With Riley's first season officially in the books, the focus now shifts to how he and the coaching staff fare on the trail
No one could’ve guessed first-year Nebraska head coach Mike Riley signed up for the madness he's experienced thus far. First, there was scrambling to take over after a messy divorce between the administration and Bo Pelini, working to keep recruits committed and bring in his own crop to complete the 2015 class. Fair enough, new coaches are used to that.
Now his initial season is the books at 6-7 and its heartbreak will be part of Big Red lore for years to come. The good news is bringing in players to help the transition moving forward has gone relatively well.
Riley kept six recruits out of seven committed to Pelini’s regime on board. He also brought on players that made an immediate impact in 2015 such as running back Devine Ozigbo and linebacker Dedrick Young.
The train continues to roar down the tracks as Nebraska has locked up stud quarterback Patrick O’Brien, coveted safety prospect Marquel Dismuke and is in good shape to claim one of the best offensive line hauls in the nation.
Unfortunately, Nebraska’s experienced a lull when it’s come to commitments lately. The momentum shift has Riley backers and critics alike demanding answers, especially with two recent prospects (linebacker David Reese and safety Markell Simmons) choosing to play elsewhere.
A couple of things are contributing to this. First, Nebraska’s 2015 record obviously plays a role when a school on the upswing like TCU (the school Simmons chose) beats out the Huskers.
Another reason – an even more powerful one – is that one of Nebraska’s powerful tools has been turned into at least a temporary negative.
Big Red fans have earned the title of the “greatest” in college sports. This is a shared belief among other schools’ fans all the way up to pundits and sports administrations across the country.
You can imagine how bad it sounds when the batch of spoiled apples from such a passionate group of people are denouncing a first-year coach as loudly as several Big Red backers have been in 2015. It’s an easy negative recruiting topic to use.
Nebraska fires a coach in Pelini that won nine games for seven years (their actual difficulty up for debate) and now a chunk of the fan base isn't keen on the new guy and some want him out on his rear before year one is in the books.
The good news is that Riley has his own players moving forward. Ones who’ve been able to work within his system on the scout team and those players that got to see time this season. He also won’t be putting up with those who don’t buy in. They will be escorted elsewhere shortly.
Between now and January, there are a handful of recruits that the Big Red needs to wrap up. Offensive Tackle Matt Farniok has visited Lincoln so many times already, it’s a surprise he doesn’t already have a locker. Former Louisville commit Desmond Fitzpatrick would be absolutely deadly in Riley’s offense. Lamar Jackson is the type of athlete at defensive back that has other players working extra hard to hold onto their spots.
These three would get Nebraska that positive momentum back for a solid 2016 class.
From Riley’s arrival to now, he gets solid “A” for what he and his staff has done in their recruiting efforts. That very well could start sliding if Nebraska can’t lock up some of these major prospects high on their board.