Nebraska Memorial Stadium at sunset with capital building in rear view
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Recruiting: The Center of Nebraska Is in Kansas

August 01, 2022

Recruiting never stops and it’s easy to miss the top stories day-to-day. Hail Varsity recaps all things Nebraska recruiting news, analysis and more so you never miss a thing.


Here, look at this map and see if you can tell me where most of the Power 5-caliber high school football players are located.

If you answered with anything other than “the South,” sorry. You should’ve paid closer to attention to where ALMOST EVERY ARROW IS POINTING. But I’m sure you got it right. Even without the arrows, most college football fans know this inherently, but the arrows sure do make a point.

The maps above––from College Football Data, a great resource but also a good account to follow––show the geographic midpoint of all of the Power 5 (plus Notre Dame) rosters in 2022. Nebraska’s lands somewhere close to Lawrence, Kansas, pulled, like most others, southeast because that’s where the majority of the players are.

I undertook a similar research project in 2016 for a story titled “The Center of the Recruiting Universe.” My method differed slightly in that I focused on Rivals 250 players from 2004 through 2016. Without a tool like College Football Data, that made the (mostly manual) process a little more manageable, but on a national scale it presented a pretty similar result. The geographic center point of the 3,250 best players between 2004–16 was near Jonesboro, Arkansas, where most of those arrows in the map above appear to point. The population center of the United States following the 2010 census, the most recent data when I wrote that story, was near Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, about 150 miles north, and slightly west, of college football’s center. That is perhaps the quickest way to visualize the southeasterly pull that’s constantly at work on the sport at large.

The College Football Data maps expands the scope of what I tried to do, and also offer more current data, though it looks like little has changed on a broad scale. Nebraska, however, might be a different story.

My research, which again focused on only the top-250 players in the country in each class, had the Huskers’ recruiting center for top-end players near Dodge City, Kansas, southwest of Lincoln. It was notable because it wasn’t moving southeast like almost every other team’s. During that span, Nebraska signed 35 Rivals 250 recruits. Seven were from Texas, one was from Florida and zero others were from what you’d consider “the South.” Twelve of the Huskers’ Rivals 250 signees came from west of the state’s westernmost border.

At the time, I theorized this was a good thing, writing . . .

Now look at this from Nebraska’s perspective. Given the program’s history – we’ll get to the coaches in a second – is it better to go after the top-five defensive tackle in Georgia who will presumably have offers from the top teams in the ACC and SEC and two chances to stay in conference (remember, 80 percent of the top prospects have). Or are the odds better with the top-five defensive tackle in California? He also might have offers from the ACC and SEC’s best but he probably isn’t going there very often based on the numbers. The Pac-12 schools are a formidable enough challenge, but only two of those schools rank in the top 15 in terms of total Rivals250 recruits signed, a group that includes five SEC teams and two ACC squads. Is it easier to beat out eight schools within driving distance or four?

Things seem to have changed for Nebraska in the six years since I offered that theory. Some of the difference could be just a larger data set made possible by including the entire roster. Factoring in walk-ons, most of whom are in-state players, would pull that center point northeast from Dodge City. Including scholarship signees outside the top 250, about two-thirds of Nebraska’s classes most years, would continue to move that point east. Maybe that’s the only difference.

But the connections Scott Frost’s staff had in Florida when it arrived before the 2018 season might also be pulling on that center point. From 2019, Frost’s first full class, to today, the Huskers have signed nine players from west of Nebraska and have one committed for 2023. That’s 10 players out of 102, 9.8%. Mike Riley and staff landed 69 players before the head coach was fired in December of 2017. Eighteen of those (26.1%) were from west of Nebraska.

That made sense based on where that staff came from, but “Calibraska” existed long before it got a name during the Riley era. Given the Huskers history in the West, and with USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten in the near future, the obvious question sort of asks itself.

Frost was asked about it at Big Ten Media Days last week.

“I definitely think it probably opens up some area to the west of us,” he said. “We’re the farthest-west team in the Big Ten, and it probably opens up some area for us to try to utilize in recruiting. But we’ll see where the chips fall when all the dust settles and everything is done.”

Maybe that was Frost just giving the expected answer to a question he probably saw coming. Maybe there’s some truth to it and we will see the Huskers explore the west a little more often in the years to come.

Even if the recruiting center I found in 2016 was a little off target due to research choices I made, I don’t know if that, or even updated, more complete data, totally rids me of one of the conclusions from that 2016 story. If you’re looking for football talent, you have to go southeast (unless you’re already there, of course), but traffic is always heavy. The West, then, represents the open road, one Nebraska’s traveled often enough in the past. You can’t get everywhere you need to, going that way, but the ideological pull has always been tough to resist.

Recruit Watch

>>Monday was the first day class of 2023 prospects could receive official offers, so if you saw a slew of similar tweets that’s why.

 

ICYMI

>>Junior linebacker Luke Reimer landed on the watch list for the Bednarik Award, presented annually to the best defensive player in college football.

>>A wave of updates from Monday’s football practice: Whipple, Joseph, observations, sights and sounds and all of the post-practice interviews in one place.

>>Big Ten media days for volleyball was also happening Monday in Chicago. Nebraska was picked second in the Big Ten by conference coaches. The Huskers will also have 12 of their regular-season matches televised.

>>John Cook shares Nebraska’s perspective on Kayla Caffey’s decision to transfer.

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