Bryce Benhart on the sideline
Photo Credit: Greg Smith

Hot Reads: Huskers Have Some Big Investments in the Redshirt Market

April 20, 2020

Despite Nebraska officially getting away from Texas nearly a decade ago, the two programs most responsible for their being 10 teams in the Big 12 and 14 teams in the Big Ten keep getting drawn back together in the collective consciousness. That might be because there really isn't much difference between the Huskers and Longhorns since the two met in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game.

Over the last 10 years, Nebraska is 75-54, a .581 win percentage that ranks 47th nationally over that span. Texas is 71-57, a .555 win percentage that ranks 56th. Both teams have had three coaches over that stretch, neither has been what its history and tradition would suggest its capable of.

That last part is the jumping off point for Bill Connelly's recent look at "what it will really take for Texas and Nebraska to be back." The Horns and Huskers ranked 14th and 25th respectively in Connelly's first SP+ rankings for 2020.

Connelly lays out a three-point plan for Nebraska to live up to that ranking: 1) Redshirt years must pay off, 2) You have to defend the run in the Big Ten, and 3) Rediscover offensive efficiency.

I found myself just nodding along with the list as those are familiar topics around here. Derek Peterson wrote about Nebraska's need to stop the run in the December issue as part of our year in review and we've been writing that the Big Ten is a run-defense league for years now. The Huskers probably aren't going anywhere until they stop Big Ten opponents from going wherever they want on the ground.

Point No. 2 was close to something I wrote for our January issue on Scott Frost's redshirt rate. Connelly wrote that "Frost never seemed to treat 2019 as Breakout Time. After signing the 18th-ranked class of 2019, he didn't start ripping redshirts off willy-nilly, looking for every possible edge and pushing for a big season."

He didn't do it in Year 1, either. From my magazine story in January:

Nebraska has redshirted 83% of the players in its first two recruiting classes under Frost. That’s the highest rate among the class of 2018 coaches at Power 5 jobs and it’s not really close. Chad Morris redshirted two-thirds of his first two classes at Arkansas. Joe Moorhead redshirted 65.7% of his two classes at Mississippi State. Both coaches only got two classes; Morris was fired in November after a 4-18 start, Moorhead in January after going 14-12 with back-to-back bowl trips. Those two had the second- and third-highest redshirt rates.
Frost’s two-year redshirt rate is also higher than all 11 of the new Power 5 coaches in the class of 2019, the second group of coaches to tackle a new job and early signing at the same time. So far the 24 coaches at this level faced with that exact challenge have, on average, redshirted 49.8% of their first classes at their new jobs. Kelly played 18 of the 27 players in his first class right away, the lowest one-year redshirt rate (33.3%) of any coach in this group. Mack Brown is the second-lowest, redshirting 37.5% of his first class at North Carolina.

It's a pretty clear statement of intent (we're not mortgaging the future for a bowl game now), but, as Connelly notes, it's an investment that needs to pay off. Maybe as early as this season. That's part of the reason why when we put together our "post-spring" depth charts over the weekend, I tended to go younger when I ran into spots I was unsure about. Nebraska has largely reserved that privilege the past two seasons. This should be the year where we see if that patience is rewarded.

As for the third recommendation from Connelly, which provides some interesting numbers on Adrian Martinez, I'll touch on that later this week.

For now, the takeaways are good to-do list by Connelly and you need to be reading the magazine. (C'mon, gotta shill sometimes, right?)

The Grab Bag

  • Stewart Bradley joins Jay Moore for the latest episode of the Moore To It podcast.
  • Derek Peterson looks back at Michael Jordan’s career and it’s intersection with Fred Hoiberg as we’re all living in a Jordan-centric universe for the next month.
  • Greg Smith looks at the potential impact of incoming receivers in the 2020 class.
  • Jacob Padilla makes some informed guesses as to who would’ve been spring game stars if there had been, y’know, a spring game.

Today’s Song of Today

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