April 17, 2014

Recruiting run unmatched in recent Husker history

Around 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, the Twitter booms started going off once again, and the explosions have become far more frequent in the past few months.

Several Nebraska coaches started using "#BOOM" to announce the commitment of a new recruit last year on Twitter, but never has the hashtag gotten as much run as it has recently. The Huskers are on a recruiting hot streak basically unmatched over the past 10 years, and it seems to have come out of nowhere.

Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska has typically built its classes during and/or after the season, when the coaches have more time to bring in recruits and show off what NU has to offer. The coaches have stressed the importance of watching senior year film of prospects over the past couple of seasons, leading to few early commitments.

But when wideout Spencer Tears committed Wednesday, he became the Huskers' 10th recruit for the 2015 class, an unprecedented start under Pelini. For comparison, Pelini's first six classes (not counting 2008 because he was hired that year and got a late start) had a combined total of 13 commitments before May.

In fact, the 2015 class already has as many or more commitments than many of Pelini's classes had by the time the season started in September:

Class rank Total commits Commits before May Commits before season started
2015* 8 10 10 10
2014 32 24 1 12
2013 17 25 3 10
2012 25 17 1 5
2011 15 20 5 10
2010 22 22 2 4
2009 28 20 1 9

*as of April 16

In Pelini's first six classes, the Huskers averaged 2.2 commits per year before May, or about one-fifth as many as they have this year alone. Those classes also averaged 8.3 commits before the season began, a number the 2015 class has already exceeded and still has more than four months to build on.

Only Penn State (12) and Tennessee (11) have more 2015 commitments than Nebraska.

This isn't a phenomenon related solely to Pelini's recruiting. Similarly, the Huskers often had limited early success with their classes under previous coach Bill Callahan, who was widely viewed as a strong recruiter. Here are the numbers from his three classes (again, we won't count 2004 because that's the year he was hired):

Class rank Total commits Commits before May Commits before season started
2007 13 27 1 8
2006 20 22 2 5
2005 5 32 0 7

In fairness, it's important to acknowledge that recruiting has changed a good deal since Callahan's tenure - the entire process has been accelerated, and prospects are committing much earlier now than they were before.

But still, the numbers are impressive - in Callahan's top two classes, the Huskers secured just one commitment combined before May. And it's not as if Pelini's 2015 class is stacked with stiffs - four are four-stars and five are three-stars.

It should be noted that Callahan's 2008 class was shaping up to be his best before he was let go. That class, which at one point contained two five stars (Baker Steinkuhler and Blaine Gabbert) and eight four-stars, was ranked in the top ten during the season, but it fell apart during Nebraska's 2007 collapse and Callahan's firing after the regular-season finale.

Let's bring the comparisons back to the present - how does Pelini's work stack up with his Big Ten contemporaries? The numbers below compare the average of each Big Ten team's recruiting results over the past five years (the 2010 to 2014 classes):

Class rank Commits before May Commits before season started 2015 commits to date
Ohio State 9 7.4 13.8 3
Michigan 16.8 8.2 16 5
Nebraska 22.2 2.4 8.2 10
Michigan State 32.8 4.2 12.6 3
Penn State 33 3.4 9 12
Iowa 45.4 2.4 11.6 7
Wisconsin 55 2.4 8.4 3
Minnesota 57.8 1.8 7.8 0
Indiana 59.2 1.2 12 1
Illinois 59.8 2 7.8 2
Purdue 61.8 0.4 7.6 1
Northwestern 69.4 1.6 12.4 8

It quickly becomes apparent to see that while getting early commitments isn;t the end-all, be-all to classes, it certainly doesn't hurt. Over the past five years, Ohio State and Michigan have had the best average class ranking, and they also have averaged the most early recruits. As the chart shows, the lower the overall class ranking, the fewer early recruits a team generally has.

Nebraska is the clear outlier on that map. Only five Big Ten teams have averaged fewer pre-May recruits than Nebraska over the past five years, yet only the Buckeyes and Wolverines have a higher average class ranking. The Huskers have used their formula to find success and unearth some gems that other teams may have missed.

Yet there appears to be a clear shift in philosophy this spring. The Huskers got off to a great start with its Junior Days in early February, which resulted in four commitments, including four-stars Eric Lee, Kendall Bussey and Avery Anderson. But things haven't really slowed down since then - twins Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis committed on March 1, and Nebraska has already secured four April commitments.

Penn State, operating under new coach and recruiting dynamo James Franklin, has the only Big Ten class to come close to matching Nebraska's to this point. The Nittany Lions already have 12 commits, eight of which are four-stars. Iowa and Northwestern are the only other conference teams to have more than five 2015 commits, and they have a combined two four-stars.

What does this all mean? Have we seen a fundamental shift in Pelini's recruiting philosophy? Or are the Huskers simply on a hot streak? It may take a while to get the real answers to those questions, but of this there is no doubt - Nebraska is having its best recruiting spring in a decade, and it shows no signs of slowing down.




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