Drifting Apart?

Notre Dame vs. Michigan may be ending on the field, but is it truly declining on the recruiting trail?

It has been pointed out nationally this week that Michigan and Notre Dame have seemingly gone their separate ways on the recruiting trail. Sure, they'll go head-to-head for a couple of prospects, but the general trend is that the two schools focus on different regions of the nation to recruit.

So far in 2014, Notre Dame has 16 commitments. The states representing the class include Florida (2), New Jersey (2), Ohio (2), and California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia each have one.

The diversity is nothing new for the Irish.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly took the reins in 2011, and since then, the number of states with one Notre Dame signee represented in the class adds up to be a greater total number than the state with the most represented signees. The deepest Kelly has gone into one single state in a single recruiting cycle? Four. (Florida 2013, Ohio 2011).

The states with the most Notre Dame signees between 2008 and 2013 are: Ohio (15), Florida (14), California (13), Indiana (11), Illinois (8), Texas (8), New Jersey (7), North Carolina (7), Pennsylvania (5), Georgia (4), and Kentucky (4).

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On the other hand, Michigan and Ohio have been kindest to Michigan head coach Brady Hoke… and it's not even close. In his first class, 2012, 18 of the 25 signees were from either Michigan (nine) or Ohio (nine). In 2013, 17 of the 27 signees were from Michigan (eight) or Ohio (nine).

Contrast that to Notre Dame: Through 2008-2013, there have been as many Notre Dame signees that hail from bordering state Michigan as Hawaii (three).

Brady Hoke is no doubt recruiting well. Michigan is garnering attention for its ability to recruit on a national scale right now. But, I think the "national feel" being associated with the Wolverines' current success on the trail is being overblown.

Michigan has 16 commitments in 2014 and already in six in 2015. Of the 16 in 2014, here are the numbers in terms of state origination: Michigan (4), Ohio (2), Florida (2), Maryland (2), New Jersey (2), and Illinois, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia each with one.

Of the six in 2015, three are from Ohio, while Florida, Kentucky and Pennsylvania each have one.

Comparing those states with states of the past, Florida is really the only overwhelming outlier of success. Even so, Michigan is expanding where it recruits, even if it's not winning all the battles in year three of Hoke's rein. Michigan is certainly becoming more popular in Florida, and whether that's a fad or something here to stay, only time and success on the field will tell.

So while the current trend and popular analysis is that Notre Dame and Michigan will part ways on the trail, and despite claims that Michigan is now "national" are exaggerated, I still think the battles are only going to intensify. We may not see it right away, but if Michigan continues to pick up steam nationally, and a glance at Florida and even California indicate it's possible, the regional battles between schools may not increase, but battles for the likes of players such as 2014 five-star safety Juju Smith of Long Beach, California, who has official visits scheduled to both Michigan and Notre Dame this fall, may multiply.

Irish recruiting coordinator Tony Alford's recent success in Florida and Notre Dame's plethora of offers out in the Carolina's aren't a direct result of Notre Dame's (half-way) jump into ACC competition. I think Notre Dame's new connection to the ACC is being played up entirely too much. Notre Dame is going to do what Notre Dame wants to do in terms of recruiting. It will use its national prowess to pull kids from everywhere.

The Irish will always look to pull the best out of California, Texas and Florida, but they won't neglect Ohio or the Catholic schools in the Northeast. Michigan will continue to try to build a wall around Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, while riding its current train of momentum in Florida.

Battle Lines Saturday -- On and Off the Field

But, Michigan and Notre Dame will always be in contest for a few marquee guys in the Midwest despite general trends and the ending of the series. They're both national powerhouses and they're bordering states, end of discussion. All you have to do is look at the 2015 class, and for that matter, no further than Saturday night.

That's when No. 17 Michigan will host No. 14 Notre Dame, and the Big House will feature many of Michigan's top prospects. Junior prospects expected to be in attendance that hold both a Notre Dame and Michigan offer include linebacker Justin Hilliard (Cincinnati, Ohio) and defensive end Jashon Cornell (St. Paul, Minnesota). Both will end up being major targets for each school, and both will also visit Notre Dame in October when the Irish take on USC (which will be a defining weekend for Notre Dame's close to its 2014 recruiting class, full list of prospects visiting click here).

Cornell, the No. 6 ranked defensive end in 2015, currently has Michigan and Notre Dame as the two schools atop his long list.

"Both of their coaching staffs are great," Cornell said. "They know what they're doing and they're building great recruiting classes. One offer doesn't mean more than another. I probably know more Michigan fans here in Minnesota, but Notre Dame is all over the country recruiting. You know an offer is a big deal from them because they don't necessarily care where I'm from."

The differences between Notre Dame and Michigan for Cornell rest in campus.

"I think of Notre Dame's campus as one big area, and you don't really leave campus," Cornell said. "You play football, learn from the coaches and get your education. Michigan has more of a college town. There are different feels to both."

"I would say that I like Michigan's campus better, but I like what Notre Dame can offer me academically better," Cornell said.

Hilliard, the No. 6 ranked outside linebacker in 2015, plans to release a top eight in the near future, a list that will include both Notre Dame and Michigan.

Hilliard pointed out the different recruiting pitches he's hearing from Michigan and Notre Dame.

"They (recruiting pitches) differ slightly," Hilliard said. "Michigan is coming with the approach that their 2015 class is going to be one of the best in the nation. Notre Dame is telling me how high in demand my position (middle linebacker) is."

"There are differences in Coach Kelly and Coach Hoke, too," Hilliard said. "Coach Kelly is more down-to-earth. Coach Hoke is also, but he is fierier."

Who wins Saturday night?

"In a close one, Michigan wins because they're at home," Cornell said.

What about all this rivalry talk – is it one?

"I don't really look at it as rivalry," Hilliard, age 16, said. "I just haven't seen it that way."

When Hilliard does decide on a school, he named three primary criteria for his decision.

"How comfortable I am, how the academics are, and if the team can win a national championship…"

And both Notre Dame and Michigan are on track to be national championship contenders?

"Oh, definitely," he said.

As long as recruits believe Michigan and Notre Dame are the upper echelon of college football, unlike the series, the recruiting battles will not fall to wayside.

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