We've all watched as Brian Kelly has established a clear pattern of going all in on the USC game as a visit weekend for recruits. Obviously it's best if we win the game each time, but the recruiting value of making a big deal out of the game lies outside the game result itself, as odd as that might sound. If Kelly believes that the gameday atmosphere at Notre Dame is an advantage relative to other programs, it makes absolutely perfect sense that he would pick the one game that most electrifies the campus air to showcase that advantage to recruits.
Players who have already committed to ND are in italics; rankings are given as 247 Composite overall/position.
Ian Book, QB, #551/#19
Brandon Burton, S, #139/#6
Nate Craig-Myers, WR, #23/#2
Jalen Elliott, S, #580/#39 (ranked as ATH)
Damar Hamlin, CB, #151/#14
Daelin Hayes, WDE, #105/#9 (ranked as OLB)
Tony Jones, RB, #332/#13
Khalid Kareem, SDE, #194/#9
Julian Love, CB, #526/#44
Jeffrey McCulloch, OLB, #77/#6
Deon McIntosh, RB, #761/#50
Javon McKinley, WR, #116/#19
Ikenna Okeke, S, #525/#34
Spencer Perry, S, #505/#31
Troy Pride, CB, #705/#63 (Virginia Tech commit)
Kevin Stepherson, WR, #565/#92
Devin Studstill, S, #532/#35
Tommy Kraemer, OT, #43/#6
John Shannon, LS, NR/#1
David Adams, LB, #101/#3
Matt Bockhorst, OG, #294/#7
Jerron Cage, DT, #206/#14 (Ohio State commit)
AJ Harris, S, #189/#12
Cole Kmet, TE, #243/#6
Josh Lugg, OT, #170/#27
Derrek Pitts, DB, #181/#18 (ranked as ATH)
Isaiah Robertson, WR, #265/#41
Antjuan Simmons, OLB, #478/#32
Jedrick Wills, OT, #53/#9
Wow. I mean, wow. As noted above, USC weekend has morphed into Recruitapalooza - but this time around Kelly has really outdone himself. At least 17 official 2016 visitors, with seven in the top 200 in the 247 Composite rankings. At least 12 unofficial 2016 and 2017 visitors, with six in the top 200 of their respective 247 Composite rankings. It's a phenomenal collection of talented kids, and a good number of the guys are already committed and will actively recruit the others. Really a fantastic job done by Mike Elston as recruiting coordinator to pull all this together, and by the staff as a whole in getting this many talented kids in for one huge weekend.
As for the players themselves... We can't possibly update everyone here, but we'll hit the highlights. The biggest story is definitely strong-side defensive end Khalid Kareem, who decommitted from Alabama and is now giving the Irish a very serious look. He's a high academic kid whose parents have always appreciated Notre Dame, and he's also an early enrollee who will want to move the process along. If pressed to pick a dark horse candidate to commit this weekend, look no farther.
Staying on the defensive line, the next mover is Daelin Hayes, listed as an outside linebacker but being recruited by the Irish as a weak-side defensive end. It's been a fascinating ride (or a frustrating one, depending on your perspective) over the last few weeks with Hayes, who seemed ready to flip to the Irish, then signed financial aid paperwork with USC, then decommitted in the wake of Steve Sarkisian's dismissal. The Irish seemed to be in the driver's seat at that point, and they could still be, but Hayes has since scheduled his remaining four official visits and, at least for now, seems intent on taking them. Those other visits are to LSU, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.
There's far too much intrigue in his entire recruiting story to get into here, so I'll just leave it at this: Despite the recent developments Notre Dame is probably still in the lead, but you get the feeling the story won't really be over until the ink dries on his letter of intent. Stay tuned.
Nate Craig-Myers is the highest-rated visitor at #23 overall. I get the impression that his visit is more about "let me see what's really going on up here" than "maybe I could see myself here," but obviously you take your shot with him if you can. It's nearly impossible to imagine him going anywhere outside the South, probably either Florida or Auburn.
Californian Brandon Burton will probably stay out West, but just getting a visit from a Junipero Serra kid is a significant coup for the staff. Serra is a USC feeder school - even their logo is, ahem, borrowed from USC - and honestly it's a bit of a shock that the staff has been able to maintain communications with Burton and teammate Oluwole Betiku (who isn't visiting anymore but could reschedule for the football banquet).
Damar Hamlin is reportedly the top cornerback on the staff's board; unfortunately, as time goes on, he seems more and more likely to stay home and play for Pitt. That's a lot easier to stomach, though, than if he picked Ohio State - I can never fault a kid for feeling a strong pull to stay home. Going away for school isn't for everyone. This visit might be Notre Dame's last chance to grab the lead here.
Texas prospect Jeffrey McCulloch is a high-academic kid whose personality is a perfect fit for Notre Dame. He'll be tough to pull away from the Texas schools, most notably Texas and Texas A&M, but he'll be travelling with family and the Irish staff will get their chance to show the McCulloch camp what's different in South Bend. I'm very intrigued to see how his visit goes - he could become a front seven lynch pin.
Javon McKinley, who has been to Notre Dame twice on his own dime and is another great personality fit, is a tough read. The staff has done absolutely everything they possibly could here to make an impression, and it'll either be enough or it won't. As time goes on I have a growing hunch that he'll stay out west, although he has always said he intends to announce at the Army All-America game so it's not like his timetable is dragging out. Whatever the situation, his interest in Notre Dame is still very legitimate.
Deon McIntosh is a burner from Florida who has been in contact with Autry Denson for a very long time. Many expected him to pick Miami by default since his brother goes there, but it actually seems like Miami never got any traction with him despite some diplomatic public comments. West Virginia seems to have a substantial lead here, and I'm not sure how hard Notre Dame is pushing. McIntosh may be an alternative if Damian Alloway and Melquise Stovall (no relation) fall through.
Shifting to the 2017 class, David Adams is a name to watch. Again, it'll be tough to pull him away from the local school, in this case Penn State, but it was a big deal when he finally got his Notre Dame offer a couple of months ago. If we're looking at dark horse weekend commit candidates in the 2017 class, you could do worse. Worth noting that he's friendly with teammate Damar Hamlin and elite 2017 S Paris Ford, as well.
Jedrick Wills visited for Irish Invasion and will be back again on his own dime for this game. He'll no doubt be difficult to pull from his home state; he visits Kentucky constantly, and that relationship may be hard to overcome. Still, he had very good things to say about Harry Hiestand after Irish Invasion and his interest in Notre Dame seems genuine.
Ohio lineman Matt Bockhorst doesn't yet have an offer, which rubs some Irish fans the wrong way. I'm not really sure why - if there's one staff member who's earned the benefit of the doubt with everything he does in recruiting, it's Harry Hiestand. In any case, if the Irish decide to offer him they'll probably be in great shape no matter when it happens, so no need to rush.
Antjuan Simmons would be a fun pull if only because he's from Ann Arbor. Stick it, Michigan.