LINCOLN — Nebraska just posted its second straight 4-8 season. The school is located in the middle of the country, near few blue chip prospects, and its reputation as a college football power isn’t what it was two decades ago.
Scott Frost and his coaching staff still put together a 2019 recruiting class that, through the early signing period, is among the nation’s top 25 classes according to all three major recruiting services.
The national experts for two of those services, 247Sports and Rivals, agree that Frost and crew know how to win on the recruiting trail.
“How can you not be happy with it?” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports, which has NU No. 18 in its specific service and No. 24 in its composite service. “This is the kind of class that can spring Nebraska into the future.”
“For them to have a top 20 recruiting class right now, that’s a really good job,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals, which ranks Nebraska at No. 18 nationally and No. 3 in the Big Ten — ahead of Ohio State.
Farrell is also bullish on what Frost can do with a top-20 class.
“Scott’s a very good talent evaluator and a very good developer of talent,” Farrell said, citing some of the recruiting steals Frost landed at Oregon — where he was offensive coordinator — and Central Florida, his previous stop as coach, where he turned a 0-12 team into a 13-0 team in two years. What’s more, UCF posted another undefeated regular season — after Frost left — with a large dose of Frost’s recruits, including quarterback McKenzie Milton.
When Frost walks into a living room, Wiltfong said, he’s still able to point to his quick work at UCF and the program’s ongoing success. That’s probably helped in attracting top-shelf skill players like Wandale Robinson, one of the highest-rated players in NU’s 2019 class. Nebraska initially lost his commit to Kentucky in November — Frost even admitted he “gave up” on the process — before offensive coordinator Troy Walters and running backs coach Ryan Held kept plugging away, securing Robinson’s commit in early December.
“If you think a kid is good enough to help you right away, you hang in there,” Wiltfong said.
Rivals rates Robinson as a top 100 prospect. Nebraska typically signs one or two of those per year — in 2018, it was quarterback Adrian Martinez and running back Maurice Washington — and should get early production from Robinson, Farrell said.
“Get him the ball, get him some space, and let him do the rest,” Farrell said.
On signing day, Frost called Robinson a “new toy” for the Huskers’ offense. On his recruiting radio show, Frost said Robinson and current receiver JD Spielman blend well together with slightly different skill sets.
Farrell is also high on Omaha Burke linebacker Nick Henrich, a “skinny kid” who needs to gain weight but has excellent instincts for finding the ball and taking good pursuit angles to the tackle.
“You hesitate to say this name, but you see the tape and you think of Luke Kuechly,” Farrell said, comparing Henrich to the 6-foot-3 NFL star who arrived at Boston College as a mid-level three-star prospect and left the school as a Butkus Award winner.
Gilbert (Arizona) Higley’s Ty Robinson, Farrell said, is a versatile, top-flight defensive lineman who could start his career as a 290-pound end but may gain enough weight to move inside and become a 320-pound nose tackle. Though Robinson is 6-foot-6, Farrell said, more teams are using taller nose tackles, such as the Kansas City Chiefs with Chris Jones.
Offensive tackle Bryce Benhart, Wiltfong said, is one of the top recruits in the class. Nebraska won his commitment over Wisconsin and Michigan, among others.
There will be more Benharts around the Midwest in the 2020 class, Farrell said, noting top-100 offensive tackle Turner Corcoran, who has taken several unofficial visits to Nebraska in the last 12 months, and Andrew Gentry, another top-100 tackle out of Littleton (Colo.) Columbine High School. NU has offered multiple offensive linemen from Colorado for the 2020 cycle, including Gentry.
Expect NU to get a healthy head start on 2020 in January, Farrell said. And expect Frost to continue doing well on the recruiting trail, Wiltfong said.
“People respect him,” Wiltfong said. “It’s his alma mater. It’s not just a job. He wants Nebraska to do well. He’s invested beyond just the professional investment.”
NU’s top-rated signees:
Top 100: Bryce Benhart (247Sports, No. 64); Nick Henrich (247Sports, No. 88); Wandale Robinson (No. 98, Rivals). Top 250: Henrich (Rivals, No. 119); Wandale Robinson (247Sports, No. 117); Ty Robinson (Rivals, No. 146 and 247Sports, No. 180); Luke McCaffrey (ESPN, No. 146); Darien Chase (247Sports, No. 188); Benhart (ESPN, No. 250).
Four-star ratings: Henrich (Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN); Wandale Robinson (Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN); Ty Robinson, (Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN); Bryce Benhart (247Sports and ESPN); Rahmir Johnson (Rivals and ESPN); Luke McCaffrey (ESPN); Quinton Newsome (ESPN); Ronald Thompkins (ESPN and 247Sports); Chris Hickman (ESPN and 247Sports); Jackson Hannah (Rivals); Jamie Nance (Rivals); Darien Chase (247Sports).