Coach Mike Riley was hired at the end of the 2014 season, putting him and his staff in a bit of a tough position on the recruiting trail. They chose to focus more on retaining the 2015 class versus recruiting ahead for 2016 and 2017. That meant the 2016 class visitors for the 2015 spring game weren’t exactly a bright spot for Riley. Instead, his 2017 class visitors were a better indicator of what was to come.
To get a better idea of that first year for Riley, let’s take a look back at the 2015 spring game visitors and where they ended up (with Nebraska signees in bold):
2016 Recruiting Class
- LB Chris Baccus – A junior college transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma, he ultimately took a greater interest in Louisville.
- CB Maurice Chandler – Signed with Arizona State
- DE Noah Fant – Signed with Iowa
- DE Amani Bledsoe – Signed with Oklahoma
- WR Taj Williams – Signed with TCU
- DE Xavier Kelly – Signed with Clemson
- OL John Raridon – A verbal commit at the spring game, he signed with Nebraska.
- TE Jared Bubak – A verbal commit at the spring game, Bubak decommitted from Nebraska and signed with Arizona State.
- OL Jack Domandle – Signed with South Dakota State
- WR Cade Johnson – Signed with South Dakota State
- QB Jadyn Kowalski – Signed with Northwest Missouri State
- ATH Grant Martin – Signed with Northwest Missouri State
- OT Quinn Mittermeier – Signed with Oklahoma
- ATH Jacob Matthew – Signed with South Dakota
- RB Martiez Prather – Signed with Nebraska-Kearney
2017 Recruiting Class
- ATH Darnay Holmes – Signed with UCLA
- WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr. – Signed with Nebraska
- LB Avery Roberts – Signed with Nebraska
A quick review shows that the 2015 spring game was not Riley’s most successful in converting visitors to signees. By the time national signing day rolled around, the Huskers had successfully signed only one player for the 2016 class that visited for the spring game – Raridon. The situation was understandable given the time frame Riley and his staff had, but they knew they needed to move faster as Riley explained on national signing day in 2016.
“This thing has accelerated to the point where you’ve got to get in it fast, get the evaluations done and pick that active group of guys that you’re going to recruit – the active recruits,” Riley said. “The guys that you’ve offered and you’re going to recruit, and we’ve got to know those names as soon as possible because those relationships are there waiting to be built so that you can get them. We’ve got 20 working days until spring practice starts, so we’ve got to make the most of those 20 days getting ready for next year.”
Riley did make the most of those 20 days in 2016, compiling a solid group of visitors for the spring game. That included Johnson, who had also visited in 2015. While Roberts didn’t make a repeat trip, Riley’s success rate with the 2017 group started strong with the 2015 spring game (signing two out of the three).
As for the 2016 spring game, it only got better (with Nebraska signees in bold):
2017 Recruiting Class
- QB Tristan Gebbia – A verbal commit at the spring game, he signed with Nebraska.
- WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr. – A verbal commit at the spring game, he signed with Nebraska.
- WR Jaevon McQuitty – A verbal commit at the spring game, he signed with Nebraska.
- TE Austin Allen – A verbal commit at the spring game, he signed with Nebraska.
- LB Rahyme Johnson – Signed with UCLA
- WR Maurice Bell – Signed with Colorado
- FB Ben Miles – Signed with Nebraska
- WR Tyjon Lindsey – Signed with Nebraska
- WR Jamire Calvin – Signed with Washington State
- ATH Jeremiah Hawkins – Signed with Cal
- DT Deontre Thomas – Signed with Nebraska
- OT Brenden Jaimes – Signed with Nebraska
- ATH Nick Pickett – Signed with Oregon
- RB Kade Remsberg – Signed with Air Force
- TE Jake Ferguson – Signed with Wisconsin
- DT Phil Hoskins – Signed with Kentucky
- TE Dalton Keene – Signed with Virginia Tech
- DT James Lynch – Signed with Baylor
- WR Isaiah Johnson – Signed wit Washington State
- LB Andrew Ward – Signed with Nebraska
- CB Deommodore Lenoir – Signed with Oregon
2018 Recruiting Class
- TE Cameron Jurgens – Committed to Nebraska
- OL Will Farniok – Uncommitted
- CB Brendan Radley-Hiles – Uncommitted
- LB Kolin Demens – Uncommitted
Looking at just the 2017 recruiting class visitors, Riley and his staff were able to close on nine of the 21 visitors. That is a 43 percent success rate for the 2016 spring game with that class alone. Add to that Jurgens , who is already committed, as well as Farniok and Radley-Hiles, who are considered to be heavy Nebraska leans, and the spring game success for Riley is considerably higher than it was during his first spring.
The data surrounding Riley’s recruiting and the spring game is still limited, but the 2017 spring game will provide more context come the 2018 signing day. If Nebraska ends with at least 30 visitors on April 15 and roughly 40 percent commit, that’s the start of a positive recruiting trend for Nebraska.
For now, it’s all hypothetical. It’s also too early to make any assumptions on trends but what the 2017 spring game can provide is a better outline of what Riley said he wanted to do on signing day in 2016 – earlier evaluations so relationships can be formed. When that happens, the commitment percentage would be expected to grow.