With National Signing Day in the books, coaches have a clear view of their roster for the upcoming season. Although most recruits won’t arrive on campus until the summer, the coaching staff now has a better idea of what the depth chart might look like for the next year.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini finished his sixth season in Lincoln with a solid 9-4 mark, and the Cornhuskers enter spring practice with momentum after beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl.
Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his six years at Nebraska. However, the expectations in Lincoln are to win a Big Ten championship, and Pelini and his staff hopes the 2014 signing class is another step in claiming a conference title.
Where Nebraska’s 2014 Signing Class Came From
The Cornhuskers signed a total of 24 prospects in the 2014 signing class and will bring on 18 players as walk-on recruits.
While some programs can live off in-state recruiting to fill out a class, Nebraska has to go outside of the state borders.
The Cornhuskers inked prospects from 13 states, including four from Texas, three from Florida and two from Missouri.
Here’s the full breakdown of Nebraska’s recruiting class:
Texas - 4
Nevada - 1
Florida - 3
Wisconsin - 1
Nebraska - 3
Kansas - 1
Louisiana - 3
Virginia - 1
Missouri - 2
Alabama - 1
Illinois - 2
Mississippi - 1
Georgia - 1
Of note: 22 of the 24 prospects signed came from the high school ranks, with only two junior college recruits.
Areas of Focus
Defensive Backs - 5
Running Backs - 2
Wide Receivers - 4
Tight End - 1
Offensive Line - 4
Kicker - 1
Defensive Line - 4
Linebacker - 1
Quarterbacks - 2
With Nebraska set to lose guards Spencer Long and Andrew Rodriguez, center Cole Pensick and tackles Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles, the offensive line was one of this team’s biggest needs in 2014. Ideally, the Cornhuskers will be able to redshirt their four recruits on the line. However, signing four players will help keep the numbers at a stable level for Pelini. Illinois native Tanner Farmer is the highest rated lineman of the bunch, ranking No. 251 nationally in 247Sports Composite rankings. Nevada’s Nick Gates ranks No. 293 in the same evaluation, while D.J. Foster ranks No. 474 nationally.
As we mentioned above, the signing class in 2014 isn’t necessarily about answering the needs for the upcoming year. Instead, a recruiting class is often the answer for the next two or three seasons. But in Nebraska’s case, with cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, along with safety Andrew Green departing, more depth was needed right away in the secondary. Five defensive backs were signed, including junior college recruit Byerson Cockrell. The other four defensive backs inked by Pelini were all three-star recruits, including Nebraska native Luke Gifford (No. 867 in 247Sports Composite).
Four receivers signed in the 2014 signing class, which is clearly a need with Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell set to expire their eligibility at the end of this season.
Another area of focus was the defensive line, as a total of four prospects are slated to join that unit. Junior college recruit Joe Keels and freshman Peyton Newell are two names to watch this preseason.
Byerson Cockrell, DB (East Mississippi Community College)
Recorded 33 tackles and three interceptions at East Mississippi Community College last season.
Zack Darlington, QB (Apopka High School)
Missed most of senior year due to injury. Rated as the No. 440 national recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite rankings.
Joe Keels, DE (Highland Community College)
Rated as the No. 43 junior college recruit by ESPN.
Potential Impact Recruits for 2014
Zack Darlington, QB
Tommy Armstrong should have the inside track to win the starting job, but redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and Darlington will have a chance to make their case for the No. 1 spot this preseason.
Tanner Farmer, OL
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Farmer has the necessary size to play as a true freshman. Even if Farmer doesn’t start, he could be a valuable piece of the two-deep on the offensive line.
Nick Gates, OL
Another potential future stalwart on the offensive line will likely factor into the two-deep.
Joe Keels, DE/Byerson Cockrell, DB
When you bring in junior college recruits, you don’t bring them in to sit on the bench. Expect Keels and Cockrell to find a place on the depth chart this year.
Drew Brown, K
Should battle to replace Pat Smith at kicker.
After finishing inside of the top 30 in the team recruiting standings from 2011-13, Nebraska slipped to No. 35 nationally in the 247Sports rankings. The slight drop comes after finishing No. 17 nationally in 2013. Is it a reason to panic? Not at all. As all college football fans know, recruiting rankings are an inexact science. The Cornhuskers wisely added players on the offensive and defensive lines, while offering spots to receivers who can help with depth in 2014 or an even bigger role in 2015. Most of Nebraska’s starting lineup next year is in good shape, so there may be only a few players from the 2014 signing class making an immediate impact.
On paper, this appears to be a solid all-around class by Nebraska. The Cornhuskers finished No. 6 in the Big Ten and signed 22 three-star recruits. There’s always room to improve, but Pelini and the staff added a group that will help Nebraska compete for the Big Ten West Division title in 2014.