In the last five years only six teams have done it.
Actually, one did it twice when Texas finished with a Scout.com Top 20 class each of the past two recruiting campaigns despite back-to-back losing records that ultimately cost Charlie Strong his job.
Point being, it’s hard to win in recruiting after losing a lot the season prior. Yet that’s exactly what Notre Dame is trying to do during the final week before National Signing Day with just 15 commitments on board and a class that ranks No. 14 on Scout.com. Staying there (or anywhere close to it) will require the Irish to convert at a high rate down the stretch.
On Monday night the Irish got another reminder of how hard that will be when three-star cornerback Tre Norwood committed to Oklahoma. Norwood took an official visit to South Bend last weekend and the Irish were quietly confident they’d continue to strengthen their position with an in-home visit later this week. Instead, Norwood is off the board.
If Notre Dame finishes in the Top 20 of the Scout.com Team Rankings, they’ll join Texas (’16 and ’15), Tennessee (’14), Florida (‘14), Auburn (’13), UCLA (’12) and Ohio State (’12) as the only programs since 2012 to finish with a Top 20 class after a losing record.
Texas (last year) and Ohio State actually finished No. 3 in the country when they did it.
The best class of the Charlie Weis era, which followed that 3-9 disaster, actually ranked No. 2 on Scout.com. But there’s no five-star receiver from a pipeline program or a run on Catholic school talent to bump up Brian Kelly this time. For Notre Dame to stick in the Top 20 will require more of a three-star scratch and claw job.
The Irish can get there with a strong close built on a mix of the official visitors brought in last weekend – Russ Yeast, Evan Fields, Jordan Genmark-Heath and Kofi Wardlow – and those still coming during recruiting’s final frame. For now, that’s likely Jafar Armstrong, Jalen Harris, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Mac Hippenhammer.
The math is simple in terms of what Notre Dame needs and what it needs to stick in the Top 20. If the Irish can get two defensive backs, two receivers and one defensive lineman, Kelly would probably consider this class a success considering the strength of current it’s swimming against.
That 20-man haul would all but assure the Irish of a Top 20 finish, with 12 four-star recruits and another eight three-star recruits in place. Basically, the Irish would be inking similar classes to Michigan State each of the past two cycles and Georgia from three years ago.
The Spartans signed a 20-man class of 13 four-star recruits and seven three-star recruits last cycle to finish 15th on Scout.com. Michigan State signed a 21-man haul two years ago of 10 four-star recruits and 11 three-star recruits, which rated 18th. Georgia’s haul in ’14 finished with 20 prospects: a couple five-stars, 10 four-stars and eight three-stars. It ranked No. 12 on Scout.com.
Of course those classes were all built on the backs of winning records.
Notre Dame doesn’t have that kind of foundation this cycle. And while that’s all a mess of their own making, the Irish can clean it up in recruiting if they can find five more prospects.
None of that will make up for losing Robert Beal, Paulson Adebo, Donovan Jeter, Pete Werner or Elijah Hicks. But it means the Irish will at least have a floor to stand on moving into next recruiting cycle.