Over the month of January, Nebraska fans wondered how many more class of 2019 prospects the Huskers would sign and how close to filling the maximum of 30 spots the program would come.
In the end, head coach Scott Frost and company signed just one additional player — wide receiver Demariyon Houston (Oklahoma City) — finishing with 27 scholarship players for the cycle.
Now that signing day is past, recruiting attention will turn quickly to what looks like a promising 2020 class. The Huskers have already hosted a large junior day event this month and will try to bring a lot of players through campus over the course of spring ball.
NU’s decision-making in January and early February, though, is an interesting study in roster management and is worth revisiting. The approach between December’s early signing period and February’s late date demonstrated, among other things, the Huskers’ belief that their 2020 class can be a very good one and also their willingness to explore the transfer market in the coming months.
For the right player, Frost said Wednesday, Nebraska would have added to its 2019 class. But he was not willing to go beyond a small set of options. The Huskers hosted seven official visitors in January and signed one.
“I've been doing this long enough to know that sometimes when you want to just take another guy or two to fill a spot, those don’t turn out as good as often as guys you’ve recruited and know well,” Frost said. “So, we did our best to get to know some guys and take some looks at some guys that we thought might still be able to help at certain positions, but we weren’t going to reach and take guys just to take them.”
There is another element to that calculus. A 2019 freshman would have taken space away from the 2020 class. A graduate transfer signed between now and August, on the other hand, will not.
Spots in the 2020 class are already at a premium because the Huskers have just 16 senior scholarship players. Had NU signed three more freshmen “just to take them,” as Frost said, not only would they be potentially lower-caliber players, but they would fill spots that, if left open or filled by graduate transfers, create flexibility in 2020.
As the numbers stand currently — 27 signees, three openings — NU can count three of next year’s midyear enrollees back to the 2019 class, raising the baseline number of openings for 2020 from 16 to 19.
Here’s the key: NU gets the same flexibility if it signs three graduate transfers. Sure, the spots get filled this year and the number of count-backs shrinks from three to zero, but the departing senior class grows from 16 to 19.
Given that NU wants to be able to take at least a low-20s class in 2020, the difference between 16 and 19 as a starting point is significant. That’s what makes the graduate transfer market the most likely path for additions over the coming months. Factor in some natural attrition after spring ball or during the summer months, and space for 2020 will grow further.
Not only that, but NU has a young roster as it is. Right now, 36 of NU's 85 scholarship players (42.3 percent) have freshman eligibility and then 16 sophomores, 17 juniors and 16 seniors. Adding upperclassmen, if anything, would provide a bit more class balance.
It is certainly possible that the Huskers find an underclassman in the portal who they think is a perfect fit and is worth taking, but any non-grad transfer will be weighed by NU against the value of a 2020 opening.
“There’s going to be kids from all over the country in that portal and I think it’s going to be important to have a spot or two in your back pocket in case the right kid becomes available,” Frost said. “For us, it’s got to be the right kid. It’s got to be someone that’s going to fit on our team and it’s somebody that’s talented enough to help us.
“We’ll certainly keep our eye on that, and we have some flexibility to take one or two of those if the situation arises.”
The roster management guidance to remember for the coming months is this: Open spots and graduate transfers retain flexibility for the 2020 class, while additional high school players or underclass transfers will chip away at it.
|QB (3)||Luke McCaffrey||Adrian Martinez|
|RB (6)||Ronald Thompkins||Maurice Washington||Dedrick Mills*|
|Rahmir Johnson||Jaylin Bradley*|
|TE (5)||Chris Hickman||Katerian Legrone*||Austin Allen*||Jack Stoll*|
|WR (10)||Jamie Nance||Andre Hunt*||Jaevon McQuitty*||JD Spielman*||Jaron Woodyard*|
|Darien Chase||Miles Jones*||Mike Williams|
|T (7)||Bryce Benhart||Matt Sichterman*||Brenden Jaimes||Christian Gaylord*|
|Matthew Anderson||Matt Farniok*|
|G (4)||Michael Lynn||Broc Bando*||John Raridon*|
|C (2)||Will Farniok*|
|DE (11)||Ty Robinson||Tate Wildeman*||Chris Walker*||Ben Stille*||Khalil Davis*|
|Mosai Newsom||Casey Rogers*||Deontre Thomas*||Carlos Davis*|
|Brant Banks||DaiShon Neal|
|DT (5)||Ethan Piper||Damion Daniels*||Jahkeem Green^||Darrion Daniels*|
|OLB (8)||Garrett Nelson||David Alston*||Caleb Tannor||JoJo Domann*||Tyrin Ferguson*|
|Jamin Graham||Pernell Jefferson*||Alex Davis*|
|ILB (6)||Nick Henrich||Collin Miller*||Mohamed Barry*|
|Jackson Hannah||Will Honas*|
|S (8)||Myles Farmer||CJ Smith*||Marquel Dismuke*||Eric Lee Jr.|
|Quinton Newsome||Cam'ron Jones *||Deontai Williams*|
|CB (7)||Javin Wright||Braxton Clark*||Cam Taylor||Dicaprio Bootle*||Lamar Jackson|
|Tony Butler*||Avery Anderson*|
|ST (1)||Barret Pickering (K)|
|*Player has used redshirt|
|^Has not signed LOI|