You may have heard that Ochaun Mathis recently chose Nebraska as his transfer portal destination. The school he didn’t pick, Texas, was the cherry on top of the situation and was a rare win for Nebraska football over Texas. The Huskers haven’t had much success in recruiting Texas since it left for the greener pastures of the Big Ten. The Big Ten’s green may have made the difference with reports of Mathis’s NIL deal to come to Nebraska. Texas played its part in driving Nebraska to the Big Ten with the most public battle happening in December of 2009.
Texas fans took the Mathis announcement as an opportunity to make fun of the state of Nebraska football. After all, Texas has been “back” multiple times over the last decade. It would seem like if Mathis wanted to win football games and make it to the NFL, he should head to Austin. But looking at the numbers since that fateful Big 12 Championship game reveals two programs with more similarities than differences.
The state of Texas is some of the most fertile recruiting ground in the entire nation. Critics of Nebraska’s move out of the Big 12 often cite this as a reason why Nebraska shouldn’t have left. Recruiting is an area that Texas has clearly outshined Nebraska since 2010. Texas has signed 17, five-star recruits in that time. Nebraska’s highest rated recruited, Aaron Green, was the second highest rated four star in his class. Three of Nebraska’s top five recruits were Texas natives including Green. The median Texas recruit had the same 247 rating as former Husker RB Adam Taylor, the Husker’s 47th highest rated signee since 2010.
Despite the large talent advantage on paper, Texas hasn’t transferred that into on field results. Texas has just one more win, in one more game played than Nebraska since 2010. Breaking opponents down into relative strengths, Texas has won more games against tier 1 opponents (finished season SP+ top ten) than Nebraska with wins over Oklahoma State in 2012, Oklahoma in 2015, and Georgia and Oklahoma in 2018. However, in 2016 and 2021 Texas lost to Kansas which finished each season as the worst P5 team by SP+.
Nebraska has struggled against high level competition since 2010. Its only wins against tier 1 opponents came in 2010 against Oklahoma State and in 2013 against Georgia in the Gator Bowl. While Nebraska has had some bad loses, none were as bad as the Kansas loses for Texas. The Huskers worst blunder was to Purdue in 2015 which was the 4th worst team in the P5 that year. I’ve written about how Nebraska play hasn’t always translated to wins. Using the stats from the game, Nebraska was expected to win about six more games than it did.
Texas strong recruiting winters haven’t given it an advantage over the Huskers in the fall, nor has it had much more success than Nebraska in the spring NFL Draft. After getting shut out of the most recent draft, Texas’s draft pick lead over Nebraska is down to just two players. Both schools highest pick came in the 2010 draft with Ndamukong Suh and Earl Thomas going 2 and 14, respectively. Texas does have a slight advantage in pick position with the average Longhorn getting drafted 28 picks ahead of the average Husker.
In the old ways of recruiting, Texas would easily continue to have an advantage over Nebraska. New factors are at play and Nebraska looks to be poised to take advantage of the changes. Casey Thompson, a former Texas player, said that the NIL opportunities in Lincoln are better than Austin. If the NIL opportunities allow Nebraska to narrow the recruiting gap with Texas, the Big Red might be the first ones to be back.