When looking at Nebraska’s 2016 season, there are quite a few positives to take note of. For example, Nebraska took better care of the football, successfully defended the pass more and was far less prone to costly penalties. All of this led to the Huskers improving their record from 6-7 to 9-4, a solid step forward in year two of the Mike Riley era.
Despite these positives, poor performances in Nebraska’s final two games showed that the Huskers still have plenty of work to do in order to get to where they want to go. The two areas in particular that Nebraska needs to improve? Strength in the trenches and speed in the defensive back seven.
What’s the best way to improve this area? Recruiting, of course. Nebraska now has just under a month until National Signing Day and the Husker coaching staff has plenty of open spots to fill. To get an idea of what that looks like, let’s break down the status of each position starting with the offense.
Quarterback (Committed: 1, Open Spots: 0)
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf got his work done early at this position, landing Calabasas, California, quarterback Tristan Gebbia on April 4, 2016. Gebbia, who currently holds a 93.4 rating on the Hail Varsity composite, committed to Nebraska over offers from Miami and Ole Miss.
Gebbia is coming off a stellar career at Calabasas, throwing for 13,109 passing yards and 141 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter. His career passing total are the second highest in California history, trailing only Jake Browning, the star quarterback at Washington. Suffice to say, Langsdorf would be more than happy to see Gebbia’s career play out like Browning’s has so far.
Landing Gebbia early allowed Langsdorf to turn his focus toward the 2018 class, with Centennial, California, prospect Tanner McKee emerging as Nebraska’s top target. Nebraska is currently battling with BYU and Stanford for the talented signal caller.
Confidence Level: 10. Langsdorf has quietly been Nebraska’s best recruiter since coming on the staff, landing three coveted signal-callers in the past two cycles.
Running Back (Committed: 1, Open Spots: 1)
Nebraska has already filled its fullback spot in the 2017 class, landing Baton Rouge, Louisiana, prospect Ben Miles on July 31, 2016. Miles currently holds an 83.6 rating on Hail Varsity’s composite. He also helped lead Baton Rouge Catholic to 20 wins over the past two seasons and he brings an incredibly versatile game to Lincoln.
What Reggie Davis has not yet landed is a standout running back commit, although two prospects have emerged. CJ Verdell, a 5-9, 197 pound back out of Chula Vista, California, has emerged as Nebraska’s top target since November. Verdell is currently committed to Oregon, but has been exploring his options since Mark Helfrich was fired. Verdell has hosted Davis multiple times over the contact period, and has stated that he plans to visit Nebraska in January along with UCLA and Utah.
The other prospect that has emerged recently is Fort Myers, Florida, running back Darrian Felix. The 5-11, 190 pound Felix currently holds 30 FBS offers, with Oregon, North Carolina, Clemson, Tennessee and Clemson appearing to be favorites. Davis visited Felix twice in December, with the second in-home visit resulting Felix scheduling an official visit to Nebraska on Friday, Jan. 20.
Confidence Level: 7. Davis has shown a tendency to reel in his targets late in the cycle, with Devine Ozigbo and Tre Bryant being two examples. At the moment Verdell appears to be the most likely candidate to commit to Nebraska, as he and Oregon seem to be moving in different directions.
Tight End (Committed: 1, Open Spots: 1)
Nebraska appeared to be set at tight end entering December, but the decommitment of Reese Leitao has opened up one spot for the 2017 class. It isn’t a sure thing that Nebraska will pursue another tight end for the 2017 class, as the coaches may want to wait and see how Matt Snyder, Jack Stoll and David Engelhaupt develop or try to land a graduate transfer. If the Huskers do go after another tight end, a few intriguing names are on their radar.
Two that already have offers are Michigan prospects Carter Dunaway and Keegan Cossou. Dunaway was initially a Michigan commit, but decommitted from the Wolverines on Sept. 9, 2016 and has been mum on recruiting ever since. Coussou has been committed to Central Michigan since April 16, 2016, but received an offer from Nebraska three days later. If Nebraska chooses to chase Cossou, the Huskers will likely be able to flip him.
One prospect that Nebraska has yet to offer is Moses Robinson-Carr. Robinson-Carr, a Lancaster, California, native, recently decommitted from Oregon following the coaching change. Robinson-Carr doesn’t have elite speed, but he would bring a college ready body and a high motor to the Huskers.
Confidence Level: 4. This will be interesting to watch. Nebraska doesn’t appear to have any set replacements for Leitao among the high school ranks, but there are some intriguing prospects among the graduate transfer pool this summer.
Wide Receiver (Committed: 2, Open Spots: 3)
Can Keith Williams close? That is the million-dollar question for the 2017 class. There are few coaches better at getting their foot in the door and getting the Huskers in the mix than Williams, but he struggled to close in 2016 and may be facing the same problem with the 2017 class.
Williams currently holds commitments from Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Jaevon McQuitty, both of whom will be early enrollees in January. Williams still has three open spots for their 2017 class, with Joseph Lewis emerging as the main target on William’s radar. Lewis is a consensus 5-star recruit that has offers from across the country, though Nebraska is mainly competing with Oklahoma and USC for his commitment. Lewis has stated that he will be making his decision on signing day. Nebraska was considered the tentative leader for Lewis midway through the season, though USC has started pushing hard for the Los Angeles native.
Besides Lewis, Nebraska is also in hot pursuit of Jamire Calvin, Gavin Holmes and Lynn Bowden. Calvin, another Los Angeles native, has been a Nebraska target for almost a year now, with Nebraska competing with Notre Dame for his commitment. Calvin will be deciding on Saturday, Jan. 7 at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Nebraska is considered the favorite to land him.
Holmes was an Iowa commit for most of the regular season but he decommitted from Iowa following the Eno Benjamin debacle, allowing Nebraska to get in the mix for the Texas native. Nebraska hosted Holmes on Dec. 9, 2016, and Holmes was blown away by the Lincoln experience. This made Nebraska appear to be the clear leader for Holmes but Holmes still has one remaining visit scheduled for Arizona State. Holmes is another prospect that likely won’t be committing until the final days before signing day.
The final prospect on Williams’ radar may be the most intriguing. Bowden, a Youngstown, Ohio, native, is coming off an incredible senior season at Warren G Harding High School, where he accounted for over 3,400 yards of offense and 40 touchdowns from his quarterback position. Bowden hosted Williams on the first day of the contact period, receiving an offer that same day. Bowden has listed Nebraska as one of his intended visits, as Nebraska joins Kentucky, Michigan State and Indiana as Bowden’s finalists. If Nebraska can secure a visit from Bowden, the chances of landing arguably the top athlete in Ohio will increase drastically.
Confidence Level: 6. Nebraska is the clear leader for both Calvin and Holmes, but can Williams really land Lewis? Lewis would be the first 5-star that Nebraska has landed since 2008, and teams rarely beat USC for Los Angeles recruits that the Trojans really want.
Offensive Line (Commits: 3, Open Spots: 1-2)
Mike Cavanaugh landed a solid trio of offensive line prospects early in the cycle, as Brenden Jaimes, Broc Bando and Matt Sichterman all joined the Nebraska class during the summer. Cavanaugh is still looking for those additional big fishes to push his offensive line group from good to great. Those two prospects are Foster Sarell and Chuck Filiaga.
Sarell is considered one of the top prospects in the nation, as the Graham, Washington, native dominated the summer camp circuit. It was believed that Sarell was a lock to attend either Washington or Stanford, but Cavanaugh used his longstanding connection with Sarell to secure an official visit for the Fresno State game. Getting Sarell on campus has allowed Nebraska to stay in the mix throughout the recruiting cycle. Sarell will be announcing his decision on Saturday, Jan. 7 during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Filiaga, a 6-6, 330 pound mauler out of Aledo, Texas, has held an offer from Nebraska since last spring. Despite expressing sincere interest in Nebraska, it appears that the Huskers have fallen too far behind Michigan and others to have a realistic chance at landing the impressive prospect. Cavanaugh stayed with the process though, and was rewarded by hosting Filiaga on Dec. 13, 2016. The visit went well, vaulting Nebraska into the discussion along with the Wolverines. Filiaga will announce his commitment on Saturday, Jan. 7 at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Confidence Level: 8. The fact that no offensive line offers have been extended in the past two months is telling. Cavanaugh has been extremely quiet on the recruiting trail, with all of his efforts concentrated on Sarell and Filiaga. I don’t know if Cavanaugh can land both of these prospects, but I do believe he will land at least one of them.