Before the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Eugene, Oregon, to take on the Ducks, a lot can be learned by taking a look back at the last three recruiting classes fielded by both teams.
For objectivity, the recruiting site 247Sports was used to determine which team has been more effective on the recruiting trail over the past few years. The majority of the players who will be on the field Saturday were members of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes.
Both schools have seen coaching changes in the past three seasons, as Mike Riley is currently coaching his third season at Nebraska after replacing Bo Pelini.
In Eugene, Willie Taggert is one game into his coaching stint at Oregon after he replaced Mark Helfrich at the end of the 2016 season.
In 2014, under then-head-coach Mark Helfrich, Oregon finished with the 21st rated recruiting class in the nation. Notable players from the 2014 class who start for the Ducks are Royce Freeman, Arrion Springs, Mattrell McGraw, Tyrell Crosby, Charles Nelson, Jalen Jelks and Henry Mondeaux.
The Cornhuskers didn’t fair as well in 2014, most likely due to then-head-coach Bo Pelini being fired at the end of the 2014 season, which led to a few Husker commits deciding to follow Pelini to Youngstown State. Even with the addition of Mike Riley to the coaching staff, the Huskers finished their 2014 recruiting class rated just 35th nationally.
The 2014 Nebraska football recruiting class may not have looked as promising as Oregon’s did on paper, but some notable starters came out of it, including Tanner Farmer, Nick Gates, Jerald Foster, Mick Stoltenburg, Luke Gifford, Josh Kalu and Freedom Akinmoladun.
In 2015, Mike Riley’s first full season as the head coach, the Huskers recruiting class improved and ended up being rated as the 30th best in the nation. Notable players to emerge out of Riley’s first recruiting class are Eric Lee, Khalil Davis, Carlos Davis, Dedrick Young and Stanley Morgan.
In Eugene, the Ducks enjoyed another top 25 recruiting class as the Ducks finished with the 16th best class in the nation. Some notable Ducks to come out of that class are Jake Hansen, Jacob Breeland and Calvin Throckmorton.
The Ducks were in control of the more promising talent in 2014 and 2015, but in 2016 things went south for the Ducks. Oregon finished with a 4-8 record, which led to the dismissal of Mark Helfrich and the hiring of Willie Taggart.
It was certainly not out of the ordinary for Oregon to experience a “down” year in recruiting. The Ducks finished 2016 with a recruiting class rated as the 27th best in the nation, a step down from past seasons. Notable players who are already contributing from last year’s class include Dillon Mitchell, Justin Herbert and Troy Dye.
In Lincoln, Mike Riley continued to bring in more talent on the recruiting trail, which resulted in the Huskers 2016 recruiting class being rated as the 26th best in the nation. Notable Huskers already contributing early in their second season of college football are Lamar Jackson, JD Spielman and Tre Bryant.
The three year recruiting averages for both schools ended up being:
Oregon: 22 Nebraska: 30
The Ducks may have the advantage in terms of overall team talent, but the gap has certainly shrunk in past seasons. Oregon hasn’t been the same since Marcus Mariota took his talents to the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers have improved each season under Mike Riley, and the uptick in talent that Riley’s coaching staff has helped land will continue to bridge the talent gap between the two football programs.
Considering the circumstances (Oregon has more talent and is playing at home), Oregon deserves to be the favorite in Saturday’s matchup. But don’t be surprised if the game is close until the very end.