Nebraska's Bo Pelini sits down to a signing day news conference at Memorial Stadium last February.

Stop me if you've heard this before.

Ohio State leads the Big Ten Conference in football recruiting. It likely will be that way almost every year as long as ultra-aggressive and cunning Urban Meyer is in Columbus, Ohio.

OSU sits at No. 2 in the Rivals.com national rankings with a class that includes 15 four-star verbal commitments. Nebraska is 31st with four four-star recruits. OSU has proved capable of churning out consistent top-15 classes. Michigan's class was fifth in 2013 and seventh in 2012, but is trailing at the moment (28th).

I'd be surprised if Nebraska regularly produces top-10 recruiting classes any time soon. Yeah, I know, not exactly a bold prediction. When has NU ever reeled off several straight top-10 classes? Not even Tom Osborne did it (though recruiting rankings were neither as involved nor as prevalent then).

Thing is, recruiting athletes to Lincoln has only gotten tougher in recent years. The Nebraska brand isn't quite what it used to be. What's more, NU, as an institution, hasn't shown a marked increase in commitment to recruiting, as has been the case at many places. In fact, the Big Ten, in general, lags behind in foresight, innovation and resources.

Ohio State's program, however, clearly benefits from both resources and prime location. Meanwhile, Nebraska forever will have to succeed despite its location. Call it an excuse. Call it a challenge. Call it whatever. It's reality.

The population shift in our country -- droves leaving the Midwest and Rust Belt for the Sun Belt -- isn't exactly helping Nebraska's cause.

You've heard the phrase: Location, location, location. Well, consider some real-world recruiting challenges ...

Let's say you're a Nebraska offensive line coach heading to talent-rich Florida via commercial flight to recruit a highly rated lineman. Let's say Georgia's O-line coach is recruiting the same lineman. During the eight hours a Husker coach often needs to visit that player, the Bulldog coach can meet with the same prospect, as well as three others in the fertile region.

Let's say you're a USC coach. Because of the Trojans' proximity to abundant talent, they regularly bring prospects to campus four or five times (or more) for unofficial recruiting visits before the kid ever makes his official visit. Nebraska, in most cases, lacks that benefit. In recruiting -- a "relationship business" -- it puts the Huskers at a disadvantage.

Excuses? Challenges? I say it's reality.

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Let's say you're a Nebraska coach recruiting in December and January, a key "contact" period. The pressure is on. You need to get places. Consequently, flight delays are absolute killers. Think about it: How many flights are delayed in Lincoln during the winter months? Happens all the time.

Excuse? Challenge? You be the judge.

Remember: Location, location, location.

An SEC coach recently told me that every time a prospect visits his campus, the chance of landing that player increases by 20 percent. At Nebraska -- because of its magical game-day atmosphere, top-notch facilities, friendly people, et al -- that percentage may be even higher. Trouble is, it can be extremely difficult to get players to Lincoln, especially in time for those god-awful 11 a.m. kickoffs.

Plus, let's be real: There's no question opposing coaches use Nebraska's location against the Huskers. Let's say you're an SEC coach making an in-home visit with a player in the Southeast, and you know a Nebraska coach is waiting for you to finish your visit. You also happen to know the Husker coach's commercial flight leaves at 9 p.m. Well, why not extend your visit until, say, 8:50 p.m.? 

Yeah, it's happened.

It should happen. Competition in recruiting is cutthroat. The pressure to win big is through-the-roof at many places, including Nebraska, where nine wins is barely enough for the head coach to retain his job.

Last September, NU revealed intentions to beef up its recruiting staff -- at head coach Bo Pelini's request -- with at least a few new staff positions. Yes, it was a decent show of institutional commitment. But those positions are yet to be filled.

Nebraska obviously recruits its share of talented players. But the Huskers, in order to overcome the inherent recruiting disadvantages, must put a premium on player development while also finding athletes who best fit the program's culture -- regardless of star rating. The formula is proven.

Although it's unrealistic for Nebraska to consistently produce top-10 recruiting classes, the Huskers should more often be in the top 15-20 (they've been there only once, at No. 15 in 2011, during the Pelini era).

The challenges are enormous. That's reality.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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