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The Jimmy’s and Joe’s: Riley versus Bo


In the 1990’s, Nebraska football produced three national championships, four Outland Trophy winners, numerous All-Americans and a 49-2 record at one point. During that time the Husker faithful would commonly rave about “the next great player” who was waiting in the wings ready to excel when his number was called upon.

Times may have changed for the Big Red but the practice of having a player capable of performing at a high level when another goes down or moves on certainly has not. Schools like Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Georgia and Notre Dame have dominated the recruiting trail over the last five years and have no problem keeping their depth charts stocked full of top tier talent that is ready to go.

Nebraska is no stranger to the concept of having strong depth but it’s certainly been a long time since that’s been a reality across the board. The 2016 season is an example of that when a key starter such as the quarterback goes down and the offense can turn into a shell of its former self as the backup comes in.

While the last few years of Husker football have been an eye-opening experience of what a depleted depth chart looks like, head coach Mike Riley has steadfastly worked to rebuild a strong roster top to bottom. When you look closely look at the prospects Riley has brought in, the talent behind their names begins to stick out when you compare it to recruiting classes of past.

Over the past two years, Riley has brought in recruits coveted by major programs and has begun to level the playing field with the rest of college football’s best teams, something that Nebraska has been searching for since Tom Osborne left the sidelines.

The difference in quality between Riley and one-time head coach Bo Pelini is quite staggering. Over the course of his first three years as Nebraska’s head coach, Pelini brought in 70 recruits that boasted 253 offers from major college programs. By contrast, Riley signed eight fewer recruits that had a total of more than 485 major offers.

Recruits Signed Total Major Offers Average Offers/Recruit
2008 (Pelini) 28 90 3
2009 (Pelini) 20 62 3
2010 (Pelini) 22 101 5
2015 (Riley) 21 129 6
2016 (Riley) 21 148 7
2017 (Riley) 20 208 10

What’s even more telling is comparing the level of schools that modern-day Nebraska is going up against for recruits versus those more prominent during the Pelini era.

Alabama — a school that wasn’t on any recruit offer sheets during Pelini’s time at Nebraska — showed up six times for Riley recruits as did Auburn, Michigan State, Texas and USC. Notre Dame and Ohio State offered five times total while Florida and LSU gave out four chances at a scholarship apiece.

That’s 48 total offers for Riley recruits going against some of the best in college football. Compare that to the recruits brought in under Pelini who had a total of 12 offers from those same schools.

Riley and staff continue pulling in major prospects during this recruiting cycle with offer sheets equally large as their 2017 counterparts, if not larger. It’s conceivable that the class of 2018 may actually average out to a number of major offers close to the last cycle’s with fewer total recruits.

It’s clear that to Riley is not just the X’s and O’s — It’s the Jimmy’s and Joe’s who make the real difference in rebuilding the future of Nebraska football.

Follow Brandon on Twitter (@eightlaces)

A member of the Football Writers Association of America, Brandon has spent over a decade reporting on and researching college football, both the sport itself and recruiting.



  1. Rick

    06/05/2017 at 7:55 pm

    Did you compare the numbers to Osborne Solich and Callahan? Callahan had a great class but several transferred and most did not DEVELOP.
    Osborne and Solich were fantastic at developing players. Maybe not the most stars but they got the most out of their players. Plus the players fit their system.. not a lot of concern about the next level. They concentrated on winning college football games
    The stats you have presented are impressive and I want NU to be on the map in the national stage. We need to reappear.
    Going into year three we still seem to have our starting line up dominated by Pelini recruits. That makes me skeptical of our recruiting. Aaron Green was a five star back according to rankings Ameer a three star who Alabama did pursue. Look what happened
    Even in the 90s with the knowledge of Oz we watched many walk ons play before 4 star recruits.
    So what I am saying is be careful judging a staff by recruiting stars. Those stars must hit and tackle for us (NU) to improve
    Time will tell

    • John

      06/15/2017 at 10:43 pm

      Rick, Brandon and I looked back and decided that a 6yr span was probably enough of a look back. I think that Callahan aligned with both coaches in certain aspects.

      Callahan knew how to recruit and tout the NFL background, he’s also a proven OL coach (see Dallas Cowboys line he was instrumental in rebuilding).

      Callahan’s downfall was never recruiting but rather a willingness to adapt to the college game and part ways with coaches. He also struggled to embrace the culture around Nebraska (in my opinion).

      Riley, so far, has proven to be hitting on all cylinders. He’s done a good job of building depth, improved recruiting, and truly embraced Nebraska’s culture. He’s, in my opinion the best steward of what Nebraska stands for. I think his only downfall is trying to turn Tommy into more of a passing QB. Was that Riley/Langsdorf doing or something from Tommy and an unwillingness to take the change and run with it.

      I won’t judge Tommy as he’s a college kid afterall but I think there’s certainly room to wonder if it was Riley’s inexperience using a running quarterback or if it was Tommy’s shortcomings as a passer.

      We will likely never have a good answer to that question.

      What do you think of Riley vs Bo?

  2. Jason Lee

    06/07/2017 at 6:57 am

    So, Pelini signed fewer recruits with fewer offers, yet won more games? Got it!

    • John

      06/15/2017 at 10:45 pm

      One could rightfully counter with Pelini left the cupboard quite empty for Riley in his first season which is what the article really hits on.

      Between that and the reports of his prior staff potentially meddling with players do you think it’s fair to evaluate Pelini’s 6 years versus Rileys 2?

      Curious as to your thoughts!

    • K. Fredericksen

      06/16/2017 at 4:58 pm

      If your suggesting that Bo was great at his job, and a great coach, and Riley isn’t you either are completely unfamiliar with the game or are so biased in Bo’s favor you have your head in the sand. In Riley’s first year we had 18 walk ons in our 2 deep while the next closest team in the country had something like 5, and Bo wouldn’t have come close to 9 wins in either of those seasons. That tells all one needs to know about Bo’s refusal to recruit talent, and the last 2 years are clear evidence of that, including the debacle we suffered last year where there weren’t enough warm bodies around to field a mediocre OL because nearly eligible player was walking around on one leg or sidelined altogether. Bo typically didn’t even begin recruiting for the February signees until about this time of year, whereas Riley is nearly finished with this years class – almost all highly talented kids.

      Nebraska will not set the CFB world on fire in 2017 but they will be very respectable and have a very decent chance to win the west. However, in 2018 and beyond they will be a very real force.

      • John

        06/16/2017 at 5:38 pm

        That’s exactly what this article speaks to and both Brandon and I agree with what you’re saying 100%.

        My comment above was more in response to is it fair to say Bo is better than Riley after just two seasons? One of which was beset by last minute losses and the other they found ways to win those close games.

        Riley has/had to restock the depth chart with talent. There were a lot of good guys that came from the Pelini era but without a dramatic change Bo was never going to eclipse his constant 2nd and 3rd place finishes in his sub-conference.

        Bo did highly respectable stuff at Nebraska with his overall record but at the same time he slowly divided the team against the fans and didn’t build depth. There never should be an “us against them” narrative when it comes to fans and the players as they want the exact same thing.

        Here’s to hoping Nebraska can stay the course and improve on 2016 and close out games like Wisconsin and give tOSU a run for their money.

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