NCF On The Trail: Big Ten Conference

By now, you've surely seen the Ultimate ESPN 300, a list of the 300 most impactful players based on both high school and college production since 2006. The list considered players whom ESPN evaluated at both levels, so while not all 300 players were highly rated in high school, they were all somewhat known commodities.

We're all about the Big Ten here, so in the next three days we'll debate how the Ultimate ESPN 300 factors into this corner of college football.

Thursday's roundtable topic: Which Big Ten player not on the list is the most egregious omission?

Brian Bennett: Kirk Cousins, Michigan State quarterback (2008-11)

You can't blame ESPN Recruiting too much for missing out on Cousins. Before he signed with Michigan State, after all, some of his best other options were with schools like Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Toledo. He looked kind of scrawny.

Yet Cousins finished his career as the all-time winningest quarterback in Spartans history, going 27-12 overall and 22-5 in his final two seasons. He also holds the school records for passing yards (9,131) and passing touchdowns (66) while being an exemplary leader on and off the field. Cousins has proved himself as a solid quarterback in the NFL as well. So while he may not have had the most stellar reviews coming out of high school, his college production demands complete respect. Michigan State should have more players in the Ultimate 300, anyway, and Cousins belongs in there.

Adam Rittenberg: Ricky Stanzi, Iowa quarterback (2006-10)

Perhaps more than any other Big Ten program, Iowa has taken the overlooked and developed them into overachievers at the college level. It's not surprising that the Hawkeyes, despite only one losing season during the targeted time period, have just one player in the Ultimate 300 (offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, No. 117). There are several options of omitted Hawkeyes, including defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a first-round draft pick in 2011. But my pick is Stanzi, who engineered Iowa's rise at the end of the 2008 season and into 2009, when the Hawkeyes went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl, falling just shy of a Big Ten title.

Rated as No. 76 quarterback in the 2006 class by ESPN Recruiting Nation, Stanzi went 26-9 as Iowa's starter and set a team record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (21). The two-time captain became the first Iowa quarterback and just the third Big Ten quarterback to win three bowl games. He's also a damn fine American. Anyone who disagrees with the selection is just an America-hating hippie doing nothing on the Ped Mall. So Stanzi is my pick -- love it or leave it.

Mitch Sherman: Lavonte David, Nebraska linebacker (2010-11)

David sits one notch below Ndamukong Suh, ineligible for the Ultimate 300 as a 2005 high school graduate, on the list of greatest defensive players in the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska. In his lone year of Big Ten play, David earned first-team All-America honors and was named the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten linebacker of the year. He was unranked out of high school because of academic issues but well known as a star among a dominant Miami Northwestern team that included linebacker Sean Spence (No. 125).

Others who attended David’s high school include Amari Cooper (No. 18) and Teddy Bridgewater (No. 82), though David is arguably the most accomplished of the group as a first-team All-Pro pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. At Nebraska, after transferring from junior college -- where he again went relatively underappreciated -- David recorded two of the five highest single-season tackle totals in school history.

Among his many memorable moments in 2011, David stripped Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller (No. 115) to spark the largest comeback win in Nebraska history.

 
The Ultimate ESPN 300 list is riddled with popular names and exciting players from years past. Looking at the list, it's tough to narrow down who would make the short list for fan favorites, but we tried to pin down just three. These are the three players who stood out the most from the list.

QB Denard Robinson: Michigan
Ultimate ESPN 300 Rank: 103


[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson left Michigan as a fan favorite and the FBS' career leader in rushing yards by a quarterback.
Robinson wowed Michigan fans every week with his speed and elusive way of sneaking past defenders. He started his career behind then-starter Tate Forcier but took over the helm and never looked back. He went on to be named an All-Big Ten selection twice, the Big Ten offensive player of the year once, and holds the FBS record for most career rushing yards by a quarterback. He dealt with injuries throughout his career, but when he was on the field he was electric.

QB J.T. Barrett: Ohio State
Ultimate ESPN 300 Rank: 254


Barrett makes this list because of the way he took hold of Ohio State's offense so early in his career. Starter Braxton Miller went down with an injury before the 2014 season started, and fans were worried about what losing a Heisman candidate quarterback would do for the Buckeyes' campaign. Little did they know Barrett was up for the task and surprised everyone but the Ohio State coaches with his performance. He still has two years of eligibility left and is now part of a three-headed quarterback monster for Ohio State in the upcoming season. He lands on this list because of what he has done and what he might do in the future for the Buckeyes.

DE J.J. Watt: Wisconsin
Ultimate ESPN 300 Rank: 271

Watt lands on this list because of how he got to where he is. He started off at Central Michigan as a tight end, was asked to move to offensive tackle and then transferred to Wisconsin where he later played defensive end. He wasn't highly touted out of high school, but he beat the odds and has become one of the NFL's best players. Watt's story is unique and unusual in how he found success, so it should be celebrated and revered.
Earlier today we took an extensive look at the potential changes to the college football recruiting calendar and their impact on the Big Ten. The league's football coaches spent a portion of their annual business meetings Feb. 8-9 on the likelihood of the signing date moving to December, and whether official visits also could or should be moved to late spring or early summer.

You might be wondering: Does this really matter? The answer is yes, especially for a certain group of Big Ten schools. We answer that question and others relating to these topics below.

Why is this so important for the Big Ten?

Several Big Ten teams face a major disadvantage in recruiting because their campuses are located far from the concentrations of top prospects. The challenge is amplified by a recruiting environment where players are making their college choices earlier and most likely will soon having a chance to sign earlier. If the official visits calendar doesn't change, certain Big Ten programs won't be able to pay for prospects from recruiting concentrations to visit their campuses, forcing the prospects to make long trips on their own dime. Bottom line: an already tenuous situation could become much worse.

Which programs are affected most by the proposed recruiting calendar?

The West Division teams located farther from recruit concentrations. Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin seem particularly vulnerable. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told ESPN.com that the school doesn't have trouble getting prospects to visit unofficially, even those from far-flung locations. But some of these programs could fall further behind in the recruiting race if early official visits don't accompany an early signing date.

What must happen for early official visits to gain traction?

The Big Ten schools who need the change must push for them, and Nebraska is best positioned take the lead. Although leagues such as the SEC, Big 12 and ACC likely won't support early official visits, the Big Ten could drum up some support with the Pac-12, which has several members located far from recruit concentrations. Every FBS conference votes on the recruiting calendar, so the Big Ten also could find allies with Group of 5 leagues such as the Mid-American. A proposal for early official visits wouldn't go to a vote until spring 2016 at the earliest, so it wouldn't be in effect until the 2017 recruiting cycle.

Why isn't there more support for early visits nationally?

It's pretty simple. Schools and conferences look out for their own interests. Even within the Big Ten, good luck convincing Rutgers and Maryland that it's a good idea to provide a new edge in recruiting for league rivals. In the SEC -- and parts of the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC -- many of the top recruiting targets can simply drive to campus in the spring or summer for unofficial visits. Official visits, at some schools, have become an afterthought. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith raises some interesting points about the importance of vacation time for coaches in the summer. But that's not a major obstacle. With June set aside for camps and official visits, coaches could still take plenty of vacation time in July -- not that many of them would take it.

Realistically, what would happen if the early signing period passes without early visits?

In the short term, probably not much. Coaches at the most impacted Big Ten West schools would work harder during the season to secure official visits. They'd load up on visitors in the short time in December before the signing date and make the best of a bad situation. Over the long haul, though, damage would be noticeable in the workload placed on coaches and the quality of recruiting classes. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the December period, if passed, would not grow in popularity among recruits. Some administrators point to basketball, which offers an early signing period in November and still makes use of an April period. Football recruiting is a different animal, though; the hype around signing day ensures it.

Ultimate ESPN 300 roundtable: Most impactful B1G recruit

February, 18, 2015
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By now, you've surely seen the Ultimate ESPN 300, a list of the 300 most impactful players based on both high school and college production. The list considered players whom ESPN evaluated at both levels, so while not all 300 players were highly rated in high school, they were all somewhat known commodities.

We're all about the Big Ten here, so in the next three days we'll debate how the Ultimate ESPN 300 factors into this corner of college football.

Wednesday's roundtable topic: Which player had the biggest impact on a Big Ten program?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris Borland, Wisconsin linebacker, No. 143

Impact can be hard to quantify, as there are so many factors involved. I nearly went with former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who impacted Ohio State both positively (fans often forget how good he was in bowl games and big games) and negatively during a wild career. I also tried to find players who seemed like he played college ball for seven or eight years. Borland was one of those players. He was so good for so long, winning Big Ten freshman of the year in 2009 and Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2013. He overcame adversity, missing most of 2010 with a shoulder injury. He earned All-Big Ten honors -- coaches or media -- in all four full seasons he played.

Borland also is the quintessential Wisconsin star: an undersized, freakish athlete who grew up playing soccer and was overlooked in recruiting. He contributed from the moment he arrived in Madison and played in four bowl games and three Big Ten championship games. Although Wisconsin had more nationally famous players on the Ultimate 300 list -- J.J. Watt (No. 271), Russell Wilson (No. 187), Melvin Gordon (No. 53), Montee Ball (No. 136) -- Borland's overall legacy as a Badger trumps them all.

Brian Bennett: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State quarterback, No. 71

My choice is a little unorthodox and not entirely based on what the player has done -- yet -- on the field. I'm going with Penn State's Hackenberg. He committed to Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and stayed with the Nittany Lions even after the NCAA tried to decimate the program with scholarship reductions and a bowl ban. He could have easily gone somewhere else, but his faithfulness in Bill O'Brien and the program signaled to other players that it was OK to stick things out with Penn State.

Hackenberg was the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 2013 and, despite some struggles as a sophomore, still helped lead the Nittany Lions back to a bowl last season. He's got at least one more year in State College to show off his talent. Penn State fans should already be thankful for what he (and let's not forget No. 294, Michael Mauti) did to keep the entire program afloat.

Mitch Sherman: Joey Bosa, Ohio State defensive end, No. 58

What more could one guy do from his position than Bosa in helping lead the Buckeyes romp to a Big Ten title and the first College Football Playoff championship? Sure, the Ohio State quarterbacks and running back Ezekiel Elliott got many of the headlines – and deservedly so – during the 2014 championship run. But Bosa dominated from the first game of the season at defensive end, collecting 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

His Big Ten-best four forced fumbles led directly to 30 Ohio State points. And he did it, as a true sophomore, without fellow bookend Noah Spence, dismissed after All-Big Ten season in 2013. Opponents feared Bosa. His presence changed games. And nothing seemed to bother him. He was simply the best player on the best team in the country for the longest portion of last season.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 list is loaded with intriguing stories. From unheralded players rising to the top to players not yet reaching their potential, the list has everything. To outline a few of those intriguing players, here is a look at the top five within the Big Ten:

The Ultimate ESPN 300 list is out and the Big Ten is well-represented from top to bottom. When it comes to re-ranking players, there are always surprises and sleeper players after the fact, which is why we put together our list of the top five surprises from the ultimate list.


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Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he’s open to a discussion on possible recourse for recruits who lose a coach in the aftermath of signing day.

Secondary coach Charlton Warren left Nebraska on Friday for a similar position at North Carolina, the latest assistant at a major program to bolt in the wake of Feb. 4, when college prospects signed binding letters of intent.

“I think it is an issue,” Riley said Friday. “I think it is unfortunate for the student-athletes. I think they feel somewhat deceived, and I think that’s bad for our game in general.”

A key figure with several Nebraska recruits and the lone holdover from the staff of former coach Bo Pelini, Warren wanted to move closer to family in the South, Riley said.

Last week, Stan Drayton left his job as Ohio State running backs coach for the Chicago Bears, drawing criticism from the high school coach of Ohio State signee Mike Weber. Jeff Ulbrich departed UCLA as defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, prompting linebacker Roquan Smith to renege on his televised announcement to sign with the Bruins.

Smith, in fact, bypassed the letter of intent altogether, opting Friday to sign a financial-aid agreement with Georgia that binds the school to him, but allows Smith to remain on the market as a recruit.

Assistant coaches at Texas, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame and Georgia have also departed in the past week.

“There, frankly, is something there that I don’t feel comfortable about,” Riley said.

Some coaches and administrators have supported the inclusion of an out clause in the letter of intent that would allow prospects to leave without penalty under specified circumstances, such as the departure of a coach.

Riley, who left Oregon State in December, said it’s a worthy conversation. The coach said he planned to meet Friday with a group of Nebraska defensive backs to assure them “everything is going to be OK.”

“After signing date,” he said, “we need to talk about that -- what can be done, what are the kids' options? Can they be allowed to make another choice?”
Michigan made a big push for Ohio State commit Mike Weber only a few weeks before signing day, which caused some hesitation from Weber on what to do. The Detroit native eventually signed with Ohio State, only to find out his position coach, Stan Drayton, had accepted a position with the Chicago Bears the day after signing day.

Weber told ESPN.com he did not know Drayton was leaving before signing his national letter of intent, and was upset about the move. Weber’s coach, Thomas Wilcher, was also upset and talked about where his frustration was stemming from.

“The most important thing is you want to teach your players about being responsible, about being humble when he makes mistake and to be respectful and tell the truth. So that’s my problem is they needed to give him an opportunity to decide with an open mind, and they needed to disclose this,” Wilcher said. “Me and Urban Meyer are going to have to talk and discuss some things about recruiting and recruiting here at Cass Tech. They have to come back to my school if they want my players, and they have to come back up North because there are other players in the state.”

Weber has since confirmed to ESPN.com that he intends to follow through on his commitment to Ohio State. The Buckeyes have also hired Notre Dame running backs coach Tony Alford, and Weber took to twitter to congratulate Alford on the move.

Big Ten 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 11, 2015
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The 2015 recruiting class is in the rear-view mirror, but there are still some important topics to discuss with the class. Here is a look at how the conference panned out and what could lie ahead for some of the prospects.


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The longest days in Big Ten recruiting

February, 6, 2015
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Recruiting can be a non-stop grind for the coaches who have to procure that talent. Some days are longer than others. We talked to several Big Ten head coaches this week and asked them to describe their longest days out on the trail. Here are their stories:

Nebraska's Mike Riley

"It seemed the whole thing was full of long, memorable days. But when recruiting reopened in January after the dead period, I’ve got our personnel staff and our coaches usually making my schedule, where I need to go. So my first day out, I visited North and Central High in Omaha. I did a home visit with Michael Decker. I went to the Outland (Trophy) banquet, and I did another home visit with Daishon Neal. And then it was 10 o’clock at night. It was a full day, and it was a great day, because I hadn’t been in those high schools before. I loved meeting the coaches and seeing our players at the high schools. I always like home visits. I think it’s a real important part of the process."

Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald

"My last week of recruiting, I started on Sunday, flew from Chicago to the Bay Area. Then Sunday night, flew down to L.A. I was in L.A. on Monday and then Monday night I flew to Dallas, spent Tuesday in Dallas, flew Tuesday night to Houston, spent Wednesday in Houston, flew to Atlanta, spent Thursday in Atlanta, and then spent Friday in Chicago. Spent a lot of time at Chick-fil-A. It was a long week and our staff did a great job."

Michigan State's Mark Dantonio

"It hit me when I came out of a hotel room one day. I stayed in the same chain of hotels, and I walked out of the room and down the hall and I couldn't remember what room I was in. I walked back and took a guess on which room I was in, just to check my key to make sure I was in the same room. I was basically going from place to place for two weeks and sometimes two places in a day. I think I was in Orlando. I got back in the room. There were three doors and I guessed the right one."

Penn State's James Franklin

"One day I remember from a previous year. I had just taken a job [at Vanderbilt] and I was flying around and my luggage got lost and I wore the same suit for five days. I'm a hugger, and my hugs got a little less intimate as the week went on. My luggage couldn't keep up with me. Every time I got to a city or a state, the next day the luggage would get there and I'd already gone to the next state. It wasn't real fun. I was going to Target and buying underwear and undershirts, all that kind of stuff, and kept dousing myself with deodorant and cologne. It didn't help that we were flying commercially."

Rutgers' Kyle Flood

"We had one day where we went from New Jersey to Chicago to Tampa and then back to New Jersey. We started at about 6 in the morning and I finished at about 2 in the morning. I was with Norries Wilson and Jim Panagos at different legs of the trip. Norries came with me to Chicago and then to Tampa. He stayed there and went to Jacksonville. And then I picked up Coach Panagos in Tampa and he came back with me. We were fortunate. Everything ran according to schedule, the way I like it."

Maryland's Randy Edsall

"One day, I was here in Maryland, I was down on the east coast of Florida, then to the west coast, and then all the way to Mobile, Alabama. Then the next day I was in Charlotte and then Virginia Beach. Got all that done, really, in a day and a half. You kind of think, 'hey, what day is it, what time is it,' all those sort of things. But those are the things you have to do."

Minnesota's Jerry Kill

"I've gone from Mobile to Mississippi to Texas, and back to Chicago. But the most unique story I can tell you is something that happened for the first time ever this year. I was on a plane that was starting to go down the runway when I had a kid commit. Seriously, we were going down the runway, I didn't think we'd hear from the kid and he calls me. I'm trying to get the pilot to keep the wheels down so I can talk to him."

Indiana's Kevin Wilson

"My longest day was when we finished up on Martin Luther King day. We had a team leadership program going on, we had recruits on campus and then we had to leave Bloomington and go to Shadyshide, Ohio. By the time we get back to Columbus, it's about 1 a.m. Shoot, there was one day where we had official visits going, I was interviewing a couple of guys for behind-the-scenes jobs, and we had a walk-on day. Those kinds of days wear you out, and you're like, "Who planned all this [stuff]? You're killing me?" And it was me. I'm the guy who planned it. Sometimes we all get screwed by travel and those days, and you're like 'hey, just got to get it done. I'm kind of tired. I want to put my feet up here for like 15 minutes and take a little nap.'"
Overall the Big Ten had a productive signing day with a few teams having more success than others. Different teams had different needs, though, so we break down who had the best classes by position within the conference.

Quarterback
Ohio State: The Buckeyes landed two ESPN 300 quarterbacks, including five-star athlete Torrance Gibson and four-star Joe Burrow. Gibson is more of an athlete, while Burrow is more polished as a passer, but Ohio State continues to reload the position.

Sleeper pick: Michigan landed ESPN 300 quarterback Zach Gentry late in the process, flipping his commitment to Texas. The Wolverines also had early enrollee Alex Malzone already on board. Quarterback was a huge need for Michigan as there is uncertainty at the position, so the Wolverines did a good job of adding competition.


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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Typically Zach Smith isn’t much of a sleeper on planes.

“I try, man,” the Ohio State wide receivers coach said. “I just can’t sleep on them.”

Sometimes Smith can’t help it though. And so packed into an aisle seat near the back of a Monday morning Southwest flight to Baltimore a week after helping the Buckeyes win a national championship, Smith’s eyelids were getting mighty heavy even before the wheels were off the ground.

At least on this leg of his journey to Arkansas to visit coveted wide receiver K.J. Hill, Smith was able to find a little rest, which had been in short supply for a coaching staff that had been working overtime as it navigated the first College Football Playoff and then quickly transitioned to the recruiting trail with virtually no time to recover.

The Buckeyes weren’t complaining, particularly since the collection of trophies they had acquired during the postseason was doing a lot of selling of the program for them. But after missing some chances to visit prospects thanks to the Big Ten championship, then spending as much time as possible preparing for Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the title game and having to hit the road just two days after returning from Dallas, Smith was understandably running on fumes.

“It was a grind, but it was fun,” Smith said. “I mean, No. 1 it was different because after we won the national championship, it’s really easy to wake up, go to work, walk in a high school because everybody is telling you how great you are. It wasn’t hard to get motivated to do your job -- not that it ever is, but especially now.

“But it was a grind. Most of the time after a bowl game, you get at least two or three days off. We came back and landed on Tuesday, staff meeting on Wednesday to organize it and Thursday we were hitting the road.”

Ohio State once again cleaned up there, finishing with the No. 6 class in the country and adding some pieces that could be useful in defending the title next fall. And all that extra time the Buckeyes were spending to win a crown also opened a few doors once they did hit the recruiting trail, perhaps most notably the one Smith was on the way to visit after Hill had largely been out of the picture earlier in the process thanks to his commitment to Arkansas.

That trip turned out to be well worth it for the Buckeyes, and not just because Smith was able to recharge his batteries for about an hour on the way.

“These guys were toast,” coach Urban Meyer said. “But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student-athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level against 30-ACT kids like our players are.

“They missed two days of class. ... My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they all deserve to be taken care. I think we’ve done a good job monitoring [the fatigue].”

The Buckeyes shouldn’t have to worry about that for a while now, though spring practice is creeping around the corner next month and Meyer has wasted no time stressing a zero-complacency policy coming off the championship.

That was obviously in place already when the coaches went back out on the road trying to close their latest class. For the most part, the foundation for 2015 had already been established prior to the postseason, but that championship still provided a lift late with guys like Hill, running back Mike Weber and offensive lineman Isaiah Prince.

But where it might really offer a jolt is with the next batch of targets. And just in case Smith happens to doze off for a minute or two in the coming weeks, there’s a nice safety net that will help pitch the program even when he can’t.

“I think it definitely helped this year, but right now we have a seven-month marketing campaign,” Smith said. “Basically we don’t have to do anything. That’s all they’re playing, talking about and that’s all they’re seeing. The class of ’16 has the next seven months to hear about Ohio State and how we’re the best team in the country.

“For 2015, it did help kind of spark us at the end and help us close some kids, I’m sure it did. But not like it should next year.”

Maybe a dynasty, then, is sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff.
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Signing day has come and gone for the 2015 class, so it’s time to move on to the 2016 class. Here are five 2016 prospects to watch within the Big Ten.


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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The reigning national champions showed no signs of slowing down on national signing day, reeling in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country. ESPN.com caught up with coach Urban Meyer to look back at the end of last season, success on the trail and what is next for Ohio State.

Austin Ward: One thing that you have talked a lot about recently is theory vs. testimony. How does that apply to recruiting efforts now compared to when you arrived at Ohio State?

Urban Meyer: It means, my daughters went through recruiting, both of them were volleyball players, one went to Georgia Tech and one went to Florida Gulf Coast, and I remember as a parent sitting there listening. Some of it is a leap of faith. Who is this new staff? What are they trying to do? But any time there is a for-sure, and right now with the way we do our business at Ohio State with academics, with the way our weight room is, the Real-Life Wednesdays and then the success on the field, if you’re a guy that wants to be playing for a group of assistant coaches and some teammates who are really good players and know how to win and do things right, this is a pretty good system right now.

After the title game, you mentioned that championships have a way of opening up doors. Did that apply to finishing this class or more for 2016?

Meyer: I think there’s no doubt K.J. Hill, Isaiah Prince, [Matthew] Burrell -- I think we might have got him anyway -- but there’s no question it opened the doors. And I’m seeing it a lot for the ‘16s, too. It’s a 30-day infomercial on Ohio State and the program, the college football playoff was.

I saw [wide receivers coach] Zach Smith about a week after the national championship and he could barely keep his eyes open. How difficult was the time crunch for you all after such a long season?

Meyer: These guys are toast. But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level class against 30-ACT kids like our players are. They miss two days of class -- I can imagine the professor marking them absent for two days when they’re out there winning the national title for Ohio State. My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they deserve to be taken care of -- and I think we’ve done a good job monitoring our staff, but more importantly our players.

How do you recruit two more quarterbacks to come in and compete on such a talented depth chart?

Meyer: There’s a little bit more involved, but everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every school in the country. Don’t penalize us because our guys played great. Same with Kenny Guiton, he played good. The guys at Florida, the guys at Utah, the guys at Bowling Green, it’s because I like the way we teach them, I like the personnel around them, I think it’s a quarterback-friendly offense that we try to do the things that they do well. So, don’t penalize us. If there’s a better place, and I actually did that with some players, I said let’s look at their rosters. Everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every one of them. And if you don’t, well then you’re probably not very good. That’s the approach that we took.

Did you feel a different intensity with Jim Harbaugh coming into the rivalry and recruiting now?

Meyer: We felt it. They contacted all of our players, they really went after Mike Weber and Josh Alabi and Joe Burrow. But you expect that. I remember when I first got here people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that, and I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.
Nebraska coach Mike Riley announced a 20-man recruiting class Wednesday with prospects from 13 states. And the Huskers assembled the group in two months – in many cases reaffirming commitments made to the staff of former coach Bo Pelini.

Riley joked on signing day that he should write a book, “Recruiting in 60 Days.”

The Huskers finished 31st in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, fourth in the Big Ten. The coach took time Wednesday to answer our questions about the recruiting experience at Nebraska:

What stands out most to you about the work you’ve done in your first two months on the job?

Mike Riley: The individuals who have signed with us will be the most important part of what we’ve done in the job in the first 60 days, because that’s what we had to throw ourselves into immediately. I’m not necessarily a fan of that. What I would rather do is spend my first 60 days getting to know the football team and really feel a part of what’s going on here. But the reality of it is, for the good of this football program and the university, that’s where we had to go.

The other part of it is, I think, as we did this, we started formulating a philosophy for the future in recruiting. I think that, as a byproduct, might be the next most important [thing] that’s happened. We’ve got an idea of how things have taken shape. We’ve seen where these guys have come from. Now, what does that mean to our future, and how do we put that into an overall plan for recruiting down the road?

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Nati HarnikAccording to the recruiting class rankings, Mike Riley had the best class among the Big Ten's new coaches.
How important has social media become in connecting with the players you recruit?

Riley: I think it’s another form of access that is legal that we have fully tried to be a part of. We can jump into that and have more ways to pass on information and to connect through the social media. And so, for us, in particular, in a short time period, I think it’s been really important.

How are your Twitter messages constructed?

Riley: The message comes from me. How it’s finally formulated, they’ll usually take what I have to say and make it better, so I’m good with that. That is fine with me. I’ve worked with Ryan Gunderson for a long time, so he understands the philosophy of messages that I want to put forth to young men we’re recruiting, to the parents and to our fans. So it’s actually pretty seamless. We talk about messages, and he kind of formulates it and puts it together.

Ryan’s got the keys to that car for sure. He knows way more about it than I do.

What did you find most challenging about keeping the commitments secure of players who chose Nebraska before you took over as coach?

Riley: We wanted to reconfirm Nebraska’s commitment to the guys who were already committed. Most all of them wanted to come to Nebraska. They just wanted to know in their mind that we were going to be a good fit for them as a coaching staff. One of the hurdles you run into – and it was pointed out by one of the parents – they know coaches of our opponents a lot better than they knew us. So we had to really introduce ourselves to these folks, tell them our intentions and let them decide if not only the school was a good fit, but if the coaching staff was a good fit.

What did you learn about Nebraska by representing the school on the recruiting trail?

Riley: I found it to be great recruiting for Nebraska. Doors were open right away. Take Jalin Barnett. We had been on Jalin (at Oregon State) for literally years, because we had two starters on our team from Lawton, Oklahoma. So we knew about Jalin, but the interest picked up because it was Nebraska. We were immediately more relevant to him, both in location and as a school.

You did not sign a quarterback in this class. Moving forward, what is your recruiting plan at the position?

Riley: We would like, over a period of time, to evaluate that position closely, rank them before we ever offer, offer the first guy that we rank and then go from there. From there, you’ve got to like the next guy or get out of it. You just don’t want to take them to take them. As with every position, you’re selective, but I don’t want that room to be too big. One in each class is OK, maybe a walk-on with it, but we’re not going to let it get to 10 guys. We want to get them practice. We will begin now to find that first offer and then also find the next three guys who are above the line.

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