Let's do a flashback to the mid-90s. Though I didn't cover recruiting then, I followed it just as fanatically. And back then, NU wasn't getting anymore credit for their classes being stellar than they are now.
What I found to be interesting though, especially after last year's season, the reason why recruits do and don't go to a school are ever-changing and sometimes, very confusing.
When NU was at the peak of it's success during the 90s, they were all but unbeatable and through a 5 year run where they went 60-3, these classes that were never touted for being all that good were still be touted as the best team on God's green earth.
Nebraska was the deepest. Nebraska was the best. Nebraska had so much speed and talent, it was ridiculous.
They don't rebuild, they reload. You remember that, right?
Well, because of that, even some of the best recruits around didn't feel that NU was the place for them and it was because NU was just so darn good.
Even these All-Everything preps were worried about getting buried on the depth chart. I mean, what NU was doing to people shouldn't have even been possible. They took the number two Florida team and slapped them around like an scene from "Mommy Dearest" and they were Florida, led by Heisman candidate, Danny Wuerffel.
If Nebraska had the guns to do this to them, I could see how recruits could think that they might not ever see the field.
Of course, there were those that wanted simply to be part of that, but again, that didn't translate to high recruiting rankings in the end, NU having their typical class of a couple marquee names, most of the best in-state talent and some solid players throughout.
Back to now.
There have been many players that said of what happened to NU that they (at times) just took for granted the fact that they were NU. Still mentally living in the "Glory Days", it was believed if they just showed up and played pretty good, a victory was pretty much assured.
As NU got complacent though, everyone else was getting better and it wasn't just coaching, but recruiting as well.
Like the players, the coaches perhaps took the same attitude, some of NU's recruiters being hardy members of the old regime and just maybe, living a bit themselves in the "Glory Days".
"Hey, we're Nebraska" was all it took and though NU didn't get the high-ranking classes of recruits, they got all the players they wanted or at the very least, needed to maintain their status as one of the best.
Well, while the coaching staff was getting complacent, the other schools were going out there and getting all the players that they needed to get where NU clearly was. Plugging and grinding, selling the program and actually going out there and working to get them, other schools that often languished in anonymity were picking up a little here, a little there and what do you know, now they have almost as much talent as NU, if not more.
What recruits want or what each wants is always the key to getting them to notice you. Whether it's a great tradition, a huge fan-following, academics, facilities or whatever, every single recruit has their own idea of what's ideal to them.
Back when NU was king of the hill, there wasn't a lot of selling that needed to be done as they had the record to prove how good they were, the tradition was there and still in the making and there coach Osborne was with his faithful and at the time, still-eager coaching staff, showing them that NU got to where they were by getting players just like whoever it was they were recruiting at the time.
Not bad. Simple and because you were kicking the snot out of everyone, hey, you didn't have to say a lot, rather you just had to stick to paying attention to them, showing them you really wanted their presence at NU and you usually got the players you wanted.
More importantly, you got the players that wanted to be at NU and who wouldn't?
Last year, well, without going over it, NU didn't kick the snot out of everyone and for the last couple of years, NU hasn't really dominated like it did before. Even if you are a Nebraska of the college football world, sub-par performances could possibly translate to stepping-up the recruiting even more. Something that didn't happen.
Because of that, the talent-level at NU went in to the tank. Nebraska went from re-loading to just trying to find a bullet. While Nebraska was still getting most of the best in-state talent, the rest of the class was now solid players, but nobody that really stood out.
So many players that were good at so many things, but nobody that was clearly a "playmaker", something Nebraska had in abundance during their hey-day.
Even Eric Crouch for all his running ability was perhaps the most one-dimensional starting Husker QB since Mickey Joseph.
Times have changed and now, the coaching staff has changed as well. Plus, the message they are sending.
Yes, it has an air of the same slogan as before in that this is Nebraska, look at the tradition and come be a part of one of the best game-time atmospheres, playing in front of some of the best fans you will ever seen in your life. But, there's a new twist to it.
Basically, it's WE NEED YOU!!!!!
No longer is it about getting players to maintain success, but finding those to get back to being successful.
Long gone are the days when you could walk into a room, say you were from Nebraska and they instantly knew and perhaps were also instantly in awe.
High school coaches aren't sending kids to your school so that their kids have almost a sure-thing shot at a title, equaling a whole lot of exposure for that player and at times, the school they came from. Nor are you getting those kids that have equal aspirations.
The coaches are going out there, showing how much depth they don't have, how much speed they need to get and how they REALLY need to get those oh-so-valuable "playmakers" back at NU. It isn't reloading anymore.
The great thing for NU fans is that this whole new change in the philosophy and the message is being put out there by one of the youngest staffs to ever take the field for the Huskers. Eager, energetic and capable, everything you have heard up to this point has been about how so many more offers are out there and about how these coaches are simply all over the place, recruiting everyone with equal ferocity.
As urgent as the replacement of so many coaches might have seemed, so to was there an equal sense of urgency in playing catch-up in the recruiting process once they were all brought aboard.
Nebraska had a long road ahead and a short time to get there and this new injection of youth and energy was just what the doctor ordered.
Now, it's not about who NU is already out on, but who they are still vying for from the elite of the high school ranks. The messages resound about some of those aforementioned playmakers still looking at NU, not because they want to be part of one national title run after another, but they want to be a big part of getting NU back to where they were.
It might come down to mattering and each recruit now thinking that what they do at NU will indeed, really matter. They won't be lost in the shuffle amongst one "star" after another, their contribution looked at as just part of the team. Yes, some players do want to stand out.
When you are ultimately successful and stay that way for as long as NU did, sometimes, the players you get are good, but maybe they are just along for the ride. An easy way to a national title perhaps.
Forget that possibility now. This time, players know that it's all up-hill if they want the Holy Grail and it will be the determined recruit that takes their place amongst the current Big Red.
Recruiting has changed and it's because Nebraska has changed and I will be the first to say that what is happening now is about the best thing that could happen for NU. Everyone talks about how getting beat is a reality check and gets people back in the game, so to speak.
When you have an entire season like that though, just coming off a game for the national title, that's a reality check from hell.
Frank Solich took it, ran it with, made some huge changes and now, all of a sudden, the NU players may have not taken a snap, but the NU coaches have scored a few times already.
7 commits down, with perhaps that number climbing to as high as 10 within the next week or so, the staff at NU has already proven that this new message they are sending is working. And, it's not the same message that was being sent a year ago, two years ago or even during the 90s.
It's a different time. It's a different Nebraska and different coaches out there selling the Huskers for what they are and yes, what they need. And, I would have to harken back to a quote from a recent interviewee of mine, DeAntae Grixby for the perfect illustration of why all this positivity is taking place.
"It's a new Nebraska."
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 402-730-5619