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On Nebraska’s Peculiar Recruiting Situation and Mickey Joseph’s Arrival

December 05, 2021

The talent composite over at 247Sports is a curious place if you want to go poke around.

On the heels of Championship Saturday, it’s a little revealing. 

The winner of the SEC had the most talented roster in the country. Alabama, with 74 blue-chip players among its 85 scholarship players, had a slightly better composite rating than No. 2 Georgia. It was a slightly more talented roster and the better coach for the team that won the matchup in the SEC championship game. 

In the Big Ten, the second-most talented team won. The Wolverines (15th nationally) have a roster with 44 blue-chip players. Iowa, which lost 42-3 in the Big Ten title game, has 10. Kirk Ferentz is a pretty good coach but the talent gap was evident watching the game. 

The teams who played for the SEC championship in 2020 ranked No. 1 and No. 7 in the talent composite. The winner of the Big Ten ranked No. 3. 

Those same teams in 2019 ranked No. 2, 3, and 5. In 2018, they ranked No. 1, 2, and 3. In 2017, they ranked No. 2, 4, and 8.

Now, the winner of the Pac-12 this season was the seventh-most talented team in its conference and it thoroughly handled the most talented team. Utah (No. 32) beat Oregon (No. 9) in two meetings this season by a combined 59 points. Kyle Whittingham is a darn good coach. The winner of the ACC was also the seventh-most talented roster in the league. 

Baylor won the Big 12 as the lowest-rated roster among the P5 champions—they ranked 41st, behind three other Big 12 sides. The Bears had 12 blue-chip players on their roster. Oklahoma and Texas, the top two teams in the league, have a combined 104 blue-chip players. Baylor beat them both. And the team the Bears met in the title match had just six blue-chip players on the roster. Baylor won with a goal-line stand for the ages. 

ESPN’s Molly McGrath was in Waco Sunday morning ahead of the final College Football Playoff ranking reveal, but she reported that coach Dave Aranda wasn’t. 

“Recruiting is my only priority right now,” McGrath said Aranda told her. He was on a recruiting trip. Baylor didn’t have a selection show watch party Sunday morning. The coach didn’t mention the CFP in the locker room Saturday after their win over Oklahoma State. “Focus on what you can control,” Aranda told them, according to McGrath. 

And Aranda can control, to some extent, recruiting. At the very least, he can control how much he himself invests in it. 

Baylor has the 34th-ranked class in the 2022 cycle right now, sixth-best among Big 12 teams. Getting talent to Waco is a task, but Aranda has proven himself a good coach and recruiter wherever he’s been. 

Michigan State’s Mel Tucker was in-home with a recruit sometime Sunday. That player tweeted a picture of him around the time Tucker finished up a media conference call to preview the Peach Bowl. Georgia’s Kirby Smart did his first CFP semifinal media presser from a truck while recruiting.

As this coaching carousel has unfolded, I’ve found myself wondering more and more if that’s not the archetype of the successful college football coach right now. Not the Xs-and-Os whiz kid that was all the rage when Chip Kelly was taking over college football, but the intensely devoted recruiter that leaves scheme to his assistants. 

Think about the next wave of coaches and the ones who are getting paid big bucks this cycle: Ryan Day and Mario Cristobal and Lincoln Riley and Tucker and the likes. They’re men who seem to be obsessed with the 24/7, 365-day commitment that is recruiting. 

With the calendar as currently constructed, it’s not enough to just see the value of it, you have to be invested wholeheartedly. The top players tend to go where they have the best relationship with the head man. 

Nebraska sits at No. 23 in the talent composite this season, fifth among Big Ten teams. USC, Texas, Washington, Florida State, and Stanford were the only other teams in the top 25 with a losing record. The Cardinal and Seminoles don’t appear to be firing their coaches, but the other three schools either did this year or did last year. 

The Huskers won’t be moving on from Scott Frost this offseason. He’ll get a fifth year in Lincoln, but things need to and are expected to change. The most important and talked-about functional change will be Frost’s role as coach. 

For four years, he’s been heavily invested in the offense’s design and deployment. The narrative from North Stadium this offseason is that Frost will transition to more of a CEO-type once a new offensive coordinator is hired, that he’ll cede control of the offense to someone else to better manage the ship.

I’ll be curious to see what that looks like in practice. 

Husker recruiting this cycle has slipped outside the nation’s top 50 classes. They have the worst class in the Big Ten by the 247 Composite. Unless things change in a big way, it’ll be the lowest-rated class Nebraska has signed in the 247 era.

Frost has stressed the high school class will be smaller because the transfer portal will be hit harder, but NU doesn’t have an offensive coordinator or an offensive line coach, and it needs to replace its quarterback but doesn’t have a quarterback coach. If the Huskers were going to hit the portal hard, the time to do that would be now. Instead, they’re in wait-and-see mode on all fronts.

The players worth getting from the portal go in and quickly come out. The more developmental pieces serve Frost no upside in a win-now season. Nebraska’s season ended over a week ago and the portal is only a one-way road from Lincoln at this point.

If this whole thing is going to work, I’m increasingly wondering if it won’t be determined by how successful Frost is at getting his Y receiver open on a crosser, rather than how committed he is to playing the recruiting game. There’s enough anecdotal evidence out there to suggest it hasn’t been his top priority to this point. 

It needs to be. Especially so if he’s not running the offensive show.

None of this is to suggest Nebraska doesn’t have enough talent to win. Frost has recruited top-25 classes in each of his first three full cycles. Some guys who no longer work in Memorial Stadium had a lot to do with those, though.

This was not a 3-9 roster.

Recruiting can be a great equalizer. 

Ferentz got Iowa to the title game. Pat Fitzgerald has done the same thing for Northwestern. But those games end the same way for a reason. You can find success their way, by having a team that maximizes every last ounce of potential and doesn’t make the critical error, or you can find success the Ryan Day/Jim Harbaugh/Mel Tucker way, by getting dudes who are just better than the other team’s dudes. 

You probably can’t find success by doing neither.

Other thoughts

>> This is why the hire of Mickey Joseph feels like such a key moment to me. I like the pieces Nebraska has in its receiver room. Joseph steps in with perhaps more credibility than any other coach this regime has had to say “I’m going to turn you into a player NFL teams want to draft.” He’s done it. From 2018 to 2021 (talking cycles, not years), LSU signed nine 4-star wideouts and two 5-stars. Justin Jefferson was a 3-star recruit from the 2017 class who developed into a star under Joseph. In 2021, he was No. 5 in the 247 Recruiter Rankings. Nebraska gave him a long, fancy title; if he’s given the agency to do what he does best, this feels like a significant win for Frost and the program.

>> One more Joseph comment and then I’ll move on: LSU has had four wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds since 2018. Nebraska has had four players drafted in the first two rounds total since 2012. 

>> I think it’ll take some time to really and truthfully digest Adrian Martinez’s legacy at Nebraska. The four-year starter at quarterback and the program’s all-time leader in total offense produced is going to finish his career elsewhere. Personal bias leads me to say I hope Martinez can find a place that will protect him and allow him to shine. I think he can be a winning quarterback. Protection let him down too much at Nebraska. 

>> If you’re going to pound your chest that you’ve handled adversity and dealt with disrespect and been doubted all year long, probably best to not get boat-raced 42-3 in the biggest game of your season. 

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