Their inaugural season in the Big Ten is over for Nebraska. The Huskers finished 9-4, and I am not sure there has been a more melancholy nine win season in Lincoln since Frank Solich was fired. The same knocks that doomed Solich appear to be creeping up on Bo Pelini.
What I am talk about is lackluster recruiting, not putting inferior opponents away, and, worst of all, the manner in which Nebraska has lost games.
I might be too harsh, but I am drawing some uncomfortable parallels between Pelini and not just Solich, but also Bill Callahan. The similarities to Solich have already been laid out, but with Callahan there was the “us against the world” uncomfortable attitude, as well as the other blowups at the media or the refs.
While you are reading this you might be thinking, “he's not a Pelini fan.” To the contrary, I appreciate his fire. I think that he is a defensive genius. I just think that there is a need to put the pedal down and start getting Nebraska what it will need, not only to compete in games against Michigan and Wisconsin, but win them.
Yes, there is an issue with recruiting, and I would have thought from previous stops in Oklahoma and LSU, Pelini would understand it. Those two programs really recruit, and that directly contributes to their success.
Let’s consider this season. Nebraska had four starters at the end of the season who were walk-ons, and at times even five. Now, before you think that I am bashing the walk-ons, let me just say that I appreciate every walk-on; they work for nothing more than being part of the team and the dream of getting on that football field.
I give credit to the walk-ons, but the sheer number of them as well as the positions they play indicates that there might be a larger issue. In order to take a closer look at this, I pulled the last official depth chart from Iowa week and broke it down.
There were 59 players listed between the offense and the defense on the depth chart - 31 on offense, and 28 on defense. Here is the breakdown by recruiting class of the offensive and defensive depth charts:
2 – 2007
14 – 2008
11 – 2009
10 – 2010
7 – 2011
14 – walk-on
From that breakdown, everything looks pretty linear. There are definitely far fewer players on the depth chart and the roster from the 2007 class, but if you wrap them in with the 2008 class, you have strength in numbers among the upperclassmen.
Let’s take a look at the starters, though. I expanded the list to 12 on each side of the ball to capture the fullback on offense and a co-listed starter on defense.
1 - 2007
1 – 2008
2 – 2009
4 – 2010
1 – 2011
3 – walk-on
1 – 2007
5 – 2008
1 – 2009
3 – 2010
1 – 2011
1 – walk-on
2 – 2007
6 – 2008
3 – 2009
7 – 2010
2 – 2011
4 – walk-on
One number clearly stands out here: The 2009 class, the group that includes starters such as Rex Burkhead, Taylor Martinez and Jason Ankrah, or guys that are in that two-deep that are creating depth and competition from within.
If you take a look at the 2009 recruiting class in the depth chart, beyond the starters, it doesn’t look much better. At multiple spots there are players from the 2009 class listed behind younger players and walk-ons at key spots such as wide receiver, along the offensive line and at cornerback.
When you look at the names that were in the 2009 recruiting class, you get a better idea of what I am talking about, because many are neither on the depth chart nor even on the roster.
The 2009 class was the first class that Pelini had an entire year to assemble in Lincoln, and in my mind it’s one of the reasons Nebraska isn’t very deep at a lot of positions. It’s also a reason why the term “young” has been thrown around so much this year.
The 2011 Nebraska squad was “young” because of a lack of productivity from the class of 2009 . The problem is, it’s not likely to get better. From a class size of 20, nearly a third of them are no longer listed on the official roster. Guys including Cody Green, Dontrayevous Robinson, and Lazzari Middleton are gone.
When people search for answers to questions about why there isn’t depth at key positions such as running back, quarterback, offensive line, and linebacker, there is a good possibility the lack of production from the 2009 class could be to blame.