Notre Dame’s list of what can be considered football rivals is large enough that usually, there is more than one elite team to contend with. In terms of 2017 recruiting, a few traditional blue bloods have again reached elite levels.
Since these teams often act as both rivals the Notre Dame Fighting Irish love to beat in football as well as measuring sticks the team is compared to, it makes sense to take a look at how these teams recruit too. Here’s a chart based on 247 Sports’ composite rankings comparing Notre Dame’s 2017 signing class to that of nine other traditional and frequently played rivals.
2017 Recruiting Class Rankings: Notre Dame and its Rivals
USC and Michigan are again recruiting at elite levels. Both schools benefit from success on the field; despite the disaster that was Steve Sarkisian’s tenure as head coach, Clay Helton turned the Trojans around last year. They finished 10-3, capped off by a thrilling win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. USC has immediately taken advantage of this success, along with both distant and not-so-distant legendary teams and a desirable geographic location, to land the fourth-best class in 247’s national rankings. This class is the best among Notre Dame and its rivals.
Michigan, one the other hand, has the second-best class in that group. With Jim Harbaugh at the helm leading the rapid rebuilding effort following the Rich Rodriquez and Brady Hoke years, the Wolverines signed the fifth-best class in the nation. Michigan’s class is led by five-star WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, the overall 12th best player according to 247. Often, Notre Dame and Michigan will battle over recruits, but Peoples-Jones is a Detroit kid and his recruitment was rarely in doubt. Michigan also received a late commitment from five-star DT Aubrey Solomon.
Notre Dame did lose out on four-star WR Oliver Martin to the Wolverines. Notre Dame and Michigan will renew their rivalry in 2018 and 2019, so this year’s class of Notre Dame signees will get to see first hand what the fourth-ranked class at Michigan can do.
The gap between Notre Dame and USC only widened as signing day closed and additional highly rated players chose the Trojans. That’s the difference between coming off a 10-3 season in Southern California and a 4-8 season in South Bend, Indiana, among other things.
Stanford signed a highly talented class, falling just below Notre Dame at 14th nationally, despite only consisting of 14 players. Stanford’s class is headlined by three five-star recruits: OT Foster Sarell, OT Walker Litte, and QB Davis Mills. The Irish lost out on four-star WR/CB Paulson Adebo to the Cardinal, as well. Due to the academic appeal and the fact that Palo Alto is in California, Stanford has become another direct rival for recruiting to Notre Dame.
Right below Stanford on this list are two schools with a few things in common; there is a coaching link, and they both seem to thrive with the type of classes they both signed this year. Under Mark Dantonio, Michigan State is known for taking three-star recruits and contending for the Big Ten title, even having made the College Football Playoff recently. Under Pat Narzduzzi, former defensive coordinator for Mark Dantonio’s Spartans, the Pitt Panthers seem to be trending in a similar direction. Michigan State is back on Notre Dame’s schedule this year, and Pittsburgh shows up in 2018 and 2020.
Boston College and Purdue find themselves near the bottom of the list, as they look to turn their programs around.
At the very bottom we find the service academies. I find it interesting; there really is no valuable way to effectively compare recruiting at any service academy school to schools like Michigan, USC or Notre Dame, as the situations are completely different. On one hand, recruits that head to Army or Navy (or frequent opponent Air Force) are, after all, signing up for active military service. It’s a completely different group of kids than other schools recruit. Both schools signed huge classes - 48 and 45 players respectively - and Navy even signed 19 three-star recruits. Even so, these teams still find ways to be competitive on the field with the blue bloods of the world. That’s a whole different story, however.