COLUMBUS, Ohio — Bo Pelini entered the stadium of his collegiate playing days to mild cheers and a handshake from a guy who recognized him. In that trademark gray hoodie, the Nebraska coach jogged briskly onto the turf and — just for a second — looked around at the scene.
Did he notice the dozens of unofficial recruiting visitors lined up in one end zone? They would have been hard to miss. A bunch of big dudes and fast dudes from Cleveland — like four-star athlete Shelton Gibson and 2014 four-star offensive tackle Marcelys Jones — plus Belle Vernon, Pa., tackle Dorian Johnson, a five-star who decommitted from Penn State and is shopping for a new home.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer isn't taking his foot off the gas pedal off the field either. Ditto for coach Brady Hoke at Michigan. Nebraska's 1-2 vs. the Big Ten's Twin Towers, with 28- and 25-point losses on the road. As far as the 2013 recruiting class rankings go, the Huskers have a similar double-digit deficit.
When averaging the team rankings of the major scouting services — 247, Rivals and Scout — here's how it shakes out:
Ohio State: 7.3
Yes, development and coaching are equal to or more important than raw player talent. Can Nebraska claim an advantage in either department over Hoke's or Meyer's staffs? You can answer that question.
NU has a small edge in facilities and academic support. It scores even, in my book, on game day atmosphere. NFL pipeline? Meyer and Hoke do fine there. Tradition? The Twin Towers have it.
This is Oklahoma and Texas all over again, with one exception: Michigan is in the Huskers' division.
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So it's a good time for a bye week. A key time for Nebraska's staff to fuel up and recruit. At 14 commits — and 23 scholarship seniors — the Huskers still have eight to 12 scholarships to give, figuring on a bit of attrition. What positions are left to nail down? Plenty.
Ľ Defensive line: Any defense works best with big, agile, dominant players in the trenches. But Pelini's defense relies even more on his tackles and ends to keep the linebackers clean. Names like Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and Kyle Williams at LSU, and Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick at Nebraska.
If Pelini wants to keep the scheme, he has to find — not just develop, but actually locate — the players good enough to run it. Most of NU's top targets for 2013 are in junior college.
According to Rivals, Nebraska has offered five junior college targets: Toby Johnson (6-foot-4, 305 pounds, Hutchinson CC in Kansas); Quincy Russell (6-3, 311, Trinity Valley CC in Texas); Edwin Delva (6-3, 290, Antelope Valley CC in California); Kyle Peko (6-2, 295, Cerritos College in California) and Demetrius Campbell (6-5, 270, East Los Angeles College).
Johnson, a Georgia native, is the top prospect and an SEC lean, but Nebraska's been recruiting him for more than a year and has immediate, abundant playing time to pitch. Russell is a visit-after-the-season guy. Peko is a Michigan State lean, but he's said he'll take a Husker visit. Delva and Campbell look like Plan B types who might be Plan A in a month.
Another high school prospect — four-star Cleveland lineman Donovan Munger — has said he'd take an official visit to Nebraska, but the 6-4 285-pounder attended the OSU-NU game in Columbus and is, according to 247Sports, the first cousin of Marcelys Jones.
Ľ Offensive tackle and center: Nebraska seems well set at guard for years to come, but center Justin Jackson is a senior, and even if Cole Pensick — playing well at guard — slides back to center next year, he'll be a senior then, too.
NU's top 2013 center prospect, Carlsbad, Calif., three-star Scott Quessenberry, surprisingly committed to UCLA after his high school game Friday night, citing, among other things, the ability to get a home-cooked meal.
“I liked the coaching staff, the facilities and what was happening with the program,'' Quessenberry told the North County Times on Saturday. “I'd definitely rather be in a program on the way back up like UCLA.”
Two of the Huskers' top tackle prospects — Christian Morris and Kenny Lacy — also remain UCLA commits.
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Ľ Tight end: NU has one commit from Dayton, Ohio, prospect Greg Hart — an H-back/adjuster type who lines up as a wide receiver — and remains locked in on junior college prospect Beau Sandland, another Los Angeles kid.
Rivals reported that Sandland has to rule out SEC schools because he's taking an online math class and the league doesn't accept them. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arizona State appear to be his top choices.
Short of landing Sandland — who intends to decide before January — NU can put more of a press on Columbus, Ohio, prospect Devon Edwards (6-5, 240) — who's visited Pittsburgh — or offer 6-4, 260-pound Omaha North tight end Casey Sayles, who committed to Ohio.
As it stands, walk-on Elkhorn junior Jake Long is next year's starter, with scholarship backups from Lincoln Southeast (David Sutton and Sam Cotton) who have yet to play.
Ľ Eraser athletes: Guys who make up for mental errors with sheer athletic talent. Offense or defense. Preferably defense. Ameer Abdullah? Eraser. Kenny Bell? Eraser. Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose? Eraser.
Two guys jump out to me: Five-star safety Priest Willis (6-2, 200, Tempe, Ariz.) and four-star corner MacKensie Alexander (5-10, 175, Immokalee, Fla.). Both will visit for the Michigan game. Alexander is the more dynamic of the two, a flashy tackler and speedster who can climb a building to defend a pass. Both Willis and Alexander are strongly considering Notre Dame, which is getting hot at the right time.
And then there's Drake Martinez. The younger brother of Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez doesn't have a great recruiting pedigree, but neither did Taylor. And Drake Martinez is slated to play defensive back or wide receiver. If he can rip off a blazing 40 time like his older brother, he'd be a good addition to a defense that needs raw speed.
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