If you follow Nebraska recruiting carefully, you’ve probably wondered one or both of the following over the past week or so:
1. How much more room do the Huskers have in this recruiting class?
2. Who is going to fill those remaining spots?
The second question is a lot cloudier than the first. Nebraska’s already hosted more players in January than it has room for, there are players from earlier in the cycle that still haven’t committed anywhere and there are more set to visit over the next two weeks. Not only that, but some players will head elsewhere. For instance, cornerback target DJ James, who visited NU earlier this month, committed to Oregon on Monday.
At this point, the "who" is very much up in the air and only the next couple weeks will provide answers.
The first question has a clearer answer, though. It’s been addressed in bits and pieces, but given the number of questions received from readers about which factors affect the class size and how much wiggle room exists, this seems like a good time to lay it all out.
So, due warning: There’s a little bit of math on the road ahead. Consider this Class Size 101.
Two numbers govern most questions about recruiting and roster size: 85 and 25. Eighty-five, of course, is the maximum number of scholarship players allowed on an FBS roster. Twenty-five is the maximum “initial qualifiers” allowed by the NCAA per year. The translation for “initial qualifier” is roughly, “new scholarship players in the program.”
Twenty-five is the important number right now. The 85 matters, and we’ll touch on it in a bit, but the initial qualifiers are what’s guiding the conversation about remaining space in the 2019 class.
One key distinction right off the bat: Recruiting services oftentimes count class size as the number of "commits," which typically refers to high school and junior college players. But everybody counts, including graduate transfers like Oklahoma State defensive tackle Darrion Daniels.
Nebraska currently has 26 players signed. They inked 25 in December — including Daniels and Noa Pola-Gates, who just made that fact public on Saturday night — and added Dedrick Mills earlier this month.
Wait a second, you say, because you’re following along intently. If the cap for initial qualifiers is 25, how has Nebraska already signed 26 and continued recruiting others?
Mid-year enrollees (Adrian Martinez and company last year, Wandale Robinson and company this year) can be counted back to the previous season if — and only if — the previous year’s class did not reach the 25-man cap on initial qualifiers. Basically, schools are allowed to back-fill.
Nebraska’s Class of 2018 number ended up at 20. They were able to count several players from that group back to 2017 because Mike Riley’s last class was a small one. Then they added Tre Neal over the summer. Bottom line, they finished the 2018 cycle with 20. Thus, five of the eight mid-year enrollees who just joined the program this month can technically be counted back to 2018, filling that class to 25.
So, those five back-counted spots plus 25 initials for 2019 brings us to the maximum class size of 30. The process isn’t simple, but the number is. It’s hard and fast. Everybody counts.
That means four spots remaining for 2019. Sources have indicated that NU would like to keep one available to explore the transfer market later in the spring or over the summer because needs should crystallize after spring ball, injuries happen, so on and so forth.
That means the Huskers might only take three more players in the coming weeks. They can take no more than four.
Wiggle room could theoretically be created by using a grayshirt or a blueshirt. A grayshirt is when a player defers his enrollment by a semester. A blueshirt is when an “unrecruited” player — no in-home visit, no official visit — shows up on campus and is put on scholarship. In both situations, a player can be counted forward. A blueshirt at NU this fall could technically practice in 2019 but not play, and count toward the 2020 class.
But remember, the Huskers have a small senior class already (16 at current count) and, assuming they take 30 in 2019, will not have the luxury of back-counting because the class will be completely full. If the Huskers want to have a 2020 class with 20-plus members, why would they start cutting into it at this point?
Soon, the conversation will shift to the 85-man roster. The Huskers have 84 scholarship players currently, so adding three or four will push the oversigning maximum allowed by the Big Ten of 88. So yes, some amount of attrition will almost certainly occur between now and August. But that attrition does not provide any added flexibility to Nebraska for this current recruiting class.
Got all that?