LINCOLN — Four weeks of official visits are in the books for Nebraska football, and none of the uncommitted players who hit Lincoln in that first month pulled the trigger for the Huskers.
Recruiting coordinator Ross Els wasn't exactly surprised, and as NU coaches hit the recruiting road during this bye week, he's not panicking. Early official visitors, he said, almost always have more visits to take.
So while the first 2014 official visitor, Tampa-area defensive end Rohan Blackwood, committed to Wisconsin, the rest of those early visitors — wide receiver and Washington commit Erik Brown, quarterback Quinton Flowers, safety Josh Kalu, running back Madre London, athlete and Miami (Fla.) commit Brandon Powell, defensive back DeAndre Scott and defensive tackle Ricky Walker — apparently still have interest.
NCAA rules prevent Els from naming players, but he said feedback was strong.
“The majority of guys we had in, it was very positive,” Els said. “But they're saying, 'Well, Coach, I've got these two others. Let me go compare this to these two.' I know there's not a kid who visited who said, 'Absolutely not.' We're in it with all of them. Just a matter of what happens these next few weeks.
“That's the rub: Do you wait until later and be one of the last ones in? The chance there is, they go somewhere else and they commit early. Or do you bring them early? The problem there is they're going to visit other schools late. You've really got to know the individual and try to make it work.”
Fans who know how strong annual recruiting syncs up with on-field play — Nebraska's young, struggling defense is a reflection of inconsistent recruiting on the defensive line — aren't clicking their heels over Els' comments. It seems like NU has hit an in-season lull like it did last year, when just two of the Huskers' 25 signees committed during the year.
Although one of those players, defensive end Randy Gregory, was arguably the best commit of the 2013 class, it's fair to ask if the Huskers' official visits — universally a hit with prospects — should pay off more than they do.
Of course, they still could. Nebraska planned to send all of its nine assistant coaches out on the recruiting trail at least one day over the weekend. Some will be out for two days. A few will stay over for Saturday high school games. Bo Pelini, who can be a compelling in-person recruiter when he chooses to be — especially with the high school coaches who help advise their prospects — said Wednesday he may head out Thursday.
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About “80 percent” of the players NU will evaluate, Els said, already have offers from the program. Through Nov. 30, NCAA rules allow coaches to watch players practice or play games — or talk to coaches — but not actually have extended conversations with players themselves.
“Anybody we're still on,” Els said. “Any guys who are close to committing. Could be guys who are committed. Could be guys we need to evaluate. ... We're trying to show them we care and let them know we're there.”
After building its best class of the Pelini era with a late push of scholarship offers and January commits, Nebraska will continue to hold open a few spots in its class for players who emerge in their senior years. Freshman tight end Cethan Carter and freshman defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice fit that bill. So did two of NU's best-looking redshirts — offensive tackle Dwayne Johnson and cornerback Boaz Joseph.
Though NU already has two junior-college players — defensive tackle Claude Pelon and linebacker Devante Bond — set to visit for the Nov. 2 game against Northwestern, Els said he doesn't expect Nebraska to have a “tent-pole” game that attracts dozens of prospects like the 2012 Wisconsin game. The Huskers won't play another night game at Memorial Stadium, since the Oct. 5 Illinois kickoff is at 11 a.m. and the Big Ten doesn't have any night games in November.
“With our schedule and the Big Ten not letting us know (kickoff times) until X days in advance, sometimes it's hard to plan that great, big recruiting weekend,” Els said.
Although the weekend after Nebraska's Nov. 29 Friday game could be an intriguing draw. There's a certain concert at Pinnacle Bank Arena being put on by rapper Jay-Z in Lincoln Dec. 1 that has NU's attention. Players who figure Lincoln is a city of crickets surrounded by cornfields could find those few hours of music, just yards from Memorial Stadium, pretty persuasive.
Els said NU's looking into how — or even if — the school could leverage that concert into a visit weekend.
“They get X amount of dollars for entertainment money,” Els said. “Are we able to use it for that or not? Or is this going to have to come out of the recruit's pockets?”
The house built in part for Husker hoops could pay off for its pigskin partners.
Anything would help in a Big Ten recruiting atmosphere that got more competitive this week when the NCAA agreed to restore scholarships to Penn State in future years. The Nittany Lions have already shown a real aptitude to recruit within severe limitations. Loosen up the penalties, and coach Bill O'Brien could attract top 15 classes.
At Wisconsin, new coach Gary Andersen is already recruiting at a more impressive clip than former coach Bret Bielema did. The Badgers have picked up three commits — including Blackwood, who has the frame and athleticism to be a top pass rusher — since the season began. Wisconsin also has an impressive official visitor list coming for the Oct. 12 game vs. Northwestern, including two California five-star prospects in running back Joe Mixon and Damien Mama.
Unsurprisingly, Ohio State's put its foot on the gas, surging ahead of the rest of the Big Ten in the recruiting rankings. OSU is No. 2 nationally in the 247Sports composite ranking, No. 3 according to Rivals and No. 5 according Scout. Only in ESPN's ranking are the Buckeyes (No. 8) behind Michigan (No. 5).
ESPN also views Nebraska's class most favorably, ranking it 36th nationally as of Thursday afternoon. Scout (42nd), 247Sports (45th) and Rivals (46th) all have the Huskers considerably lower. Commits who have four-star designations from at least one major service are offensive guard Tanner Farmer (247, Rivals), wide receiver Monte Harrison (ESPN, Rivals), defensive tackle Peyton Newell (247, Scout), quarterback Zack Darlington (ESPN) and offensive guard D.J. Foster (ESPN).
Every other player is overwhelmingly rated a three-star prospect except kicker Drew Brown. Kickers rarely get better than two stars, and Brown is considered one of the nation's best.