High schools are soon to break for summer, prospect camps lurk around the corner and most college football teams are exiting Turn 2 of the 2013 recruiting class calendar, ready to start building speed down the back straightaway.
Nebraska should end May with eight commits. Expected. And it's already addressed immediate needs at tight end and defensive end and ongoing needs at linebacker. Expected — and encouraging.
But no quarterback. That's unexpected. And no top-shelf tackle yet to protect him. Discouraging.
June is big. NU holds its football camps June 4 through 12. They're not the big-tent events they were under Bill Callahan, but they have helped the Huskers identify guys like Alonzo Moore, a 2012 class signee. The inaugural Big Red Weekend — an invite-only tour designed to draw NU's top targets for a shortlist sales pitch — is June 15 and 16.
Although Nebraska puts hard work into official visits during the season — and Bo Pelini's staff burns midnight oil in January, like Frank Solich and Co. did — the next three weeks could tilt NU's class toward the top 15 group it needs to be every year, or that 25 to 30 range that asks for great coaching from a young staff and all the right breaks.
You know where I stand. Top 30 talent evaporates the margin of error on consistent 11-win seasons.
The outliers are few and come with asterisks. You either need the Boise State/TCU schedule, Wisconsin's now-departed offensive staff or Virginia Tech's knack for recruiting homegrown, NFL-caliber quarterbacks to overcome the talent gap. Now that TCU is in the Big 12, and the Badgers' offensive coaches scattered from Madison, the list is two. When (if?) Boise State goes to the Big East, it's down to one. And the Hokies can't beat top-five teams under Frank Beamer.
Right now, Nebraska's in-progress 2013 class is ranked No. 22 by 247Sports. No, don't put much stock in it this early. But Michigan's No. 1. Ohio State is No. 7. Penn State is No. 21. Michigan State is lurking at No. 30. Those teams have coaching staffs that stand toe-to-toe with Pelini's crew.
So if the Huskers want to inch closer to the Wolverines and Buckeyes, and put some distance between themselves and MSU/PSU, here's a prescription for summer success:
• Nab more high-end defensive playmakers. Because of final exams, five-star safety Su'a Cravens won't be visiting Lincoln this weekend. He has to be a near USC lock now when he makes his decision June 6.
Who's that leave? Five-star Tempe, Ariz., safety Priest Willis; four-star Upland, Calif., defensive end Joe Mathis; four-star Gaithersburg, Md., linebacker Marcus Newby; and high three-star Port Allen, La., linebacker Darian Claiborne.
Mathis has already visited. Newby and Claiborne will for the Big Red Weekend. And while Willis — nephew to former Nebraska Blackshirt Toby Wright — won't officially visit until Oct. 27 for the Huskers' night game with Michigan, the nation's No. 17 overall player can't be wooed away by USC, LSU or Oklahoma in the meantime.
• Land three top local targets. Within the 500-mile radius, Nebraska's pushing hard for Sioux Falls, S.D., athlete Nathan Gerry; Kansas City, Mo., guard Zach Hannon and Emporia, Kan., wide receiver Jerel Morrow. Gerry, a three-star recruit, is underrated and still under the radar, although a Michigan State offer might get the secret out. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Hannon is arguably the top guard in the Midwest and is down to NU, Missouri and Arkansas. And Morrow is a true slot receiver who has the Huskers with Kansas State and Oklahoma State in his top three.
Before signing day hits, I predict all three will be four-star prospects. Morrow, who long jumped a whopping 25 feet, 8Ĺ inches at the Kansas state track meet, already is a four-star guy.
Win the local battles. If Nebraska's serious about recommitting its recruiting efforts to the region, it nabs all three prospects. Gerry might be the best of them.
• Woo quarterback Anthony Jennings or Devante Kincade for a visit, and keep calling the guys who turned them down. Notably Malik Zaire, who pledged to Notre Dame this spring. Zaire could waffle if true freshman Gunner Kiel starts for the Irish. Remember: Zaire's teammate, tight end Greg Hart, recently committed to Nebraska.
Based on film, offer lists and grapevine chatter, Jennings is my top guy — a Tyrod Taylor-type with more pocket presence. Kincade is No. 2, but he'll be tough to pull away from the SEC. Zaire, whom offensive coordinator Tim Beck clearly liked, is No. 3. Another early Nebraska offer, Plantation, Fla., quarterback Tyler Cogswell, committed to Arkansas on May 26.
• Get a top-shelf tackle. Of Nebraska's top four offensive tackles heading into the fall, three are juniors and two have virtually no game experience at the position. Some high school stud has to love that depth chart.
The Huskers have North San Diego's Scott Quessenberry and Phoenix prospect Kenny Lacy near the top of their board; Quessenberry has the higher 247Sports ranking, but Lacy — 6-5 and 270 — has more upside. Ron Brown, who generally does well when he zeroes in on a handful of guys, is the point man on Lacy.
Nebraska's Shrine Bowl — featuring most of the Huskers' solid walk-on class, plus Division I scholarship signees Drew Ott (Giltner) and Jake Schany (Ohio) — moves to a 1:30 p.m. kickoff this Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska tight end signee Sam Cotton isn't playing, while Lincoln Southwest quarterback Tavarius Bender has already enrolled at Kansas State.
In terms of playmaking and offense, last year's game was the best in years. My prediction? The North wins in 2012, with the best quarterback (Grand Island's Ryker Fyfe), best receiver tandem (GI's Sam Foltz and Omaha North's Terry Grigby), best backfield (Omaha Burke's Jordan Nelson and Elkhorn's Graham Nabity) and best kicker (Norfolk Catholic's Drew Farlee).
But the best player in the game should be the South team's Ott, a 6-4, 225-pound two-way star at linebacker and wide receiver.
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