Derek Johnson Muses

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Maximum Red Podcast, Episode 6

In this episode, I tackle Noah Fant’s decision to go to Iowa and whether or not Nebraska fans can feel disappointed, Tommy Armstrong running the football, and great tweets and articles.

Where Pelini Should Have Succeeded

Last year, Terrence Moore was a Blackshirt who impressed. He wasn’t elite, but he’d made the most of what he was-a former three star player who redshirted, stayed with the program, and became a very solid contributor who finally had a chance to start when Jared Crick got hurt. Bo Pelini got the most out of him. Up until this year, there were points in the careers of Cameron Meredith, Eric Martin and Will Compton where I’d thought Pelini had gotten the most out of them. Funny how that works.

Pelini had a number of seniors who had been contributors since they were freshmen or sophomores-Cameron Meredith, Baker Steinkulher, Eric Martin, Will Compton, Sean Fisher, PJ Smith, along with JUCOs Joseph Carter and Damion Stafford, and Courtney Osborne on the bench. Mel Kiper Jr. notes that one of the things that has separated the players that Bret Bielema and Kirk Ferentz have sent to the NFL is their polish, that their respective coaches got the most out of what they had. The same cannot be said of Pelini with these players; you can’t be as horrid as Nebraska was at time this year on defense when you have experienced player, not one of whom has maxed out. Compton at times has been Nebraska’s “playmaker”, and Martin somehow had 16.5 tackles for losses. Smith looks like he had the most growth potential, but never reached it.

Why does all this matter? It matter because, when a fan base talk about firing a coach, the reason they would is because he hasn’t succeed when he has had the material to do so. If you have so many defensive players who haven’t developed and you are a defensive coach, that’s an area where you should do better.

There is an irony to it-all these players being freshmen on the iron wall, Ndamukong Suh-lead defense that stood up to the spread offenses of the Big 12, carrying the offense-less Huskers. If only all these guys would have molded their attitudes and work ethics after Jared Crick’s than Suh’s, as Suh’s displays of lawlessness since he entered the NFL shows what kind of a leader he must have been at Nebraska. Matt Slauson blasted Suh a year ago for two incidents at Nebraska and said Suh “wasn’t well liked”. Slauson didn’t say when those incidents occurred, but it’s fair to question the legacy Suh left for the Blackshirts when you see their fall.

But the Blackshirts struggles stretch beyond anything Suh has done and any of the recruited players Pelini has or hasn’t developed. Where Pelini has failed is to find chip-in walk-ons to contribute. Even the bad Cosgrove defenses have had overachieving guys who have played key roles, like Stewart Bradley and Ben Eisenhart. And give Cosgrove some credit (yes, I just wrote that) for developing Tyler Wortman and Matt O’Hanlon, the latter of whom made more timely plays than anyone else on Nebraska’s 2009 defense. Other than nickle/dime back Justin Blatchford, there isn’t a single, rounded out walk-on senior among the 2012 Blackshirts.

When you are a major college coach at a northern school that doesn’t have a lot of FBS prospects, it’s understandable if you are thin at certain positions like corner or wide receiver, positions where athleticism matters. But if you can’t find linebackers or safeties via your walk-on program, there’s no excuse. Iowa State had two three-year starter, all-conference caliber, senior linebackers. Kansas State’s 1998 11-2 was built on linebackers, and its resurgence the past year rest strongly with safety Ty Zimmerman. Wisconsin has good linebackers, as has Iowa over the years. In 2009, I was watching a game with a couple of guys who were remarking about how inconsistent Sean Fisher was linebacker. In three years, Pelini couldn’t find a better player to put in than Fisher.

But the good news for Husker fans: Pelini lost all those eight starters, and in spring and fall practices, will be able to hold essentially open tryouts for starting positions. Unlike the last two year, Pelini likely won’t have to replace multiple defensive. Of course, given that Pelini was so “loyal” to bad players man not give the good players incentive.

DSCN9395

The last home game for these Blackshirts….

Husker Recruiting: And Here Comes the Omaha World Herald’s and the Lincoln Journal Star’s Best Propaganda

Today, national signing day, is an official holiday in college football. I don’t follow college recruiting like I used to. I’m still a die-hard fan, but as I see the Nebraska media bang on five-star recruits and publish stories that highlight the nine members of the ESPN top 100 that flame-out in college, I see media that keeps telling Nebraska fans what they want to hear: that as long as their coaches work hard enough, they’ll win football games, even if Texas and USC are getting better players out of high school.

My fellow Husker fans: you can hire the best chef to make you dinner, but if half the ingredients you give are generics, there isn’t much he can do. I’m not suggesting we quit hoping for National Titles, let’s just be realistic of what kind of players it takes to win them.

Clarifications: recruiting rankings are just projections. Half of the first round of the NFL draft doesn’t live up to expectations, and that’s with even better scouting than college recruiting. Whether or not a recruit becomes an all-conference player depends on his own work ethic, health, and what kind of competition he has. USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and the other major programs sign four or five five-star players every year, and the rest of their recruits are four stars. If those five star players don’t work hard, they get replaced quickly (Jevan Snead at Texas). When Nebraska signs a four-star receiver like Niles Paul, he’s usually the best receiver they’ll sign for three four years, meaning he’ll play even when he makes egregious mistakes. And some recruits don’t pan out simply because of injury, which no one can predict.

What I suspect drives this reporting on recruiting is Nebraska fan’s desire to believe their program can play in BCS games and win a National Title developing mid-level players and walk-ons. What those journalist won’t concede is that e`ven the mid-level programs who have BCS years do when they get a couple of four and five star players to contribute in the same year. A 2007 article in the Omaha World-Herald which, while trying to argue for the development of lesser players, actually proved the opposite point. It pointed out that Missouri had only six four-star players on their roster, but four of them were having career years, including Jeremy Maclin and Tony Temple.

If I was a five star recruit and Nebraska came calling, I would be reluctant to go there. Take Marlon Lucky: I can remember reading an interview with him before his senior season where the reporter asked him if he regretted being a five star recruit, a petty way for the interviewer to slam recruiting services. What was Marlon Lucky supposed to do, say he wish he was a worse high school player? Of course, nobody bring up the fact that Baker Steinkuhler was also a five-star recruit, mainly because of his father, a soft-spoken, lunch-pail-attitude, Outland trophy winner.

Do you need a plethora of four star recruits to win a National Title, or even a conference title? Oregon got the BCS Title with much fewer four and five star recruits than other programs, and Stanford went 11-1 the last two years with their academic restrictions. Of course it helps that Stanford also had the best NFL quarterback prospect in thirty years.

So, fellow Nebraska fans, let’s stop mocking the four and five star recruits. They are getting those labels because of us: we are the one wearing our gray schools shirts in March and packing our stadiums for spring games, and the only to fill our Husker void in the off-season are stories from recruiting camps. Instead of mocking Marlon Lucky, consider that his rating was largely because of Reggie Bush and contributed as much as he could considering his skill set. And if you insist on mocking recruiting service, don’t complain when Andrus Peat choose Stanford over Nebraska.

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