Devine Ozigbo spent his career atNebraska toiling for the opportunity he finally got in 2018. Thanks to the Sachse, Texas, native the Cornhuskers can once again claim a 1,000-yard rusher — their first since 2014. Following junior college transfer Greg Bell’s departure, Ozigbo essentially became the leader for the Huskers’ offense that linebacker Mohamed Barry was on defense. Not only that, he was the perfect complement to Maurice Washington’s slash-and-dash style providing a more powerful, physical threat.
While Ozigbo looks ahead to the 2019 NFL Draft, Scott Frost is now tasked with replacing a rather significant hole in the Nebraska backfield. It appeared that another JUCO transfer would do the trick. Dedrick Mills out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College is in a similar mold — both in terms of size (5-11, 227) and running style — as Ozigbo. Starting out his college career with 771 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman at Georgia Tech, Mills certainly seems like an ideal roster addition. Unfortunately, his status is now up in the air forcing the Huskers to line up contingencies just in case he doesn’t make it to Lincoln — not unlike fellow 2019 class commit Desmond Bland.
Frost is hot on the trail of John Bivens, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound prospect out of Dayton, Ohio. Despite how talented Bivens may be now, he lacks the experience Ozigbo — or even Mills — has. If things don’t clear up with the former Yellow Jacket, Nebraska may go to the well that brought them former starting safety Tre Neal: graduate transfers.
There are a handful of backs available as of this writing that boast some seasoning to their careers and more will likely be joining them as the weeks go by. Here are a few names Husker fans should watch for as potential replacements for Mills should the need arise:
Sihiem King, Kentucky
Nebraska already stole Kentucky’s best 2019 high school prospect – and one of the nation’s elite – from the Wildcats in all-purpose back Wandale Robinson. They might as well entertain dipping into the Bluegrass State again for King.
He’s quite a bit smaller (5-9, 172) than Ozigbo. However, he would provide even more speed to a backfield that already includes the aformentioned Washington. We could see Robinson and receiver JD Spielman lined up next to quarterback Adrian Martinez as well offering an extremely challenging matchup for defensive coordinators. Of course, losing the power aspect from the 2018 season wouldn’t be ideal for Nebraska. Then again, if the Huskers keep defenses sucking wind, that might not matter.
Trey Smith, Louisville
Smith is much closer to a replacement for the former Nebraska big back in terms of size (6-0, 225), a near replica physically. His carries and influence for the Cardinals increased as the years went by as he more than doubled his career yardage during his junior season in two fewer games (seven versus nine). With 50 carries for 263 yards (7.4 ypc) and four touchdowns, he shows the potential to provide at least a portion of Ozigbo’s physicality.
Derrick Clark, California
Clark also offers more of what the Big Red is looking for in an Ozigbo role, standing an inch taller (5-11) and weighing all of five pounds lighter (220). Unlike King or Smith, the San Diego native will have a remarkable three years of eligibility left. His addition would help solidify the one-two punch of a power back and a speed demon in Nebraska’s offensive backfield while allowing new recruits to develop in the strength and conditioning program.
Brandon Stephens, UCLA
A Texas boy like Ozigbo, Stephens checks in at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, giving him more height and perhaps a little more wiggle than No. 22 had. A former four-star recruit, Stephens will have two years of eligibility left and claims a 3.0 GPA, so there should be no academic issues when it comes getting him on campus. He could end up being a happy compromise between Ozigbo’s punishing running and Washington’s quickness.
Emmanuel Esukpa, Rice
Esukpa could end up being the proverbial diamond in the rough of this grad transfer running back class. Not only does he have a similar build as Ozigbo, he's actually a touch stouter (5-11, 232). A prospect out of Mansfield, Texas, Esukpa is a regular bowling ball and has the extra gear that Ozigbo showed off on several occasions this past season. The biggest concern is how he’d hold up against the rigors of playing in a Power 5 conference, let alone one as physical as the Big Ten.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.