The topic of junior college recruiting has been a mysterious one during the Mike Riley tenure. Nebraska historically has had success recruiting junior college players with names that jump out at you like Lavonte David and Randy Gregory having had a lot of success in Lincoln.
So naturally, the discussion of why Nebraska doesn’t currently seem very interested in recruiting from the junior college ranks has been happening a lot recently as the team has some glaring holes due to injuries or position fits. Offensive tackle and wide receiver have been the most talked about positions on offense, while outside linebacker and cornerback have been seen as trouble spots on defense.
Riley has yet to sign a junior college player during his tenure at Nebraska. There have been very few that Nebraska got far enough along in the process to host for an official visit. It was news recently when members of the staff were seen out recruiting at Iowa Western Community College, the top-ranked team in the junior college ranks. With the facts being what they are with Riley’s history at Nebraska, it begs the question just where his philosophy lies with taking them at all. He was asked about that at Monday’s press conference.
“I think that, in an ideal world, if you can sign a freshman and develop them through a period of time, that helps your team most in the long run," Riley said. "Frankly, if you can get a freshman and he’s the right guy and you redshirt him, then by the time he’s playing, he’s had well over a year of just practicing and developing physically with you and is more prepared to play for you for a longer period of time. But, there are instances right now where we are looking at junior college players a bit more.
"When you recruit a junior college player, you need to be right about their ability and their character and you’ve got to have a real plan for them because if it doesn’t work, he knows his clock is short so he’s unhappy – nobody’s happy – so you’ve got to be right on the deal.”
Riley says he’s had little success with offensive linemen over the years, but they are looking a little bit right now for them, presumably at offensive tackle. Nebraska has brought in a good amount of offensive linemen during his tenure, they just mostly seem better suited for guard. Most recently, Matt Farniok fits that mold according to Riley as he will slide into the starting right guard spot in place of Tanner Farmer.
An interesting wrinkle in this discussion, is the feeling out there that the Big Ten frowns upon schools signing junior college players. After doing a quick search, in 2015 Big Ten schools signed seven of the top 150 junior college players, nine in 2016 and seven in 2017. For comparison, the SEC signed 79 players from that same pool over a three-year span.
“I’ve never noted or heard anything conference-wide," Riley said of the perception of Big Ten recruiting. "I think that everybody that talks about admissions and graduation are, I would say, aware of the issues that might be involved there of graduating this person, of them being able to fit in academically. I think there is, maybe conference-wide, but for sure here, an awareness of that.”
It doesn’t seem like there will be sweeping changes to the way Riley and his staff approach junior college recruiting. The combination of his feeling that it’s better to develop a player over four years versus rolling the dice with a player that has two years, the perception of how the conference feels and Riley’s hit-or-miss track record with those players likely means Nebraska will not be dipping their toes into getting more immediate help infused to the roster.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.