LINCOLN — This is a big weekend for the Nebraska football program, and not just because the Huskers open the Big Ten Conference season against Wisconsin on Saturday night.
It’s also big because the Huskers will host around 20 potential recruits who will get an up-close look at the tunnel walk, the alternate uniforms the players will wear and the excitement of playing in front of 85,000 fans.
The Huskers have 14 known recruits, and several of them will be on hand Saturday night.
“We have a pretty large number of commitments at this point for us,” coach Bo Pelini said. “Our commitments all wanted to come to this game and piggy back that on to some other guys who wanted to visit this weekend, so it’s going to be a busy weekend recruiting-wise.
“It should be a good atmosphere, and I’m anticipating that the fans will be excited. It’s a night game and with everything involved, the fans are going to be pretty juiced up for this one. It should be a good time to have a lot of recruits in.”
Pelini’s most immediate concern is getting a win against the Badgers. He’ll be going about his coaching business for the most part, but he’ll have his support staff to help show the recruits around and make sure that they have a good visit in Lincoln.
Pelini said new recruiting coordinator Ross Els, a former head coach at Hastings College, has done an outstanding job. Recruiting is the life-blood of the program, and a coordinator who stays on top of things is a must.
That’s what Els does.
“You can’t just say ‘OK, the guys we’ve evaluated up to this point, that’s it,’” Pelini said. “You have to continue on there and keep looking to guys and keep turning over every rock and pushing through, not only with the guys who aren’t committed, but even making sure we keep in contact and keep our relationships and keep the committed guys committed. There’s a lot of work involved with that.”
One of the important considerations for a program is deciding what areas of the country to target. The Huskers have had good success in California, Texas and around the Midwest. Ohio has been pretty good for the program as well.
The East hasn’t been so kind. That’s why Pelini and his staff are evaluating what areas they should target.
Pelini said before the Huskers entered the Big Ten that he wasn’t sure how the move would affect his recruiting. He still isn’t sure.
“We’re compiling a lot of data and using that data to figure out if we have to adjust our approach going forward,” he said. “We’re already starting to adjust our approach on limiting some areas that we haven’t had a lot of success in and taking our guys and putting them into places where we’ve had success in. We’re going to continue to study that in the years going forward as time passes.”
Current players can be a big recruiting tool for the program, particular the stars like Rex Burkhead. The senior I-back has helped host prospective recruits many times.
“I hosted Kenny Bell and we just played ‘Call of Duty’ all night,” Burkhead said.
Burkhead knows that he might be able to sway some players to join the program and he and his teammates are happy to help anytime they can.
“Anytime we’re available for that, you know we’re more than willing to,” Burkhead siad. “That’s kind of our way of giving back to the program. It’s my senior year, so just helping the program to get players in here to continue their tradition of excellence is something I try to do.”
Who’s the I-back?
Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross all saw action at I-back this past week. Cross had the most carries among the group with 12 for 100 yards. Burkhead had eight for 119 and Abdulah 8 for 49.
Starting left tackle Brent Qvale said the offensive linemen don’t care who carries the ball.
“Half the time we don’t even know who’s back there running the ball,” Qvale said. “We’re going to block the best we can and execute the best we can. We know whoever they hand the ball off to is going to do the best they can to gain yards for us.”
Pelini: Uniforms don’t matter
Much has been made about the alternate uniforms the Huskers will be wearing. Pelini has made it clear that he doesn’t care what the uniforms look like.
“I’m concerned about how the guys in those uniforms play,” he said. “I’m not concerned with what they line up in.”
Pelini was asked if he believes you will play better if you look better.
“No. Taylor is back there (at the press conference) and he hasn’t looked good since I’ve gotten here,” Pelini said with a laugh.
Abdullah breaks one
After several close calls this year, Abdullah finally broke a punt return for a touchdown against Idaho State.
Abdullah picked up a bouncing Bengal punting on the NU 19, broke toward the right, then cut back across the middle then broke it back down the sidelines and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone 81 yards later.
“It was nice,” Abdullah said. “It gives more motivation for the season. Guys saw that we can take it to the house. Guys are going to block harder and I’m going to run harder. I’m going to go out there with the attitude that we’re going to take it to the house every time.”
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Indpendent.