Scott Frost on College Football in 2020: 'There's A Lot At Stake'
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

After ‘Anxious’ Days, Huskers Close Strong in Early Signing

December 18, 2019

The hope with a coaching change is that the line showing a program’s progress slants sharply upward, the straighter the better. Because we’re talking about faith here, rather than fact, that’s true of almost any coaching change, but it was a little bit extra with Scott Frost’s return to Nebraska. 

Central Florida’s line was about as sharp and straight as you’ll ever see for a two-year tenure. It’s the path everyone has in mind when their team picks a new coach. Add on top of that that Frost is from Nebraska, that he played at Nebraska, that he succeeded elsewhere with a cutting-edge brand of football and, while everyone preached patience, the hope for that line trended more to the vertical than the horizontal. It always does.

Here’s the actual line after two years, at least based on the change in SP+, a good overall power rating that I quite like and find more informative than win totals:

 

Now here’s a similar way to measure recruiting quality using the average rating of a player in the class using the 247 Composite. For this one, we can go all the way back to Bill Callahan’s first class at Nebraska in 2004.

 

There are a couple of ways to look at Frost’s three-class run at Nebraska so far. One is to note that the 2018 class was a slight step back in overall quality from the class before it. I would note that the 2018 class marked the first year of early signing, adding extra uncertainty to the chaos that is already inherent to a transition class.

Another way to view it is that it mirrors the Huskers’ overall trajectory as a program based on SP+ plus—up following the first year on the field, a little bit down after Year 2. That, based on the numbers, is technically true, too.

But the thing I see when looking at the two charts in tandem is that, when the 2020 class is officially done in February, Frost will likely have signed the two best classes in terms of overall quality of the past 16 seasons at Nebraska. The 2020 class (average rating: .8831) still has a slim chance to be better than the 2019 class (.8850), but it’s already running neck-and-neck, with a few spots still to fill, with the 2011 class (.8832) for second on the list since 2004.

Go ahead and insert your favorite recruiting disclaimer here. I have plenty of my own. Stars aren’t everything. Development matters. It’s an imperfect system and an impossible task to accurately assess the actual talent level of some 3,500 high school football players spread all across the country. That’s all true.

It’s also true that there’s a pretty strong correlation between finishing high in these rankings––imperfect as they are, they’re good enough to tell us something––and winning a bunch of football games. There might be more 3-star players on the annual All-America lists or in the NFL Draft every year, but that’s because there’s more 3-stars overall. Most football players are 3-stars. The 5-stars earn that same recognition at a higher rate based on how many there are. So do the 4-stars, and on down the list.

Talent alone isn’t everything, but it matters and recruiting rankings work just fine as a general measure of that.

Nebraska fared well in that regard during the first day of early signing, though the Huskers needed a strong close to get there.

“It was anxious. It just kind of felt this year that a lot of kids we really were invested in and wanted in our program were making late decisions,” Frost said. “I heard all the talk early on about how we were behind, and we were behind. We kind of knew that, but we were kind of betting on ourselves in recruiting and had a lot of really good targets out there and luckily we were able to land quite a few of them.”

With the addition of defensive back Jaiden Francois and wide receivers Marcus Fleming and Alante Brown, the Huskers signed nine consensus 4-star players on Wednesday. Bellevue West wide receiver Zavier Betts, who wasn’t expected to sign in December, would give Nebraska 10 for the 2020 class.

The Huskers’ previous high for a class since 2004 was nine in 2011. Nebraska signed seven a year ago, six in that tricky transition class.

The talent level at Nebraska, based on the way we’ve all agreed to keep score here, has increased since Frost and staff arrived. The results on the field need to follow, of course, but it’s always hard to get those two things in perfect alignment. 

Better results produce better recruits. Better recruits produce better results.

Nebraska’s still figuring out the mix there, but this much was clear after Wednesday: The Huskers ended up in a pretty good spot.

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