue the top kids regardless of region though? Absolutely.
Traditionally, Nebraska isn't known for having the best high school football talent. How does the current staff make up for that? In your opinion, do the best players in Nebraska tend to go to Lincoln?
I always laugh when I hear what great recruiters Mack Brown, Pete Carroll, Mark Richt, Urban Meyer, etc. are. What an impressive job they did/do locking up kids in heaviest talent bases in the country. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a major university with a smaller local talent & population base from which to draw than us. If Nebraska can find three worthy in-state schollies to offer, that’s a pretty solid year.
Nebraska very seldom loses out on in-state recruits that it wants. You’d probably have to go back to Trevor Robinson in 2008 to find the last one that got away and that was in the middle of the Callahan firing.
For many years, the biggest recruiting rivals for Nebraska seem to be (from an outsider's perspective) Oklahoma and Texas. Do you think that will change? Why or why not? If so, what school do you see as being the new biggest recruiting rival?
Nebraska in the last few years was not shy about going after high school talent in Texas in most cases head-to-head with the Cows and the Okies. Regardless of how each panned out in the long run, NU did make some impressive grabs such as Burkhead, Jamal Turner, Cody Green and David Santos just to name a few. However, if we’re honest, NU definitely finished a consistent 3rd going head to head with those three. Distance played as much of a factor as anything – Texas high schools are in the other two’s back yards. I think Pelini and his staff did a great job down there.
However, facts are facts – without the ability to offer those families a few chances a year to see those kids, the number of those signees will drop no matter how hard they target the region. I think you’ll see NU begin to go head to head with Michigan and Ohio St primarily…and I fear that until they take the next step up the success ladder, i.e., back to the level of regular BCS bowl appearances, they’ll finish 3rd in those battles as well.
A few of our 2013 targeted players overlap. There are some we've recruited where we have virtually no shot, and others where both teams are still in play. Where do you think Nebraska stands on players such as Dorian Johnson, Eddie Vanderdoes, or David Williams?
Hahaha, on these three, I think we overlap with just about every university in Division 1. I think the Huskers have basically been eliminated by Johnson, and with Vanderdoes and Williams, I’m just hoping that Papuchis and Els can make like Kurt Russell in Used Cars and snake oil our way into their top fives and get them on campus. If that happens, anything is possible.
Lastly, is there anything else you would want to add about the current state of Husker recruiting?
You touched on it with a couple of your questions, and, hopefully, I addressed it somewhat, but Nebraska recruiting is definitely a different beast that most other perennial "big name" schools. Our fans are funny – some of them honestly can’t understand why a 17-year old kid would rather attend USC, Miami or Texas than Nebraska, and then blast the staff when we lose out on a Mark Sanchez or Blake Bell (and we did come close with each) just to name a couple.
The regional challenges are one thing. Texas has honestly signed entire classes without leaving the state. We’re the other extreme. It’s not atypical for an NU class to have 23 of its 25 signees from out of state. (We REALLY need one of those alumni funded jets…hello??)
The other thing is how Pelini and his staff approach recruits. They do the opposite of the hard sell, often turning away recruits who are hot to commit on the visit, instead encouraging them to go home, let the excitement wear off and make sure it’s where they want to be. They’re up front about not promising this or that, only that the lone guarantee is that they will have to compete every day for a starting job till the day they leave. As you might imagine, this differs a little from the highly successful methods of hot-boxing kids & negative recruiting tactics (cough, cough Urban Meyer, cough cough).
When the commitment is made, they want it to be final and generally don’t react well if a committed recruit starts taking other visits. When this happens, an announcement that the recruit has "decommitted" or "reopened his recruitment" is not far behind. See Gabbert, Tyler. (Now working on his fourth commitment/school. Sorry, just had to throw that in). It’s a high-principled approach and I’m betting it costs them dearly on occasion, as does Pelini’s refusal to pull scholarships for on-field performance. (However, it’s not this plus criminal levels of oversigning that lead to such wonderful depth at LSU and Alabama, it’s just great coaching! Oh crap, was that out loud?)
OK, that’s enough soapbox nonsense about how morally superior yet Midwestern humble we Huskers consider ourselves. The fact is that if Pelini can’t get us to the Rose Bowl or a national title game in the next three years or so, we’ll forget about how bad things had gotten under Solich & Callahan, and try to run Bo out of town the same way we almost did Osborne to Colorado back in ’79 or so. (Yes, that damn near happened) And it all starts by convincing some talented young punks that their best chance of a Heisman trophy and a three-way with a couple of AOPi’s rests in Lincoln, NE.
I also should add that I’m pretty excited about Courtney Love, just because…well, his freakin’ name is Courtney Love!!! I’m guessing that any guy with that name has heard every heroin addict/skank joke in the book. There’s seriously a 25% chance that in some game while both teams are down and set, we see him freak out & start chasing some random offensive lineman around like Ben Davidson going after Corporal Judson in the original M*A*S*H. I’m really fired up about this possibility.
Thanks again to Andy for the insight! For more info on Nebraska football, recruiting, and anything else you could possibly want to know about the Huskers, visit www.cornnation.com or follow them on twitter at @CornNation.
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