|Nebraska's DII schools thrive as Huskers struggle|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 12 November 2008 12:42|
As the Nebraska Cornhuskers struggle to regain their place among major college football's elite programs, the Division II teams in the state are thriving.
For the first time, three of Nebraska's four NCAA Division II programs are in the national playoffs in the same year. Pennsylvania is the only state that matches Nebraska's number of qualifiers, but the Keystone State has 15 D-II teams.
Coaches at Nebraska's small schools say they don't know how much longer their widespread success will last now that new Huskers coach Bo Pelini has put out the word that he's renewing the program's emphasis on in-state scholarship players and walk-ons.
``Every kid in Nebraska wants to be a Husker,'' Chadron State coach Bill O'Boyle said, stating the premise from which small-school coaches in Nebraska have approached recruiting since Bob Devaney led the Huskers in the 1960s.
talent pool in Nebraska is well-regarded, but in a state of 1.7 million, there is only so much to go around.
The Huskers, of course, get first pick, with the second and third cuts of players going out of state or Division II.
Division II playoff qualifiers Nebraska-Omaha, Chadron State and Wayne State - along with Nebraska-Kearney - have strengthened their rosters with a higher caliber of in-state players in recent years.
That's because former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, hired in 2004 and fired in 2007, de-emphasized in-state recruiting and scrubbed the come-one-come-all philosophy developed by Devaney and carried on by coaches Tom Osborne and Frank Solich.
The four D-II schools combined to go 33-10 this season.
Wayne State (9-2), located in northeast Nebraska, is a first-time playoff qualifier. The Wildcats play at Chadron State (10-1), in the northwest corner of the state, on Saturday.
UNO (7-3) travels to Kansas to play Pittsburg State (10-1).
Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers (6-4) play at Kansas State, hoping to improve their standing for a second-tier bowl bid and keep faint hopes for a Big 12 North title alive.
Of the 329 players at the three playoff-qualifying teams, 177 are from Nebraska.
flushed the walk-on program. There were a lot more kids available for us.''
Pelini was hired by the Huskers last December. By February's letter-of-intent signing day, there suddenly were fewer good Nebraska football players for the small schools.
Pelini signed six in-state scholarship recruits, not as many as Osborne signed in his heyday but four more than in 2007. Pelini also brought in 30 walk-ons, twice as many as Callahan did the year before.
``We lost three kids to Nebraska who would have been, no doubt, great players for us,'' Chadron's O'Boyle said. ``Whether they ever play down in Lincoln, I have no idea. I hope they do for their sake.''
Of the state's Division II programs, only Nebraska-Omaha offers the full complement of 36 scholarships, and its facilities are by far the best. Coach Pat Behrns said he typically has competed for players with FBS schools such as Wyoming, Colorado State and Iowa State and FCS schools such as Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and Northern Colorado.
The hiring of Pelini immediately changed the landscape, said Behrns, in his 15th season at UNO.
``The last recruiting season,'' he said, ``was the first time since I've been here that we signed more out of state kids than in-state.''