No news is good news during this stretch of the college football calendar. Minus the recruiting side of things, if your team makes the news crawl on ESPNU in June it usually means that somebody got in trouble, somebody left or, sometimes, somebody left because they got in trouble.
News of two departures from the Huskers hit Nebraska this week. First, there was the leave of absence for true freshman wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr. (Johnson hopes to return in January.) On Wednesday, news came that redshirt freshman linebacker Greg Simmons was also leaving the program.
Back in January of 2016, I took a close look at what I called Nebraska’s “attrition rate” for a magazine story. I found that between 2000 and 2014, 40.4 percent of Nebraska’s signing classes left before their eligibility was up. (Players that left early for the NFL Draft were not counted as attrition.) The Huskers’ attrition rate as a member of the Big Ten to that point (2011-14) was 34.1 percent.
That was high among the group of schools I analyzed. Nebraska’s attrition rate tied for last (with Iowa) in the Big Ten West. The division average was 25 percent. The 2015 Power 5 conference champions — Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Stanford — had an average attrition rate of 21 percent in the four years leading up to their conference titles that year.
One of my conclusions in that story was that Nebraska’s location in combination with its national-recruiting scope probably made the Huskers somewhat prone to attrition. It’s a lot easier to get homesick when your home (with an entirely different culture and climate) might be a four-hour flight away. And even though some attrition is expected, it hurts nonetheless. The impact isn’t always immediate. Not having Johnson or Simmons for the upcoming season doesn’t drastically impact Nebraska’s two-deep in 2017, but it might have a long-term impact on depth and it certainly changes the numbers in recruiting.
That said, the Mike Riley era is off to a pretty good start in terms of attrition. Now, it’s still early. The first group of players signed by Riley are juniors or redshirt sophomores now, so it’s possible the “writing on the wall” is just starting to come into focus in some cases. But given there was a coaching change, Riley and staff have done a good job of retaining the players in which they invested a scholarship.
Nebraska signed 62 players (including the late add of Jordan Stevenson in 2015, a somewhat unique case) in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 class. Just six have left (9.7 percent). Including the 2017 class in that total, considering most of them have been on campus for only a few weeks, might cloud things a bit, but Riley’s attrition rate over the first two classes only goes up a couple of points (11.9 percent).
Even if that rate went up to 20 with more time, Nebraska would still be much better off than it has been, and that might be a hidden advantage going forward.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska outfield Jake Meyers has signed with the Astros and will begin his professional career.
- Really good read from Ryan Reuter of Corn Nation on Nebraska’s counter-trap scheme and how it was unavailable to the Huskers for stretches of 2016.
- You really have to read the letter Rick Pitino wrote to “Friends of the Ville” in light of recent sanctions against the Cardinals’ basketball program.
- Dan Murphy lists some names that might surprise in the Big Ten West this season.
- ICYMI: Mike Babcock put together a team of the greatest Huskers from Texas, and there’s more where that came from coming up today.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.