College Football Analysis: Will Nebraska Ever Get Back to Being an Elite Team?

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When you talk about programs that have achieved college football dynasty status at one time or another, Nebraska surely comes to mind. As someone who was there during the Huskers glory days when they were one of the juggernauts of college football under Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, it looked as though this program could do no wrong.

They were the last great old school option team in college football. There was nothing complex about this team. They simply lined up and ran over their opponents. And when they were done doing that, they played shut down defense.

Then one day the world of college football changed and subsequently a college football dynasty came to an end. We started seeing the death of the 3 yards and a cloud of dust offense. I believe the end of that era and Nebraska’s demise can definitely be linked. The problem at the time was, Nebraska wasn’t in any hurry to let go of their style of football, which I think even to this day has made it harder for them to return to their college football dynasty days.

A New College Football Dynasty is Born in the Mid-1980′s

From the mid 1980′s on, the college football landscape slowly started to change. It began with the reduction of scholarships from 95 in 1978 down to 85 in 1992. At the same time college football strength and conditioning programs were no longer just about putting on bulk and running a few laps, it was starting to become a science.

It culminated with the rise of the University of Miami in the mid-1980′s. Their pro style offense and quick defense influenced other schools to adopt this style of football and conditioning program. And the new age of college football and a new college football dynasty was born.

Lincoln, we have a problem!

With teams running these new intricate offenses with multiple WR sets, it meant that Nebraska couldn’t defensively just line up against their opponents and dominate them. The good news for Nebraska was that this transition to the pro set didn’t happen overnight, and Tom Osborne was able to take advantage of the transition. But the bad news was he also knew that if he was going to make a change, he wouldn’t be able to do it without taking a significant dip.

After Osborne retired and Nebraska started to make their changes, the dip is exactly what happened under Frank Solich and Bill Callahan. Luckily during Osborne’s last years, these new strength and conditioning programs hadn’t yet been perfected. While many teams now had the speed, the players sacrificed some of their bulk. With the exception of a handful of programs like Miami who had both the speed and the size, Nebraska was still able to have some success and simply run over them.

But each year these strength and conditioning programs started getting more sophisticated, and between the modern use of weights and the nutrition programs,  other elite schools now also had the combination of bulk and speed. In today’s game it has even trickled down to the prep level.

Up until the latter part of the 90′s, Nebraska was still able to play most teams straight up and beat them. But fewer teams were willing to play that type of game against them. This is where the chinks in their armor started to show.

College Football Dynasty: Can Nebraska Return to Elite Status?

Here’s where I think the problem lies with the Husker’s program and their chances to once again become a college football dynasty. This school has always been the best at manufacturing pure football players. They had the best walk-on program in the country. And every year their linemen would come off the assembly line ready to compete. So Nebraska never did really have to rebuild, just reload.

But with the way the game has changed, it’s no longer about developing walk-on’s into football players, it’s about turning athletes into football players. BIG difference. What this has done is expose Nebraska’s's lack of recruiting. It’s no secret that there is a lack of local talent in Nebraska. They’ve always had to go out of state to get their blue chip skill players.

When they were a member of the Big 8, they basically had Oklahoma to compete against in recruiting, and would get their fair share of talent from Texas. But when the Big 8 became the Big 12 and Texas entered the scene, it caused Nebraska to take a backseat to both OU and Texas in recruiting. So even though the Huskers still had these tough assembly line produced SOB’s on their lines, they were having difficulty getting their blue-chip players.

This brings us back to today’s game and the the reduction of scholarships, followed by less practices, and in turn less “game style” hitting because teams can’t take a chance of getting certain players hurt. This combination took some of the toughness away from the “players in waiting.” And it was no longer a given that they were going to be able to step right in and play at the same level as their predecessors.

Nebraska’s Recruiting Problem

But the biggest problem for Nebraska now is recruiting. There is no doubt that this school had the best walk-on program in the history of college football. One big advantage for Nebraska was few other schools had the resources to recruit the plains because of it being so spread out.

Unlike the big-time HS football prep programs of Texas, Nebraska had inconsistent pockets of talent in state. So many kids were missed back in those days, except by Nebraska, who literally had these kids knocking on their door to play.

But with today’s media connected ways of recruiting, very few blue chip players are being missed. And what used to be Nebraska’s sure “stable” of players, are now going to the smaller non-bcs types of schools where they can start right away instead of waiting until they are juniors to start.

These stable of players are simply no longer there in waiting like they use to be. When Nebraska had these players, all they had to do was go outside of the state and cherry pick their skill players. But now they have another problem. They are no longer in the Big 12, so recruiting Texas is even tougher.

The Big 10 Dilemma

Nebraska now has an even bigger recruiting challenge. They now have to go to places that they’ve never heavily recruited and compete against the Ohio State’s and Michigan’s for the elite players. They are essentially on the bottom floor in recruiting the Big 10.

But on the positive side Nebraska still has their name. And I believe with the right coach and staff, they could be an elite team again. But it won’t be easy. And I don’t see it coming overnight.

What do you think Nebraska’s chances are of becoming a college football dynasty again?

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Get more great college football analysis over at Saturday Edge.


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