Matt Rhule and Huskers look to bring back a winning culture, starting with offseason recruiting.
After missing out on another bowl game last season, Nebraska is once again searching for answers to improve its football program this offseason.
New head coach Matt Rhule enters spring ball this offseason trying to restore a winning culture to the Huskers, after they finished with a 4-8 record. That marked Nebraska’s fifth straight losing season.
The drought is the longest losing streak for the Huskers since 1956-61. The last time the program made a bowl game appearance was in 2016 at the Music City Bowl.
Going into 2023, Rhule and Nebraska look to make a run at a bowl game. Rhule has rebuilt a program before. At Baylor in 2017, the Bears finished his first season with a 1-12 record, followed by an 11-3 record in his third season in 2019. A big step in the right direction for the Huskers is bringing in guys who could fit into Rhule’s system and can contribute whether that’s from the transfer portal or high school recruits. Nebraska took at least one step this off-season.
“Matt Rhule is a guy that does a good job developing young talent and guys that are raw prospects,” 247 analyst Brian Christopherson said.
It’s no secret that the Cornhuskers struggled on the defensive and offensive lines last season. They accumulated 21 total sacks, while on offense their line ranked No. 282 out of 295 Division I football teams in pass block efficiency.
The defensive and offensive lines may be the obvious positions Nebraska needs to address this offseason.
The Cornhuskers have big shoes to fill at wide receiver, with the departure of star wide receiver star, Trey Palmer who declared for the NFL draft. He led the wide receiving core last season in receiving yards with 1,043, along with nine touchdowns. The next closest receiver was Marcus Washington at 471 yards.
Looking at this Nebraska class, Rhule and his staff added a total of 39 scholarship players this offseason with 11 players from the NCAA transfer portal. The 2023 recruiting class ranks 24th overall according to both 247Sports and Rivals, while On3 placed the Huskers 29th overall. That includes nine defensive linemen.
Some of the standout recruits of this defensive line class are four-star recruits Princewill Umanmielen of Manor, Texas, and Cameron Lenhardt from Bradenton, Florida. Umanmielen accumulated for 130 tackles, 47 tackles for loss, and 21 sacks over the course of his final two seasons at Manor to earn a spot among the nation’s top 300 prospects according to Rivals,247sports, and On3. Lenhardt, listed at 6 feet, 3 inches, and 245 pounds, was part of a stout defense at the IMG Academy which forced 30 turnovers his senior season. He accounted for 21 tackles with 7 tackles for loss in his senior season and earned an invitation to the Under Armour All-American game.
“Princewill is a lethal pass rusher and he’s very raw right now with his best football in front of him,” Rivals.com Midwest analyst Clint Cosgrove said. “He’s listed as 6 feet, 4 inches, and 225 pounds but he looks taller and longer than that. He may even be thinner than 225, but he’s extremely explosive. He’s a kid that is going to be able to get after the passer which helps the defense as a whole.”
As for the offensive line, the recruiting class was very light with a total of six players, two players via the transfer portal. One theme that stood out was that four of the six recruits were from in-state. The standout recruit of this offensive line class is Gunnar Gottula rated as a four-star recruit by Rivals. He’s listed as 6 feet, 5 inches, and 300 pounds from Lincoln Southeast High School, where he was a first-team All-Nebraska Selection his senior season.
“The coaching staff went after all instinct players for the offensive line, with the importance of getting in-state recruits to protect up front for the Huskers was stressed,” Hail Varsity editor Brandon Vogel said.
As for this wide receiver class for the Huskers, they brought in seven total, including tight end Arik Gilbert with two other receivers also coming from the transfer portal.
“When you include Malachi Coleman and Demetrius Bell in this class, you’re getting some big-time players,” Cosgrove said. “Jaylen Lloyd and then obviously Malachi, the gem of the class, and that’s without mentioning Jayden Doss who was recruited by the old Nebraska staff.
Malachi Coleman is listed as 6 feet, 4 inches, and 185 pounds attended Lincoln East high school where he accounted for 561 yards on 17 receptions his junior season. Coleman is also a track star who finished second in both the 100 and 200 meters at the 2022 Class A Nebraska Track and Field Championships.
Jayden Doss is one of the underrated receivers according to Cosgrove, as Doss was one of the earlier commitments in the class and was seen as the best receiver in this class until Coleman committed. Doss put up some impressive stats during his time at Raymore-Peculiar High School, as he tallied over 2,000 career receiving yards along with 922 career rushing yards and 21 career touchdowns.
Comparing this 2023 class to Nebraska’s 2022 recruiting class, the Huskers brought in nine more players this offseason compared to the last offseason.
“This is probably the best job that they have done since the 2021 class,” Cosgrove said. “They had good guys in that class, but a lot of those guys did not necessarily pan out though. The 2020 class was highly rated, but it was a Covid year, so they didn’t sign a lot of kids even though it was a top 20 class. Just looking at the guys they have coming in versus those guys from past recruiting classes, these guys are rated a little bit higher. I think this is probably the best class that they’ve had maybe since Callahan.”
The results on the field have yet to be seen. But at least off of it, Nebraska has replenished its roster with some highly-regarded talent, to help get the program back on track.