Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports looked at the recruiting makeup of college football's Top Ten teams, and found the usual combination of teams loaded with blue chippers (Alabama, Texas, Florida State) and those who are making do with less (Texas A&M, Louisville). He points toward geography as being a prime factor: having large numbers of recruits nearby makes it much easier to recruit. He then turned the conversation to Nebraska football.
Nebraska is a state with a relatively small population base, surrounded by other states with even smaller populations (Wyoming and South Dakota). The "500 mile radius" for schools like Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida, and Texas is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of potential recruits.
The "500 mile radius" of Lincoln is extremely sparse, relatively speaking. A CornNation review of the relative number of recruits surrounding Lincoln puts the Huskers in the lower 25% of division 1-A schools. That's why Nebraska tries to recruit nationally - to bring in talent from elsewhere because of the relative dearth of regional athletes.
Forde points out why that's becoming increasingly difficult to do.
Today, thanks to TV money and deep-pocketed boosters, all the power programs have great facilities. Nebraska doesn’t have anything special to sell in the Sun Belt, and those kids are too far removed from Lincoln to make all-important unofficial (unpaid) campus visits where the early recruiting foundation is laid.
It's not a Pelini thing. It's not a Solich thing. It's not a Callahan thing. Nebraska has to work harder and harder than ever before to recruit. Recruiting starts earlier and earlier than ever before. Prospective players visit campuses during the spring and summer prior to their junior year - paying their own way to do so. A tank or two of gas gets lots of players (and Mom and Dad) to Columbus, Ann Arbor, Austin, and Gainesville. It takes several more tanks of gas to get players to Lincoln...and a lot more time in the car. Or $300 per person plane tickets.
(It also works for the coaches to get out and see players...since coaches also have to spend more time and effort traveling to those distant recruits.)
But is this really terminal? I'm not so sure, because I do believe that Nebraska has some special qualities to sell potential athletes in terms of academic support. But the head-wind that Nebraska faces in terms of geography is very real and actually increasing as early commitments become more and more common.
What does that mean for the future of Nebraska football?