LINCOLN — Patience, not panic, paid off.
Nebraska stayed the course through a slow spring of commits. It stuck to its plan of evaluating prospects in April and May, offering players who fit its specs regardless of star rating. Eventually, it landed a number of those players over a weeklong run of camps and Big Red Weekend.
It's much too hard to guarantee that each member of the “Summer 7” — Drew Brown, Tanner Farmer, Zack Darlington, Trai Mosley, Mick Stoltenberg, D.J. Foster and Demornay Pierson-El — will pan out the way NU hopes he will. But this is a core NU can ride into July and August, where I'll predict two to four more commits await. And if Darlington — from Apopka, Fla. — can sell prospective recruits the way he acquits himself with reporters, a Florida bumper crop may be in the offing.
More important, Nebraska has positioned its 2014 class to be half-full — perhaps more — heading into the season. And that's how it's done now. Top programs can't drag their feet until fall to rely on too many official visits. NU will still use the eight home games to sell top targets — it's a tool for cultivating walk-on classes, too, and next year shapes up as a good one for in-state walk-on prospects — but getting to double digits, where I expect the Huskers to be by Aug. 31, means the message is working.
The recruiting services aren't necessarily bowled over. Rivals has NU's nine commits ranked 34th. Scout clocks in at 42nd. 247Sports' composite rating has Nebraska at No. 37. Some of that can't be helped — Brown, one of the nation's top five high school kickers, won't get any better than three stars — and some of it, I suspect, will improve. Mosley is a two-star corner prospect that BTN analyst and former college football coach Gerry DiNardo called on Twitter “way underrated.” Who's right? I'll side with DiNardo on this one, if only because Mosley's film shows a kid who will tackle and fight for interceptions when he has a chance.
A top tight end target — 6-foot-5, 240-pound Freedom Akinmoladun from Grandview, Mo. — remains unrated by Scout and Rivals. Several of NU's 2013 signees, Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice among them, were virtually unknown quantities at this time last year.
To a certain extent, you're seeing college football perform a paradigm shift, however slowly, away from recruiting so much from a list or offer hearsay. Both school-sponsored and recruiting-service sponsored camps have a little more weight this year. Teams, including Nebraska, are emphasizing fit. At least with NU, you're seeing an embrace of special teams; the Huskers like Pierson-El, a slot wide receiver, and Mosley in part for what they can do in the return game. Considering NU's return game has often been a bitter pill of fumbles or misjudged kicks in recent years, it's a trend to watch.
There's still a need for top-shelf defensive tackles and offensive tackles. While Stoltenberg, from Gretna, certainly has the frame to become a good offensive tackle if that's what Nebraska wants, he naturally looks like an old-school Husker tight end. Think Mark Gilman. So restocking the interior is still on the to-do list.
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Nebraska is one of the top schools for Hiawatha, Kan., defensive tackle Peyton Newell, who announces Aug. 30 at his high school. Las Vegas Bishop Gorman tackle Nick Gates visited for Big Red Weekend and left impressed. NU will have to fight Alabama for him. Those two would be a good start. The Huskers want a few more corners. They can afford to be patient on running backs, since Pierson-El can play it and true freshmen Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor are just entering the program. I expect Nebraska to land a top outside receiver, preferably (for NU) Kansas City-area star Monte Harrison.
In fact, I expect the Huskers' class to fill in quite nicely after the June run. Nebraska recruiting coordinator Ross Els said before BRW that NU was in more conversations with top players than he'd expected, and fans should look for it to bear out. Whether it contains the raw potential of the 2013 class — on paper, easily Bo Pelini's best — is unclear. But Nebraska has a plan. In June, it worked, and that's worth acknowledging.
Around the nation
Ľ Michigan State received commits this week from three-star cornerbacks Vayante Copeland and Jalen Watts-Jackson. Copeland ran for 2,058 yards last year, but projects to defense in college. The Spartans, unsurprisingly, are putting together a strong recruiting class on defense. Four-star linebacker Deon Drake is especially impressive.
Ľ Minnesota plucked a good tight end who had a Nebraska offer (Gaelin Elmore) and a well-regarded center out of Texas (Connor Mayes) who had offers from Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Baylor, among other schools. Mayes' brother, Alex, was a 2013 offensive tackle recruit.
Gopher coach Jerry Kill has a homespun personality and unforced integrity worth rooting for, but this particular class — his fourth — is really important to determining whether his job security can survive what awaits in 2014 and 2015. Some of these kids — like the Mayes brothers — have to play right away, take their lumps in 2014 (when Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin grace the Gophers' slate) and bow up for 2015.
Ľ Purdue got its quarterback in Carrollton (Texas) star David Blough, who earned an Elite 11 invite that should boost his mid-three-star rating. He'll certainly deserve it. After watching film and doing some research this week, Blough would be my No. 1 Big Ten quarterback commit so far, just ahead of Darlington. He'll fit the Boilermakers' pro-style system quite well. I'm surprised Blough got away from the Big 12.
Ľ Speaking of quarterbacks, Illinois landed Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt, who has a big, live arm and a full year to work on his accuracy and decision-making. But Lunt couldn't be more different from Illini 2013 signee Aaron Bailey, the four-star recruit whom Nebraska recruited heavily before coach Tim Beckman promised to make the kid the centerpiece of Illinois' rebuilding project.
That's just not likely with Lunt in the fold. Beckman went on a Champaign, Ill., radio station this week to broach the possibility he'd play both guys — with Bailey as a runner and Lunt as a thrower — as he did in Toledo for a season.
I've been hard on Beckman — his staff hunting for recruits on Penn State's campus triggered some of my distaste, a pitiful 0-8 Big Ten record did, too — and this doesn't change my view. Bailey had offers to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska and others. He never wavered in his commit to Illinois despite a hideous 2012 performance. The team's likely to get worse this year. And Beckman repaid Bailey's loyalty by courting a quarterback with an entirely different skill set whom everyone knows has “NFL potential” written all over him.
Ľ Tennessee, a Nebraska opponent in 2016 and 2017, keeps rolling with its class, picking up two more players this week — linebacker Gavin Bryant and athlete Brandon Powell. Powell had a Nebraska offer, while Bryant, a teammate of Husker quarterback target Matthew Jordan, picked the Vols over Alabama.
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