Irish State Rankings

The addition of South Oak Cliff (Dallas), Texas safety Prentice McKinney to Notre Dame's 2015 recruiting class gives head coach Brian Kelly his 10th pledge from the state of Texas since taking control of the program in December 2009. Which states have provided the best collection of talent for the 2014 Irish? Which states could rise or fall in those rankings by the end of 2015.

Including incoming freshmen and fifth-year transfer Cody Riggs, Notre Dame has 84 scholarship players inked for the upcoming season.

A remarkable 27 states are represented therein, with 16 producing multiple Irish and 10 sending four or more competitors to South Bend to attend the university.

Below is a ranking of Notre Dame's top producing states -- solely for the 2014 campaign -- with thoughts and additional rankings for the near future included.

#1 for 2014 -- Indiana

The state's overall talent level has always paled in comparison to powerhouses Texas, Florida, California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (and many others), but Notre Dame has put a recent monopoly on Indiana's top players including nine on the 2012 squad -- six of whom played a crucial role -- that played for the national championship.

Among the seven 2014 Indiana Irish below are three certain starters, a crucial reserve (that would start if healthy), a surging junior, and two freshmen that will likely force their way onto the field.

By the numbers (7): Tony Springmann, Nick Martin, John Turner, Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Justin Brent, and Drue Tranquill.

Ranking for 2015: With no certain losses (Martin is assured of a fifth-year, so is a healthy Springmann), the Hoosiers should still rank No. 1 or No. 2 pending the progress of the Texas 7 (below) and a certain tandem of Floridian ball carriers over the next 17 months.

Notable recent losses (graduation, transfer, etc.): Tyler Eifert (2012), Braxston Cave (2012), John Goodman (2012), Gunner Kiel (transfer 2013), Daniel Smith (2013), Zack Martin (2013).

Final Thoughts: Smith could be the best player on the 2014 Irish while Day, Martin and Springmann rank among the most important. Turner seems to have found his niche in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme while both Brent and Tranquill will likely earn time a rookies.


Smith is the latest Hoosier State star to develop in South Bend

#2 for 2014 -- Texas

Ex-Irish head coaches Bob Davie and Lou Holtz regularly pulled top talent from the Lone Star State with Davie garnering both big numbers and quality players, and Holtz landing (most notably) one of Notre Dame's all-time greats in safety/cornerback Bobby Taylor (1992-94).

It should be noted that Gerry Faust (1981-85) earned the pledge of Notre Dame's greatest Texas talent -- and maybe its greatest overall talent -- 1987 Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown.

By the numbers (9): Cam McDaniel, Jalen Brown, Nicky Baratti, Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter, Durham Smythe, Grant Blankenship, Nick Watkins, and Kolin Hill.

Ranking for 2015: As high as No. 1, as low as No. 3. The program's most recent pledge Prentice McKinney joins the fray though McDaniel exhausts his eligibility.

Baratti, Robinson, Hunter, and Smythe are all potential 2015 starters while the freshmen trio of Blankenship, Watkins and Hill are three to be watched by this time next year.

Notable recent losses (graduation, transfer, etc.): Kapron Lewis-Moore (2012)

Final Thought: A quick glance at the "Recent losses" category above shows the recent in-roads made by the Kelly regime and key Lone Star State recruiter, Irish secondary coach Kerry Cooks.

As many as six Texans should make a major impact on Notre Dame's two-deep with McDaniel and Robinson the headliners and Smythe, Hunter, and Baratti all potential "Next Men In" as the season progresses.

#3 for 2014 -- Florida

Talent gained and sometimes later lost has defined Kelly-era recruiting efforts in Florida.

By the numbers (7): Anthony Rabasa, Mike Heuerman, Michael Deeb, Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, Corey Holmes, incoming transfer Cody Riggs.


Folston (above) and Bryant are Notre Dame's backfield of the present, and future

Ranking for 2015: As high as No. 1 and no lower than No. 3. Bryant and Folston are future/current starters and both Heuerman and Deeb should move into crucial roles by '15 while lending relief this fall.

Notable recent losses (graduation, transfer, etc.): Aaron Lynch (2012 transfer), Justin Ferguson (2013 transfer), Louis Nix (2013), Zeke Motta (2012)

Final Thought: A tight end, two running backs, and a wide receiver over the last two recruiting cycles. Skill talent from the Sunshine State is always welcomed and in that Heuerman/Bryant/Folston/Holmes quartet, Notre Dame has collected prospects at each ball-handling position outside of the offense's triggerman.

The addition to Riggs arguably pushes this group ahead of Texas.

#4 for 2014 -- Illinois

From the seven below, only two (freshmen Nic Weishar and Nile Sykes) are unlikely to see (significant) playing time in 2014. Incoming five-star linebacker Nyles Morgan ranks as the program's top defensive recruit from its western neighbor since linebacker Darius Fleming (2008).


Morgan has a chance to start next September

By the numbers (7): Christian Lombard, DaVaris Daniels, long-snapper Scott Daly, Colin McGovern, Nic Weishar, Nile Sykes, and Nyles Morgan.

Ranking for 2015: Should Daniels return for a fifth season, Morgan develop as expected, and Weishar and/or McGovern work into a solid two-deep role, the Prairie State collection should remain ranked among the top six in South Bend.

Notable recent losses (graduation, transfer, etc.): Chris Watt (2013), Tommy Rees (2013).

Final Thought: A certain starter in Daniels, a likely starter despite injury problems in Lombard, and potentially the most important addition among Notre Dame's 24 incoming competitors in Morgan. There's top tier, two-deep, and down the road quality among the Illinois 7 for 2015.

#5 for 2014 -- Pennsylvania

Quality, not quantity, from the Keystone State on hand for Kelly's 2014 Irish.

By the numbers (3): Will Fuller, Mike McGlinchey, and Ben Koyack

Ranking for 2015 and beyond: A slip with the loss of Koyack and no numbers in the pipeline though both Fuller and McGlinchey could be top 20 Irish players by the end of '15.

Notable recent losses (graduation, transfer, etc.): None of impact since Darrin Walls (2010 graduate). Walls was recruited to South Bend in 2006, so "recent" is a stretch.

Final Thought: Pennsylvania sits a few clicks behind its former status among the nation's top talent-producing states, but Notre Dame's lack of overall numbers over the last 10 seasons is notable nonetheless. Pennsylvania will fall out of the Irish top 10 talent producers if more players aren't accrued over the next two recruiting cycles.


Koyack came of age last October

#6 for 2014 -- North Carolina

Two of Notre Dame's top 10 defensive players of the Kelly era -- Robert Blanton and Prince Shembo -- grew up on vinegar-based BBQ before settling in South Bend. (Both were recruited by the previous regime.)

By the numbers (5): Kendall Moore, Matthias Farley, Ben Councell, Romeo Okwara, and Mark Harrell.

Ranking for 2015: Likely to drop, at least pending the fifth-year futures of Councell and Farley. The recent pipeline has hardly dried up, but no Tar Heel State competitor has pledged Irish since Okwara and Harrell in 2012.

Notable recent losses (graduation, transfer, etc.): Robert Blanton (2011), Prince Shembo (2013)

Final Thought: Okwara should start, Moore and Farley should play often and in multiple roles (special teams, base defense, special packages), and if in good health, Councell will be one of Notre Dame's 20-plus contributing defenders by mid-season with a chance to move back into a regular rotation role as 2014 progresses.

#7 for 2014 -- Ohio

High on potential, low on past game day production entering 2014.

By the numbers (9): Jarrett Grace, Eilar Hardy, Chase Hounshell, Will Mahone, Jacob Matuska, Malik Zaire, Jimmy Byrne, DeShone Kizer, Daniel Cage.


Kizer one of four freshmen from Ohio for 2014

Ranking for 2015: As high as No. 4. But in the present, five from the nine have never played a down in South Bend and it's safe to assume at least two (and as many as six) won't this fall, either. Hounshell and Mahone have been dogged by injury since arriving in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Notable recent losses (graduation, transfer, etc.): Dan Fox (2013), Taylor Decker (2012 de-commit, attends and starts at Ohio State). Luke Massa, Alex Welch and Andrew Hendrix each graduated from Notre Dame but did not return for a fifth season, with Welch and Hendrix transferring to Cincinnati. Former 2010 Kelly pledge Derek Roback transferred before playing a down in South Bend.

Final Thought: Plenty of "ifs" accompany this group: If Grace proves healthy by October…if Zaire wins the job or plays due to injury…if Hounshell becomes a reliable backup on the defensive front…if Hardy surprises and works as a starting or No. 3 safety (or nickel), if Cage earns rookie year playing time.

Those "ifs" relegate the Buckeye State to No. 7 until further notice.

Note: Part II and a look at remaining states -- including California -- is forthcoming.


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