Nebraska's fast start to their football Class of 2015 has them positioned to potentially sign the highest rated recruiting class of the Bo Pelini era. With six current commitments on board, the Cornhusker staff's early class is ranked in the top ten of the country, behind only Penn State in the Big Ten conference.
Of NU's early verbal commits, four of them are currently listed as four-star prospects by Rivals.com and the other two have the potential to end up that high in future Rivals ratings revisions.
In Coach Pelini's first six full recruiting classes, the most early commits Nebraska has had through March is three and that was for the 2011 class. In those other five full classes, NU had zero or one early pledges by the end of March, so the 2015 cycle is looking like an anomaly on the upside for NU.
Huskers' early class drawing praise
During a recent BTN Live segment on TV, analysts Gerry DiNardo and Stanley Jackson took notice of the Huskers' impressive start this cycle and talked about how important it was to the conference for Nebraska to sign top 10-15 type recruiting classes every year. When asked if it was a big deal for Nebraska to be rated this high early on, DiNardo stated emphatically that it was a "huge deal".
"Every day is a huge deal in recruiting, every single day," DiNardo proclaimed on BTN Live. "It's a scorecard. Do you want to play a game without a scorecard? Right now Penn State and Nebraska have the two best classes in the conference. Now that is going to change, they may tick up and down, but when you look at the three recruiting services right now and who is ranked the highest, most of the people ranked the highest right now will be ranked the highest the first Wednesday of February 2015.
"I know we're going to talk specifically about Nebraska because they are in an unusual position, so it is a big deal. It's always a big deal! Minnesota has no commitments -- would you rather have none or the seven that Penn State has? It doesn't surprise me about Penn State, but this is new territory for Nebraska.
"This is great news and breaking news. If Nebraska can keep this pace going, because they're usually a finish-strong recruiting class, the Big Ten needs Nebraska to be finishing in the top 10 in recruiting every year. That's where they belong and that will get them back to their historic success."
B1G 2015 Recruiting Update #Huskers Rated 2nd in B1G by the 3 services. 6 Commits National Rankings Scout 11, 247 13, Rivals 9- Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) March 17, 2014
DiNardo included Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in that category of tradition-rich programs who perennially need to be nationally relevant in recruiting if the B1G is going to be able to be a factor in and challenge for national championship in the coming college football playoffs.
"To think that Penn State and Nebraska have seven and six commits respectively at this time is outstanding," Jackson chimed in. "That number of commitments so early on in the season is pretty good."
Rivals analysts take note of Huskers' start
"Obviously, it's interesting," Rivals National Analyst Mike Farrell commented on Nebraska's unusually quick start to the Class of 2015. "They are doing very, very well. They are not a program that traditionally finishes in the top 20 because they don't have a great home recruiting base. So they are going into some areas that I think are extremely important for them.
"To get a kid like Kendall Bussey from Louisiana, where it's a state that produces probably the fifth or sixth most NFL players, is going to help you. You know, it's just a faster start than we're used to seeing from Nebraska which is great for them. I think they're getting guys that fit extremely well with what they do. Normally, they usually get guys who fit, but I think now they're getting higher ranked guys who fit."
Rivals Midlands and West Coast analyst Rob Cassidy believes that the NU coaches have leveraged some connection to recruits into some significant early verbal pledges.
"I think that everybody saw that Eric Lee was probably going to be coming to Nebraska because he's got some ties to the school, but the fact that it happened so quickly is what took me off guard," Cassidy opined. "And it was also surprising how quickly Avery Anderson flipped after Nebraska got Lee.
"It's been an impressive start by Nebraska. I don't know what exactly has changed with them because I'm not real familiar with the inner workings of their coaching staff, but they are definitely off to a better start."
Rivals Texas/Midlands Analyst Jason Howell concurred with Cassidy's sentiments regarding the Huskers' early recruiting momentum.
"Well, just looking at their class, a lot of it is not in my region," Howell relayed, "but definitely they have done a great job of hitting Colorado and Missouri, and they've dipped into Louisiana. They are really doing a good job of getting on some guys early.
"I don't know what they're telling them, but they are getting them to commit early and that is always a big plus. It's definitely very impressive and special when you are reeling in guys like Bussey who wasn't [highly] ranked prior to [his commitment]."
Living up to their billing
Rivals250 members Eric Lee and Kendall Bussey were the first two recruits to verbally pledge to NU's Class of 2015 while attending the Huskers' January Junior Day, and at recent events they have proved themselves worthy to be listed among the top national prospects at their respective positions.
The Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Valor Christian cornerback was rated the No. 2 top defensive performer at the Las Vegas, Nev., Pylon Sports 7-on-7 tournament. Lee received glowing praise for shutting down some of the top receiver recruits in the country.
"He's gotten so much bigger," said Rob Cassidy who got to personally evaluate Lee at the tournament. "I mean, he's put on a ton of muscle. He was as good as I've seen in the [7-on-7] tournament. He's always been good every time I had seen him in camps and stuff, but this was next level stuff that he was doing out there.
"He was really one of the top three defensive backs in the event, and it was a big event of 85 teams or so. He was on the other team's best wide receiver all game and he took him away. I watched probably 50 percent of the games and I only saw his guy make a catch once. You know, when every play is pretty much a passing down situation, that's pretty impressive."
Cassidy added that he had seen Lee dominate a similar event last year which is why he was given such a high initial ranking by Rivals.
"He's the top player in Colorado," Cassidy said of Lee. "Avery Anderson is a fine player too, but I think Lee is probably the prize of Nebraska's group so far. His speed is kind of what makes him dangerous. He closes as well as anyone in the country.
"Lee and Anderson are both kind of camp warriors. I seem to run into those guys everywhere I go. I've seen Lee take down 2014 wide receivers too. I saw him match up with [Arizona signee] Cameron Denson and [Oklahoma signee] Tyler Whiley, who were both four-stars last year, and he frustrated both of them the entire time he went up against them."
BTN Live analyst Stanley Jackson echoed similar thoughts on Lee's abilities after watching his film.
"Number one, he's extremely athletic and very explosive," Jackson estimated. "He has a 36-inch vertical [leap] right now as a junior in high school and that is very good. He will come up and hit you and he is a good run supporter. That's something that Nebraska really needs so I think he's a good addition. The other thing is he really plays the ball well, and that goes back to his 36-inch vertical. Even though he's not 6-foot, if they throw the ball up he will go get it."
New Orleans, Louisiana running back commit Kendall Bussey is already ranked in the Rivals250, but his performance at the Rivals Camp Series at Hattiesburg, Mississippi could eventually vault him into the Rivals100.
"I like him," Rivals' Mike Farrell said of Bussey, who was named the running back MVP and the No. 2 top offensive performer at the camp's conclusion. "You know, more and more you're seeing guys who are built that way have success in the NFL. The Ray Rices and Maurice Jones-Drews of the world. He reminds me of Ray Rice physically when you see him.
"He's definitely short, but he is thick, is very well put together, he's got thick legs, and he is very fast. So I think he is a good looking kid. You know, he's not the biggest target out of the backfield, which is why some people aren't thrilled with smaller type running backs, and blocking could be an issue for him, but as far as a pure running back in space he looks the part and he is very, very fast. He's just a kid who's hard to tackle because it's hard to get a clean shot on someone who's that shifty and that low to the ground."
Rivals Texas/Midlands analyst Jason Howell explained why he is so high on Bussey's potential.
"It didn't take long to get figured out that we needed to rank him pretty high based on the film that we had," Howell said. "He's just very explosive. The level that he plays at isn't necessarily the highest classification, but he is just so dominant that in every play you see it's just him running away from somebody.
"And when he does have to show some toughness, he runs real compact and he is able to pick up extra yardage before going down. He's not afraid to duck his shoulder and really get some tough yards. His versatility also stands out. He's a really good receiver out of the backfield, you can put him into the slot if you need to, and he brings a lot to the table at 5-9, 195-pounds. You can see how stout he is and, with his versatility, that is a pretty awesome package right there."
Due to their impressive performances under the watchful eyes of Rivals analysts, both Lee and Bussey could be looking at significant jumps up in the next round of Rivals ratings revisions.
"I think Eric for sure will make the jump up [in the next ratings revision]," Cassidy stated about Lee. "I don't think there's any doubt about it, based off of what he did this past weekend, that he will be moved up. It's just a matter of my conversations with Mike Farrell and everybody else how far he will be going up."
Cleaning up in the border states
Avery Anderson joins Christian Gaylord, as well as Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis, in being highly ranked 500-mile radius recruits who have given early verbal pledges to play their college football as Nebraska Cornhuskers.
"Anderson is a little taller than Lee, and he isn't as fast nor as polished as Lee is," Cassidy expressed after seeing Anderson in Las Vegas. "Even though Lee is ahead of him as a prospect, there is room for Anderson to grow because he does have that frame. You do like the size on Avery and he can probably play inside so he is a little more versatile.
"He's grown a little bit, so that's helped. His arms have gotten a little bit longer. He needs to work on not gambling so much. I think he was trying to make an interception on a lot of plays, and sometimes when he does that the receiver would get behind him and make him pay for it. But the plays that he did make, the good outweighed the bad. He should be a pretty good fit at Nebraska himself."
The early border state linemen haul that the NU staff has corralled is nothing to sneeze at, according to Cassidy. Especially since most football games are won or lost on the line of scrimmage.
"It's pretty obvious to anyone who's seen him that you like his size and his frame, and that he's going to be able to add weight," Cassidy said when asked about offensive tackle commit Christian Gaylord. "The only thing holding him back right now, because he's a kid who is on the verge of where he could become a four-star kid, is that people want to see him outside of Baldwin City, Kansas where the competition isn't exactly challenging for a guy like him.
"If he gets out into the camp circuit that will really help him. Other than that, there's a lot to like about him. He moves really well for his size and his body mass. He carries his weight well and doesn't look sloppy. It's hard to tell from his tape what he needs to work on because he is just so overpowering. I think that's why people want to see him play against other competition, just to see what he can do. That's not a knock on him. People just want to see how he moves his feet when he's challenged by a higher level of player."
The Davis twins have prodigious potential, and as they grow into their bodies over the next couple of years they could be a formidable duo on the Blackshirts' defensive front line.
"I've only seen them in a game once, and being twins I think that their ceilings are pretty close to being the same," Cassidy stated. "I thought that Khalil was a little more versatile than Carlos at this time, which is why we have him ranked as a four-star. That can obviously change because we will see them again. It just looked like Khalil was moving a little better and carrying his weight a little better than Carlos at the time, whereas Carlos was still getting used to it. But with a year left [of high school] for those guys, who knows where they'll end up [rated]."
BTN Live analysts Gerry DiNardo and Stanley Jackson take the contrary view that Carlos Davis is more impressive at this stage in his development than Khalil.
"Carlos Davis wears No. 96 in the video," DiNardo began his on air evaluation, while adding, "and he's a four-star. No other Big Ten schools have offered him, but he has a lot of other offers. He's a big-time athlete for a guy his size. He's like 6-4, 280-pounds and he can really run for a guy his size. He does play high at times, but my final comment is this guy is an example of who everybody in college football wants to play with at defensive line."
"These guys don't exist, let me just say that right now," Jackson said in his assessment of Carlos Davis. "He's 6-4, 280-pounds and they already have him running a 4-6 forty. Now we don't know how true that is, but if he is anywhere close to that as a junior in high school that is exceptional. He comes off the ball extremely well and is stout at the point of attack. So he can create a scrum, is very strong, and can get after the quarterback. That guy has got his hand on the ground in the interior and he is a special football player."
Continuing the momentum
As the spring and summer months play out, a good indicator to gauge if the Nebraska coaching staff will continue to build on their early success will be the quantity and quantity of recruits who continue to visit Lincoln. Especially for major events like the Red-White spring game, the Big Red Football School sessions, and the Big Red Weekend.
Rob Cassidy believes the maxim "success breeds success" definitely applies to Nebraska's situation and that early momentum can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in regards to compiling top rated college football recruiting classes.
"These hot starts can kind of feed off of each other," Cassidy explained. "If you can get off to a hot start, you will see great kids committing to play with other great kids. It's interesting the way it sets up for them. Nebraska is not one of my states, but I can speak for the kids in surrounding areas. There's a lot of great kids in the surrounding area this year.
"I mean, there's a ton of great kids in Missouri alone this year. Obviously with the Davis twins, those dudes are legit, and there are other top flight guys in the state as well. The talent in Missouri is there to be had. Marquise Doherty is a guy that's there to be had for Nebraska, especially with the baseball pull. He's like another Monte Harrison."
The six early Cornhusker commits have already formed a bond on social media and plan to spread the word about what a good thing they believe is coming together at Nebraska, both with their Class of 2015 and the NU program in general. Eric Lee and Avery Anderson have also adjusted their travel schedules to attend the Chicago Rivals Camp Series in order to serve as surrogate recruiters for the Husker coaches.
Their successful start to this recruiting cycle will allow Nebraska to be very selective going forward in who they target and which recruits they accept new commitments from to fill out the remainder of this class. If NU's momentum on the recruiting trail continues as it has begun, by the time Feb. 4, 2015 rolls around, the Huskers' haul of signees could plausibly end up tops in the Big Ten conference and one of the top 10 classes in the country.