Even if every California prospect who suddenly took interest in Nebraska after Keyshawn Johnson Jr.'s commit wanted to play for Nebraska, well NU probably couldn't take them all.
But that won't stop Nebraska from trying to take as many as it can.
Not that it'll be easy. It never is when UCLA and USC are involved.
In the last five recruiting classes according to 247 Sports Composite recruiting service, the Bruins and Trojans have combined to land 97 of the top 250 recruits. That is, in effect, 19 of the top 50 prospects in the state of California each year.
Throw in Cal and Stanford, and you have 124 of the top 250 prospects from the 2012-2016 classes.
So those four schools secure, on average, half of the top 50 prospects in the state each year.
How about non-Pac 12 schools? How do they do?
Well, if you listen to Rivals' Mike Farrell, the chances of a top prospect from California — like cornerback Darnay Holmes — is pretty slim.
"I don’t think Darnay is going to Nebraska," Farrell wrote. "As we get later into the recruiting year with top Calfornia kids, usually they stay West. It’s not often for kids to go cross-country or leave the state and when they do they go to the Notre Dames, Michigans and Ohio States of the world."
Actually, they go to Oklahoma more than anywhere else. OU has secured ten of the top 250 prospects over the last five recruiting classes. The Sooners just got, for example, linebacker Caleb Kelly.
Notre Dame: 6
Boise State: 3
Alabama, Miami, BYU, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida State, Vanderbilt, SMU all had 2.
Ohio State, among many others, had 1.
It's entirely possible that, if OSU chose to recruit California more than it does, it would have more success than it has. But the Buckeyes are much more active in New Jersey and the southeast. Plus, OSU has a great home base for recruiting. Ohio State makes its way into a statement like that because of the narrative that OSU is an elite program recruiting at an elite level. Ditto Alabama. Ditto LSU. They've earned that, even if there's not a lot of evidence of those teams recruiting too much in California.
Still, it's perplexing why Notre Dame and Michigan would be seen as having more sterling California recruiting resumes than Nebraska. NU has long tapped California, and the trend of recruiting there has never really ended. The 2012 Nebraska team, for example, had six starters — Taylor Martinez, Quincy Enunwa, Eric Martin, Josh Mitchell, Cameron Meredith and Daimion Stafford — from the state of California.
I know, I know — none of them were "elite" four-and-five-star recruits other than Stafford. But you're really splitting hairs when you separate Holmes and 2016 defensive back recruit Lamar Jackson into different calibers of recruit. There's not much difference there, if any.
So NU had already proven in the most recent recruiting cycle that it could win a big recruiting battle in California. It has proven it many times over anyway, over many years. The Huskers recruit California well. They might even recruit better this year.
But I'll go ahead and posit that Farrell's line is more about the narrative on Nebraska recruiting than any statistical history. And, for that, I don't blame Farrell. Were I in his shoes — covering 120 teams — I'd probably have the same narrative.
One lasting legacy left behind by the previous coaching administration is the idea — it was hardly the head coach alone, I assure you — that Nebraska couldn't do much better than it was doing in recruiting, that Husker fans were ingrates for thinking otherwise, and media who suggested otherwise were sowing the seeds of dissent and putting undue pressure on the team, which would collapse under those expectations in big games. That was kind of the formula. Some Nebraska fans still fervently believe it, too. They're entitled to that position, though there's evidence pushing against it, as well. Read on.
It's not surprising that any national analyst or reporter would come to a conclusion about Nebraska's lack of recruiting prowess. Not when the previous staff spent years telling local and national media about the challenges of recruiting to a place with five national titles, palatial facilities and a student-athlete support system that is a parent's dream. When the media — especially national media — hears it enough times, they pick up on it, and that becomes part of the narrative. National media doesn't roll through here as often as it once did, and when it did, the narrative was often at the ready, especially since Nebraska has won exactly five big home games — Oklahoma in 2009, Missouri in 2010, Michigan State in 2011, Miami in 2014 and Michigan State in 2015 — since the 2001 Oklahoma game.
At any rate, at the end of the 2014 Minnesota game, ESPN analyst Brian Griese, as you'll recall, spilled the full beanpot on that narrative.
Griese, a Michigan Man who had to share his lone national title with Nebraska, had the clearest recitation of the narrative from a national guy:
“There’s a lot of pressure at this program. And you want there to be a lot of pressure. You want the fans to live and die with every single win and every single loss, and I think for Bo Pelini, the struggle is: This might be as good as this program can be right now. They might be a 9-4 program. They’ve been a 9-4 or 10-4 program for the past seven years. And with the competitive nature and landscape of college football, this might be the new reality for Nebraska. And it’s hard for Nebraska fans to accept that. It’s hard for Bo Pelini to accept that.”
One year later, as Nebraska was trailing 38-33 to Michigan State, ESPN recruiting analyst and sideline reporter Tom Luginbill took another moment — during a timeout — to explain why Husker football faced hurdles going forward.
Luginbill: "Such a great tradition here — a lot of winning, a lot of sustained years of success — but there are some challenges, too. Let's take a look at some of those challenges in recruiting. So you take a look at the footprint at Nebraska. Look at the amount of ESPN 300 prospects that have come out in the last five classes — not only in Nebraska, but in the states that surround and connect to the Nebraska."
ESPN's map shows 21 prospects total in seven states. One of them is from Nebraska and 14 of them in Missouri.
Luginbill again: "Then transition that to how many of those prospects ended up committing and signing with the University of Nebraska."
ESPN's map shows four total prospects signing with Nebraska.
Luginbill again: "When you see numbers that low, that means that Nebraska is going to have to go in an entirely different direction and widen their net that they cast out for prospects, which is a very, very difficult thing to do in today's college football landscape."
Michigan State runs its play, a one-yard gain setting up third-and-seven. Another timeout.
Luginbill again: "I think the one thing that is really glaring when you look at this predicament for Nebraska going forward in recruiting is: Look at the average miles away from campus of the signees for the University of Nebraska. 837 miles."
In an onscreen graphic, the average distance for the rest of the Power 5 programs is 307 miles.
Luginbill again: "In a world where you're so dependent in sophomore and junior year, early unofficial visits, this puts Nebraska at a distinct disadvantage in recruiting."
Now, let's be clear: Not all of this narrative is inaccurate. Nebraska isn't 300 miles away from Los Angeles. It does get cold here. There are high school players who couldn't say much about the state of Nebraska outside of it having corn and a football team that wears red. Some of them might know the College World Series is played here.
It is harder to recruit, in some ways, to Nebraska.
It is easier in others. Many of Nebraska's sports — men's and women's — recruit really well, in part because of those advantages. While it's true NU doesn't have a facilities lead over schools the way it once did, they're still pretty sparkling overall.
And, to be fair to Riley's predecessor, Riley won't ever know a day — as Pelini did — when he has to take a big official visitor over to the Devaney Sports Center for a basketball game, amid ruins of decaying state fairgrounds and livestock stalls. I always rather appreciated the "gently war-torn Eastern European nation" chic that the "Bob" had going on — all that was missing was some funky art pieces — but I can only imagine the joy football recruits used to feel inside there.
Pinnacle Bank Arena — and the resulting developments around the arena — is a more appealing draw.
Now Riley and his staff can capitalize on it. Here's a shot at a recruiting class Nebraska hasn't had in some time. Here's a chance to shake up the narrative. It's comfortable for recruiting analysts. I don't really blame them; at this point, Nebraska will have to be an outlier.
But Nebraska football has long been an outlier anyway. It doesn't have to be the Michigans and Notre Dames of the world. It can be itself, and not apologize for landing big recruits, nor act handcuffed and persecuted for not landing them.