Recruiting battles made transparent tonight

IrishEyes.com looks at players on each team's two-deep that held offers from both schools, and then we delve a little deeper into the recruiting sagas that featured down-to-the-wire or head-to-head decisions between Notre Dame and USC.

That Notre Dame and USC attract the nation's top talent is no secret, and between the two schools, they have signed 121 four- and five-stars since 2009.

Because Notre Dame often dips into California in search of talent, the Irish and Trojans frequently cross paths on the recruiting trail, especially in recent years. Overall, 13 players on USC's two-deep for tonight's contest held Irish offers, and 9 players on Notre Dame's two-deep held offers from USC.

Notre Dame Players That Could be Trojans

Most recently in the 2013 class, Notre Dame freshman starting outside linebacker Jaylon Smith held an offer from USC (and just about every school in the country). He chose the Irish the summer before the February signing period over finalists Ohio State and USC. Nickel cornerback Cole Luke held a USC offer, but the Trojans were not a major player in his recruitment.

From the 2012 class, starting cornerback Keivarae Russell held an offer from USC, but it was Washington that provided Notre Dame the most competition. Offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley had a top 12 that included USC and gave brief thought to a USC official visit before giving his word to Notre Dame.

In 2011, the most memorable battle was for the services of Irish starting tight end Troy Niklas, who pulled a signing day surprise, choosing Notre Dame over USC and Stanford when many had him pegged as a Trojan. Niklas visited USC on Jan. 21, Notre Dame on Jan. 28, and he was the Irish's only official visitor the weekend before Signing Day.

"A lot of the stuff I like about Stanford and Notre Dame, I like about USC," Niklas told Scout.com during his recruitment. "I know people don't think about it, but USC has a very good degree."

Running back Amir Carlisle committed to USC over Notre Dame, though he opted to transfer to Notre Dame after his freshman season.

Also holding a USC offer from 2011 was former five-star tight end Ben Koyack. However, he opted for an early decision (April) and chose Notre Dame over Ohio State, fresh off a visit to South Bend.

Notre Dame starting running back George Atkinson III (2011) held an offer from USC, but he fell in love with Notre Dame early in the process and committed to the Irish in the summer.

Center Matt Hegarty (2011) was offered by USC, but the Trojans were a non-factor in his recruitment.

USC Players that Could be Irish

Offense

Starting left guard Max Tuerk (2012) of Santa Margarita Catholic considered the Irish, who recruited him as a tackle, but decided to stay close to home as an early decision commit (May).

It's got a great tradition, great academics, really good graduation rate," Tuerk said of Notre Dame. "The football team plays all the best teams in the nation. It's a great place to be. They were always on TV, and I turned them on whenever they were on."

Starting right guard Aundrey Walker of Cleveland, Ohio held an Irish offer, but Notre Dame was not among his top five.

Starting flanker Nelson Agholor of Tampa (Fla.) Berkely Prep had a top two of Notre Dame and USC before opting for the Trojans. Days before making his decision, he said this about the Irish:

"Notre Dame is known for its powerful degree and powerful program. Athletically and academically, they have high tradition. To think about being on the same field and wearing the same uniform as Tim Brown and other Heisman winners, you're attracted by that."

Former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis extended USC backup receiver De'Von Flourney his first offer, though the wide out from Van Nuys, California was set on attending USC after he was offered.

Remember in 2011, when Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly first took the reins, he directed much of his recruiting attention in the Midwest, East Coast, and Southeast, where his connections where. It wasn't until June did he look West, but even though he took his time doing so, he didn't blow off the rich recruiting ground in California. Kelly offered nine Californians that summer, including already USC commits at the time quarterback Max Wiffek and wide receiver Victor Blackwell of Santa Ana's Mater Dei.

Defense

Starting middle linebacker Hayes Pullard (2010) of Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw took his first official visit to Notre Dame, but he committed to USC in December of 2009, though Notre Dame was included in his top five.

In the 2013 class, backup middle linebacker Michael Hutchings of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and starting strong safety Su'a Cravens of Murietta (Calif.) Vista Murietta held Irish offers but did not seriously consider Notre Dame.

Starting free safety Dion Bailey of Lakewood (Calif.) High (2010) chose USC over Notre Dame in a head-to-head battle that ended in July of 2009.

Also listed as a starter at free safety is Josh Shaw of Palmdale (Calif.) High, who took an official visit to Notre Dame for the USC game in 2009 when the Trojans defeated the Irish 34-27. His top two were Florida and USC. Manti Te'o was one of Shaw's hosts on his visit.

"The second night Manti Te'o was my host," Shaw said. "He's a freshman starter and he doesn't have an ego or anything. He's a real cool dude and he just let me know that if I come to Notre Dame that I'd definitely have a family."

Second-string freshman cornerback Chris Hawkins of Rancho Cucuamonga (Calif.) High took an official visit to Notre Dame as a USC commit, but opted to stick with the Trojans in the end.

And, as we glance at the present, only one Irish commit holds a USC offer (Linebacker Richard Yeargin), and no USC commits hold Notre Dame offers.

Of the big-time targets left on Notre Dame's board, seven hold USC offers. Among those, Tyler Luatua, Damien Mama, Michiah Quick and Juju Smith will be watching tonight's game in the recruit section.

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