The recruiting season has been fairly slow since summer ended but things are starting to pick up following the annual neutral site game, coaches visiting prospects during the bye week, and a star-studded visitor list showing up for next weekend's USC game.
There's a lot to discuss so let's get right to it.
1. Notre Dame had roughly 40 recruits in attendance this past weekend at AT&T Stadium for the Shamrock Series game against Arizona State, with a primary focus on prospects for the 2015 class. With the win it was another successful advertisement for the Irish program so did Notre Dame make any progress with recruits?
Eric: I think the progress isn't terribly legitimate in many cases as the coaching staff isn't able to speak with the recruits during the SS weekend and for some guys it's just a free ticket to a big college football game.
That said, it's still a great way to show recruits---particularly those in Texas and Louisiana where most of the visitors were from---that there's something special and unique about Notre Dame outside of the campus and all the mythology that comes with it. They get to see fun uniforms, the team on a big stage, lots of passionate fans, and it does a good job of balancing the sometimes staid image the program has to carry around. Crazy or not, you at least have to respect the coaching staff's effort in trying to make some headway in an area of the country Notre Dame hasn't recruited all that well over the past 15 years or so.
As long as they win (check) and come away with several recruits having peaked interest and planning on taking a visit to South Bend (check) that's a huge win in my book---even if you can't point to the game and say "Recruit X committed because of the Shamrock Series game." I don't think the game works like that, but serves a different purpose of getting a lot of high school juniors interested in the Irish but who were not familiar with Notre Dame beforehand.
Jim: You have to say yes here. It showed recruits that don't typically have much exposure to the Notre Dame brand just how national the following truly is. CBK and his staff are continuing to build on what the 2012 season started--get top recruits from all over excited about the possibility of playing for the Irish.
Much of this goes back to the initial installment of the Shamrock Series in San Antonio (2009). At the time, most fans were skeptical about the impact this could make on recruiting in the state of Texas. Since then, Notre Dame has signed Jalen Brown (2011), Cam McDaniel (2011), Nick Baratti (2012), Corey Robinson (2013), Torii Hunter Jr (2013), and Durham Smythe (2013). They also have one commit from Texas for the 2014 class in DL Grant Blankenship. That is huge progress relative to the Willingham and Weis years.
Looking at some of the other shamrock series games, one would likely conclude that it didn't hurt ND's chances at landing Ishaq Williams or Elijah Shumate (2010-Yankee Stadium) or DC area prospects like CJ Prosise, Doug Randolph and Devin Butler (2011-FedEx Field). I think the Shamrock Series has been pretty effective to date in aiding football recruiting, and needs to continue by branching out to other high profile locations. Future locations should try to include a site in Florida (Miami/Orlando/Tampa), Charlotte, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans.
2015 Shamrock Series Visitors of Note (Composite score in parentheses):
(TX) DT Daylon Mack (.995)- Offered earlier this month and definitely fits the nose guard profile for the Irish. He said Notre Dame is now in his top four following the game.
(TX) DE James Lockhart (.956)- Offered in late September and might project as a Cat linebacker in Notre Dame's scheme.
(TX) S Justin Dunning (.946)- Also offered in late September and has really good size at 6'3" 190 pounds.
(TX) RB SoSo Jamabo (.992)- The consensus top running back in the country said the game was "the most fun" he's ever had at a college game.
(TX) QB Nathan Elliott (N/A)- Lefty dual-threat quarterback hasn't picked up an offer yet but will stay in communication with the staff.
(TX) WR Carlos Strickland (.922)- Lanky athlete will probably pick up an offer from the Irish soon. He mentioned he could see himself fitting right in with the Irish offense.
(TX) DT Darrion Daniels (N/A)- Offered in mid-September and loved the way fans interacted with him during the game. Teammate of 2014 prospects Nick Watkins and Payton Hendrix--both of whom are high on ND.
(LA) DT T.D. Moton (.966)- One of the earliest offers in class back in early July, the Irish are in his top group with Alabama and LSU.
2. Outside of Texas and Louisiana who are some of the 2015 prospects that Notre Dame has offered and will have a good shot to sign in 16 months?
Jim: In addition to Moton and Mack (listed above), Notre Dame is in good shape early for a number of elite prospects. Consensus top QB Josh Rosen is interested in the Irish but will be a tough pull from the state of California. Depending on who ends up as the next coach at USC (and their offensive preference), Rosen could take a more serious look at the Irish.
Overall top TE Aliz'e Jones visited South Bend for the Oklahoma game. He was a teammate of current starting RT Ronnie Stanley and will give Notre Dame a serious look. Another top priority should be corner Iman Marshall, who is planning on attending a home game this fall and will make additional visits in the spring.
Based on the current situation relative to depth at linebacker, I don't see how Cincinnati St. Xavier prospect Justin Hilliard isn't at near the top of the staff's list. He visited for the Michigan State game this fall and attends the same high school as current WR/QB/Holder Luke Massa. He already holds offers from nearly 30 programs.
Eric: Well, Notre Dame is all up in Florida already for the 2015 cycle (~30% of offers in the Sunshine State right now) and I like that they've gone hard after American Heritage quarterback Torrance Gibson. He might still be a tough pull from the Hurricanes but I hope the staff keeps targeting hyper-athletic quarterbacks who can run the ball and Gibson fits the bill.
There's going to be a lot of pressure to sign Jashon Cornell. He's from Cretin-Derham, the Irish were in on his recruitment very early, and despite Michigan coming on strong in recent months he's still rumored to be a Notre Dame lean. He's exactly the type of defender I'd like to see the Irish keep stocking the defense with.
Beyond that it's still really early but Tristen Hodge is probably the one guy who is really leaning towards Notre Dame. An early tandem of Hodge and Jerry Tillery would be another great start to the offensive line recruiting and from there the staff could focus on recruiting a very well balanced roster as there aren't major holes anywhere on the roster.
Notable 2015 Offers:
- (CA) QB Josh Rosen (.995)
- (FL) QB Torrance Gibson (.984)
- (NV) TE Aliz'e Jones (.977)
- (ID) OC Tristen Hoge (.971)
- (MN) DE Jashon Cornell (.991)
- (OH) LB Justin Hilliard (.971)
- (CA) DB Iman Marshall (.990)
3. For the second time in three years Brian Kelly and his staff will be hosting a large contingent of recruits for the home night game against USC. The last time the Irish did this it sort of backfired on them with a poor showing against the Trojans. Do you have a lot of concern with that scenario playing out again?
Eric: I think there's a little bit of a concern just due to the fact that it's possible the Irish could lose the game and with so many recruits visiting at one time you're never sure exactly how they'll all interact with each other. A bad apple or two---who may not be there for all the right reasons---and the weekend can go south rather quickly.
However, this staff has shown they will learn from their missteps. Two years ago as many as 50 players were scheduled to visit and I believe nearly 40 made it South Bend. That effort had a bit of a wild west feel to it, plus it was rumored some players didn't get as much attention as they would have liked, and it was all exacerbated by the embarrassing loss to USC.
This year the visitor list is nice and trim (as of this writing there are expected to be 8 uncommitted recruits with 3 more committed to other schools) and it's a group the Irish are focusing very hard on being (mostly) realistic additions to the class. A couple years ago there were a handful of players Kelly & Co. were just trying to take a flyer on to get their foot in the door. This year it's a smaller group that Notre Dame is mostly all in decent to good shape with. I think that makes a huge difference in how the weekend shapes up. Now, they still have to win the game against the Trojans!
Jim: No, mainly because of the 2012 season. Year 4 for Brian Kelly and his staff is a lot different than halfway through Year 2. As Eric stated, the 2011 version of Recruitapalooza didn't work out as well as many would have hoped--and they have made plenty of adjustments to this year's strategy. By reducing the total number of visitors, the staff will be able to give more attention to all the prospects. An impressive victory will probably earn some style points, but all that matters is that Notre Dame wins this game.
USC 2013 Visitor List:
- (AL) ATH Bo Scarborough (Alabama verbal)
- (FL) WR Isaiah McKenzie
- (CA) ATH JuJu Smith
- (KY) DT Matt Elam
- (CA) TE Tyler Luatua
- (CA) ATH Michiah Quick
- (IL) LB Nyles Morgan
- (IA) WR Allen Lazard (Iowa State verbal)
- (TX) DB Nick Watkins
- (TX) DB Payton Hendrix
- (CA) WR Erik Brown (Washington verbal)
***Committed prospects Alex Bars, Justin Brent, Corey Holmes, Quenton Nelson, Greer Martini, Richard Yeargin, and Nic Weishar visiting as well.
4. High school football is slowly winding down and recruits are beginning to take their fall visits all across the country. We should see some verbals coming up over the next month, so who do you think jumps on board with Notre Dame next?
Jim: Things have been quiet on the recruiting front since camp opened (with the exception of the Elijah Hood decommitment). That should change soon. Notre Dame is looking at 7, maybe 8 spots left. Three or four will likely be filled by Thanksgiving. Most experts have Tyler Luatua on commit watch for the Irish. He is the composite top TE in the country (per 247 Sports).
Eric: I'll break it down into two lists. The guys who I think are on certified commit watch are Nick Watkins, Payton Hendrix, Isaiah McKenzie, Tyler Luatua, and Drue Tranquil. I wouldn't be surprised to see 3 of those 5 guys part of the program soon after the USC game---with Watkins, Hendrix, and Luatua being the overwhelming favorites at this point.
Lately, it's looked like West Virginia is beginning to overtake Notre Dame as the leader for McKenzie and the academic bug could end up biting the program here. It'll be interesting to see how his visit goes, though. If he begins to fade away the Irish will should really turn up the attention on Lazard and Quick to fill a third receiver spot.
Jim and I are both in agreement that we see Tranquil sticking with Purdue. If that happens, I expect Kelly & Co. to turn up the heat on Colorado athlete Kalen Ballage who would be a nice addition to fill numbers at middle linebacker. (Jim nods in approval at this proposal--CBK had pretty good success with another athlete from Colorado--Danny Spond)
The second list is guys who are not on commit watch but still in the mix: Thomas Holley, Bo Scarborough, Micaiah Quick, Lorenzo Carter, Matt Elam, Solomon Thomas, Andrew Williams, Nyles Morgan, Adoree Jackson, Allen Lazard, and JuJu Smith.
I wouldn't expect a verbal from any of these players until the football season is over. I think Elam, Morgan, and Jackson are at the bottom of this list in terms of likelihood to commit right now, but it's nice to see two of them coming to the USC game.
5. Who are the top targets left on the Big Board? Who should be the top priority for the staff over the next 4 months until Signing Day?
Jim: There are two main areas that need to be addressed in this class--DT and ILB. At DT, Notre Dame is in the mix for two guys--Matt Elam (KY) and Thomas Holley (NY). They are probably in better shape with Holley, as Elam might prove to be a tough pull from SEC country. With a good showing against USC (and the availability of early playing time), Elam might move the Irish up his list.
The linebacker situation is a bit more tenuous. The Irish aren't really in good shape for any of the big targets left. Nyles Morgan announced that he will visit for the USC game this week, but that might be more of a move to keep his family happy than anything else. Texas safety Payton Hendrix might be able to grow into a linebacker by 2015, but Bob Diaco could use another prospect ready to contribute.
Of the four players mentioned, Elam should be the top priority. With the likely departure of Louis Nix to the NFL, Elam can step right in and contribute for the Irish.
Eric: I think Jim nails the positions of need. Defensive line/pass rushers, inside linebackers, plus athletes should be the top priority as we inch closer to February.
On the line I'd be going after Thomas Holley and Andrew Williams with immense ferocity. They each fill a needed role (tackle vs. edge rusher) and I believe the Irish are capable of landing both of them. I agree with Jim that Elam should be a priority as well but I don't think he's as serious about Notre Dame as he is about Kentucky and Alabama. Hopefully his official visit changes things.
At inside linebacker the options have dwindled, at least in terms of star power. There's Morgan from Illinois but like Jim said he hasn't shown he's truly serious about the Irish. Beyond that it looks like Tranquil, Ballage, or trying to beef up someone like Hendrix, as Miesle notes. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that Notre Dame can flip Bo Scarborough and he's willing to play middle linebacker because he'd be exactly what the team need inside as an athletic, fast, and quite possibly an impact freshman.
6. Which players who aren't currently in the mix for Notre Dame do you wish the Irish could make a play for?
Eric: If we're talking about having anyone we want I'd love for Da'Shawn Hand, Myles Garrett, and Jalyn Holmes to be in the mix with Lorenzo Carter being more of a sure thing. I think the defense desperately needs fast-twitched defensive ends with elite pedigree and those are all top 50 national players who fit the profile I'm looking for.
I'll stay mostly on defense where I'd like impact players. I hope Matt Elam gets in the mix and I'd love to have Damien Mama come play nose guard. Raekwon McMillan and Dante Booker would be great additions at linebacker, plus Adoree Jackson and Jabrill Peppers could play as freshmen in the secondary.
I'd also like Elijah Hood to come on back. How's all that for unrealistic expectations?
Jim: Eric just wants all the players. ALL THE PLAYERS.
Based on pure need, it would be fantastic if CBK and company could make a big impression and get the top ILB Raekwon McMillan on campus for a game late in the year. McMillan is a pretty heavy Ohio State lean right now, but early playing time would be a big selling point (in addition to playing alongside Jaylon Smith for the next three years).