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Nebraska vs. Illinois, 10.3.15

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley checks the scoreboard during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015.

He began working in Nebraska's football recruiting office in 2002. That, you may remember, was a rough season for the Huskers.

Same goes for 2003. Frank Solich and his crew scrambled to win enough games to stay employed.

Consequently, "Recruiting was put on the back burner," Nate Clouse recalled this week. "The attitude became, OK, we need all hands on deck to figure out how we're going to win this week because people were nervous, and recruiting went by the wayside."

That can happen when a program is scuffling, as was the case with Solich in 2002 (7-7 record) and to a certain extent in 2003 (9-3 and fired anyway). There's unrelenting pressure to win at Nebraska. And this year, Mike Riley is trying to salvage the season in the wake of a 2-3 start to his tenure. Under those type of circumstances, recruiting can potentially suffer.

Clouse, who now works for Huskeronline.com (part of the Rivals.com recruiting network), thinks Riley and his staff are achieving the necessary balance of trying to win games while simultaneously taking care of recruiting business.

"I think the level of recruiting activity is very, very good," Clouse said. "They've got a ton of visitors coming in this weekend for the Wisconsin game, both official and unofficial visits. Between the 2016 and 2017 classes, they're going to have six top-250 recruits on campus.

"I know for a fact the staff has gotten out in front of this whole deal (the rough start) and let recruits know that, hey, we're transitioning and we're just a few guys away from being able to do what we really want to do."

Nebraska fans might cringe when they see the Huskers are No. 39 in Rivals.com's 2016 rankings. However, NU has its quarterback — Patrick O'Brien. That's integral. Clouse also likes the three linebackers in the class and points out the benefit of having receivers coach Keith Williams to bring in skill-position players.

"People might look at it on the surface and think Nebraska's (2016) class ranking isn't cutting it," Clouse said. "But with one four-star commitment, all of a sudden they're 25th in the nation right next to Notre Dame. There's kind of a logjam from No. 25 to No. 40.

"I think there's the potential to sign a top-20 or top-25 class. It all depends on how they close out."

Clouse also worked on Nebraska recruiting staffs under Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini. The early 2000s was about when recruiting became a 365-day-a-year proposition. Nowadays, it's treacherous for a head coach and his staff to ever put recruiting on the back burner, lest they get left in the dust.

THE NO-HUDDLE

TIME MANAGEMENT

Reserve three or four hours: No. 13 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at No. 18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0), 2:30 p.m., BTN: Jim Harbaugh brought back the helmet stickers this season — a Wolverine inside a maize football. There are different criteria for earning stickers, including this: win a Big Ten game, and everyone gets two. Michigan has shut out two straight opponents — then-No. 22 BYU and Maryland. Could the Wolverines pull off three goose eggs in a row? Don't be surprised if it happens. Perhaps three helmet stickers would be an appropriate reward.

A decent waste of time: No. 10 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) vs. Texas (1-4, 0-2 Big 12), at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 11 a.m., ABC: If Nebraska fans want a program with which to commiserate, there's always Texas. OK, forget that idea. But the Longhorns are off to their worst start since 1956, and second-year head coach Charlie Strong, 7-11 at UT, is facing questions about his job status. Asked this week if he was worried that he might not make it until next season, Strong said: "Every day's a battle. So I have no idea." Sounds like he's having a blast.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Cheese should be the theme this week in honor of Wisconsin, right? So, let's go with a "Cheesy Football," made up of cream cheese, cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese (and a few other ingredients). It's an easy recipe for even a rookie quarterback to complete. Check out kraftrecipes.com. Hopefully, Nebraska fans won't be throwing their Cheesy Footballs at their TVs.

LET'S NOT OVERTHINK THIS

It must be just wonderful being an offensive coordinator. Seemingly everyone (including yours truly) second-guessed Nebraska's Danny Langsdorf for not calling enough run plays in the wind and gray gloom in Champaign, Illinois. This week, against a stout Wisconsin defense, NU likely will have to be creative on offense. Balance probably would be wise choice. Get those talented receivers involved, Coach! Glad I don't wear the headset. 

THUMBS UP, DOWN

Thumbs up to Spencer Long, the former Nebraska offensive lineman. The second-year NFL player for Washington made his first career start in Sunday's 23-20 win against Philadelphia. The Elkhorn graduate must have done something right, because Washington racked up 417 yards, including 127 on the ground. Long's position coach, former Husker head coach Bill Callahan, reportedly has been pushing Long to improve his hand speed and punch as he engages defenders in pass protection and run blocking. The 6-foot-5, 311-pound Long apparently has listened well.

Thumbs down to negativity. I'm only doing this as a nod to Penn State coach James Franklin's answer last week to a reporter who asked him what he might say to Nittany Lions fans who were unsatisfied with PSU's 20-14 win against Army. "I'm going to come in here every single week and be positive even if it kills you guys," Franklin said. "I love our players. I love our staff. I love our school. I love our colors. I love Penn State. Love Happy Valley. Do we need to get better? Yes. But you guys can ask me every question in the book to try to get me to be negative, and I'm not going to do it." Kind of refreshing, in my opinion.

FIVE TO GO

It could be worse, Nebraska fans. Much worse. Here are five of this season's "dumpster-fire" programs, as identified by Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports (if you enjoy college football, check out his weekly "Forde-Yard Dash" column):

1. Kansas. Just lost by 25 to Iowa State. Say no more.

2. Texas. The Longhorns are squabbling among themselves on Twitter. Once again, say (or tweet) no more.

3. Tennessee. Butch Jones is 2-7 in SEC games in Neyland Stadium despite three straight highly rated recruiting classes.

4. Central Florida. Just got hammered by — drum roll, please — Tulane. What more is there to say?

5. Rutgers. As Forde points out, the Scarlet Knights are on a roll. First, they beat Kansas on Sept. 26, then they played no one last week. Nice work.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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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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