If there is such a thing as a guarantee in college football, it would be that Nebraska will win at least nine games and lose four. That's been the trademark of the Huskers under head coach Bo Pelini in his his six years in Lincoln, Neb.
The Huskers are stuck in a rut—good enough to win 10 games at times, but never good enough to win a conference title. The Huskers' failure to break through the ceiling of a championship or winning any more than 10 games leads one to question if there needs to be changes in the program.
While the immediate response for some is to look to changes in the coaching staff again, one answer is staring Nebraska football square in the face—perhaps its time for the Huskers to switch things up on the recruiting trail.
Nebraska has a reputation for starting slowly and building the majority of its class in the final months leading up to national signing day.
For most schools, its the other way around, choosing to lock up the most important pieces of its class early and getting the icing on the cake toward the very end.
No class proves this more than the one in front of us, the 2014 class.
Six members of the now 23-man class have committed in just the last month alone, and four of them committed in a four-day period last week.
So, maybe the strategy is working? After all, Pelini seems to love the class (what coach wouldn't say that, though?).
“We’ve had good reception,” Pelini told the media before the bowl game, according to Huskers.com. “We have a chance to finish this class off well. I like our recruiting class.”
Except the strategy used to build this class has been the same strategy in play for some time, and the results on the field suggest this team is good but not good enough, by lofty Nebraska standards.
Instead of relying on the hopes of flipping recruits late and being in on a few other interesting prospects, Pelini may want to look to lock down classes earlier in the process. It would leave some very important wiggle room in the ever-changing world of college football recruiting.
The best example of this is in 247sports composite 4-star running back Mikale Wilbon, who would've never been on the board for Nebraska to take had James Franklin not left Vanderbilt. Pelini and his staff went to work very fast on Wilbon, getting him on campus and to commit shortly after the visit.
Had Wilbon not been available, where would the Huskers have turned at running back? It did bring in 3-star all-purpose back Larenzo Stewart out of Texas, but he isn't a headline stealer like Wilbon was.
The Huskers' classes ranked No. 13 (2007), No. 20 (2006) and No. 5 (2005) in the three years before Pelini came to campus.
Since then, here is how the classes have ranked:
|Nebraska Recruiting Rankings Under Bo Pelini|
The results in the rankings aren't much different, so maybe it isn't all about how Nebraska goes about building its classes that is the biggest deal.
One look at the Huskers class in 2014 shows you just how different it is from most Big Ten classes. There is a huge emphasis on the states of Texas, Louisiana and just about anywhere outside the Big Ten footprint.
Outside of the states of Illinois and Nebraska, not a single player in this class comes from a state in the Big Ten footprint.
That's a slight problem when you are looking at playing Big Ten-style football, and it's an area that Bo Pelini would do well to address.
States like Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin should be places the Huskers are looking to get players out of, yet they haven't been very successful in those areas in the 2014 class.
In fact, Nebraska really hasn't established itself as a dominant force in the Big Ten footprint for recruiting since joining the league in 2011.
There's some super-secret formula to being a championship team in the Big Ten, and Nebraska appears to have part of that formula down.
It goes to talent-rich states like Texas, Louisiana and Florida to get its skill-position players, yet the other half of that formula—getting the big boys and linebackers from the Midwest—hasn't happened in droves outside of 3-star guys from in-state.
Nebraska's 2014 class has just one of those players, 4-star offensive guard Tanner Farmer, in this class.
Over the past three classes, just six of a signed 34 offensive linemen, defensive linemen or linebackers have come from outside the state of Nebraska but within the Big Ten footprint.
While the Huskers' recruiting rankings say they've been just fine under Bo Pelini, the fact that he's had trouble attracting major players from the Midwest could be a long-term problem.
If the Huskers are searching for answers to why it can't break through the championship ceiling, a change in recruiting strategies would be a good place to start. It could be the difference between being good and being champions once again.
Winning a championship for the first time since 1999 certainly would be music to the ears of everyone in Lincoln, Neb., but it won't happen unless Pelini and the Huskers address the how and where of their recruiting process.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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