Nebraska football has a massive problem in Luke Fickell

Wisconsin football coach Luke Fickell speaks to the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Clinic at the Easton Hilton on Feb. 3, 2023.
Wisconsin football coach Luke Fickell speaks to the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Clinic at the Easton Hilton on Feb. 3, 2023. /

The Nebraska football team probably suspected that Luke Fickell would be a thorn in their side, but he’s already proving to be a problem.

One of the things that has Nebraska football fans excited about Matt Rhule and his staff is the prowess they’ve had in recruiting since arriving in Lincoln. It’s allowed them to shoot up the rankings this year and it looks like they’re poised to shoot up the ranks next year.

Unfortunately, Nebraska football recruiting doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Plenty of other Big Ten coaches are trying their best to add talent to their squads quickly. Luke Fickell is one of those coaches. He’s having quite a bit of success of his own.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Fickell looks like a thorn in Nebraska football’s side. After all, he had a ton of success at Cincinnati. But he’s never had his own program like he does with Wisconsin. He didn’t have the resources, the name recognition or a team that was decidedly his in a Power 5 conference.

Now he does. And he’s using those new found advantages to make the Badgers a recruiting juggernaut in his first full recruiting cycle on the job. That’s a big problem.

One of the things Nebraska has had on Wisconsin since the Huskers joined the conference was an edge in recruiting rankings. We can argue all day and into the night about whether the class rankings were accurate.

We can also argue all day and all night on just how bad Scott Frost and company were at evaluating who should play and who shouldn’t. As well as developing the raw talent once it came to campus. But even during Frost’s leanest years, the Cornhuskers were outrecruiting Wisconsin.

That’s not the case in 2023. At least not by the margin. And there isn’t the consensus there once was.

Nebraska football and the Luke Fickell problem

Rivals currently has the Badgers as the 14th-best recruiting class in the country. Nebraska is 19th. 247Sports gives the slight edge to the Huskers with the 17th-best class, but Wiscy is right behind at 19th.

On3 also has Matt Rhule’s squad a few spots higher than Fickell’s (21st to 24th) but there’s also a long way to go before the 2024 class is locked in. Even if you want to shrug off the recruiting rankings in July, there are previous years to look at.

For the 2023 class, the Nebraska football team averaged the 26th-best class in the country across the three top recruiting sites. Wisconsin placed 54th. In 2022, a recruiting cycle where everyone knew Scott Frost was on his last legs, the Huskers finished an average of 41st in the country.

The Badgers, who had a successful head coach returning for another campaign for a Big Ten title, also averaged a 41st-place finish. And two of the three recruiting services had Wiscy finishing behind Nebraska football.

Wisconsin couldn’t out-recruit the Cornhuskers when the former was contending for titles and the latter was facing six straight losing seasons. Now Luke Fickell has turned that around in a matter of months.

Nebraska football has a problem. And Matt Rhule and company better be ready to be better at evaluating and developing than any of the previous staff over the last decade have been.