The following is nothing more than my own opinion. As always, the ebb and flow of college football will dictate many changes over the course of the next several seasons. Due to the uneasy nature of the game this is merely a rough draft at best.
Recruiting mojo is different than mojo established on the gridiron. For example, when Texas battles Oklahoma for a recruit, chances are the battle will take place inside the borders of Texas, giving the Longhorns a decided edge. But when the Red River Classic is played each year at the Texas State Fairgrounds during the month of October, how many betting people really believe Texas has the psychological edge? This just in: Oklahoma has beaten Texas five straight times. Ouch.
Notre Dame is unique when it comes to recruiting so it is hard to use a similar analysis with one of its bigger recruiting foes. Head coach Charlie Weis, like many head coaches before him under the dome, will recruit nationally for the Irish. No one state is truly critical to the overall success of the program. But rather Notre Dame needs to land its fair share of recruits from several states over the course of a four or five year period for it to be successful.
It all starts with the base, and of course that is the Midwest. Notre Dame needs to land as many so-called blue chip recruits from this region as possible. Midwest recruits are of course less likely to be concerned about distance from home when making a decision; not to mention Midwest recruits are more likely to have an affinity for the Irish, or at least know more about the Notre Dame football program and the proud traditions both on and off the gridiron that Notre Dame has before recruiting even begins.
The biggest foes are of course Michigan and Ohio State. Notre Dame struggles to land "elite" recruits in Ohio as a rule, but winning can and will cure that over time. Ohio State is always going to have an edge regardless of how well Notre Dame is doing, but winning should open a few more doors for the Irish down the road. It does not hurt that Ohio State has been under the NCAA microscope for several years now. Ohio State fans can pretend all they want, but the NCAA sanctions of some kind are likely to come at some point in the near future. If and when that happens, it would be a huge benefit to Notre Dame.
As long as Notre Dame is able to land a few recruits from Ohio each year everything will be fine. Landing John Ryan, Rob Parris and Kallen Wade (Wade is going to be a stud) this year only makes it that much easier down the road…
Michigan is also a major contender for recruits in Ohio. The Wolverines have always landed more than enough talent from Ohio to be a threat for the Rose Bowl practically every year. Look for Notre Dame to run across Michigan more and more on the recruiting trail over the course of the next several years whether it is in Ohio, the Midwest, or nationally.
While every Notre Dame fan would love to see droves of recruits from Ohio land in South Bend for college, that is simply not realistic. Illinois is still the state where Notre Dame needs to be a dominant force. Chicago is of course the main area for top recruits. Hopefully the Chicago Public League will have more recruits with the talent of Demetrius Jones "and" an academic profile to match. While Chicago still has a lot of talent, grades still kill Notre Dame around the Windy City far too often.
With Ron Zook taking over at Illinois there is one thing for sure, and that is Illinois being a pain for all other Midwest programs, at least for a while. Fair or not, Zook is considered to be a recruiter first and a coach second. Much of his staff is made up of similar personalities as well from what I am told. Look for Illinois to butt heads with Notre Dame for a short while, but how many of you honestly think Illinois is going to be a major contender in the Big 10 with Zook at the helm? I definitely do not. It's a basketball school and I expect the exuberance over the Illinois football program to fade within two or maybe three years. After that, Illinois will be an afterthought for most major recruits across the state of Illinois once again.
Within a few years I would expect to Michigan be as much of a threat in Illinois as much as Illinois is right now. It is simply a matter of time. There's Michigan, then there is Illinois. No comparison, long term. Tradition counts; so look for Notre Dame to continue to go toe-to-toe with Michigan for a lot of Midwest recruits.
Overall, Michigan is still the biggest name that Notre Dame continually goes up against for top recruits. Do not look for that trend to change. Coach Carr has been rumored to be close to stepping down for about a year due to health concerns. It will be interesting to see whom the Wolverines hire next. Much like Penn State, I hope the Michigan administration stays in-house. That would be great for all Notre Dame fans. Both of the Michigan coordinators are average at best for a major program like Michigan to hire as its head coach.
Iowa has certainly hurt Notre Dame recently, and especially in Chicago. Those days are now over. I think the world of Kirk Ferentz and his coaching staff. They do a marvelous job for the Hawkeyes. But in the end, it is Iowa, after all. Again, it is a matter of tradition, not to mention location. If you thought South Bend was somewhat isolated (one and half hours from Chicago) take a look at Iowa on a national map and look how isolated it is from the four key Midwest cities: Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Yeesh.
Again, coach Ferentz has done a great job at Iowa and I expect the Hawkeyes to continue to be a top 20 program. I simply do not think Iowa will continue to be a top 10 program beyond this year or possibly next. Iowa is already struggling to recruit top Illinois players this year and it does not surprise me one bit. Zook may be a bigger short-term problem for Iowa than coach Weis is at Notre Dame.
The state of Indiana rarely has top talent, let alone top talent with the grades to be admitted to Notre Dame. This year is a truly big exception. Having James Aldridge and Luke Schmidt within the state borders is not a luxury any Notre Dame fan should become used to. While Notre Dame will always recruit Indiana ardently when top talent is available, it simply does not happen all that often. But while I am thinking about it, there are a handful of juniors that Indiana has to offer next year that I expect Notre Dame to be hard after starting on Sep. 1. Keep that in mind.
Now it is time for one of my surprises, or perhaps maybe not -- Penn State -- yes, the Nittany Lions could be a program on the rise again; that is after Jopa is gone -- and not until. Notre Dame is making serious inroads into the Keystone State already. So why the concern over the Nittany Lions? Simple -- Whenever a traditional power has a coaching change (Jopa is leaving "real" soon) -- the next head coach at that school has a chance to be a recruiting power, at least early on (see Illinois, minus the traditional power attachment). Penn State has really struggled when recruiting against Notre Dame in recent years. Notre Dame has actually taken quite a few players away from Happy Valley over the last 20 years in all honesty. And you know it sticks in Jopa's side like an arrow. "If" Penn State hires outside the program there is a chance the Lions will roar again. Then again, if Jopa has his way and the program stays in-house, this Notre Dame fan will be jumping for joy.
The other program to watch in Pennsylvania is of course Pittsburgh. I have yet to gage where that program is truly. Dave Wannstedt has seen more downs than ups during his head coaching tenures with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. But college football is different. He brought with him to Pittsburgh a handful of former NFL assistants and you know the Panthers' defense is only going to improve. But will Pittsburgh really be a player for top Pennsylvania recruits once again? No offense to Pittsburgh fans, but the vast majority of the Panthers' current commitments chose Pittsburgh and MAC schools. When Pittsburgh starts landing elite recruits consistently, it can then be considered a dangerous program like it was back in the early 1980s. Mark down Pittsburgh as a wild card for now.
Back East there is little question that Notre Dame will try to land New Jersey recruits. Notre Dame always has, and always will. It does not hurt that coach Weis is a ‘Jersey guy' either. Virginia is actually a big contender for most of the top Garden State recruits. Al Groh is doing a commendable job in Charlottesville, and the Cavaliers coaching staff has several ties to New Jersey. Before anyone even asks, Rutgers is toast. I will be shocked if Notre Dame loses a prominent recruit to the Scarlet Knights while coach Weis patrols the sidelines in South Bend.
Now it is time for the meat and potatoes. There have been several people ask me when Notre Dame was going to recruit well in Texas again. My answer: not until Mack Brown has left the University of Texas. I think coach Brown and the majority of his staff of assistants are the most overrated "game day" coaches in college football by a mile, but coach Brown and his staff do an excellent job of recruiting. Texas is "State U.;" with tons of talent within driving distance. The Longhorns have a huge fan following and fantastic facilities as well. Since coach Brown just signed a ten-year contract, it does not look like he is going any place. I think Notre Dame will land a couple of recruits from Texas per year when it is all averaged out, but I doubt many elite recruits will be headed to South Bend from the Long Star State. Just the way it is.
Oklahoma and Louisiana State being so strong of late does not help matters either. Coach Stoops has helped resurrect the Sooner program and it does not appear that Oklahoma is going to take a big plunge anytime soon. Louisiana State just under went a coaching change at the top with Les Miles coming over from Stillwater, but he is a good coach and the Tigers are a really formidable recruiting opponent within Louisiana as well as the greater Houston area. Notre Dame is going to lose recruits to both schools over the course of the next several years.
If you know me personally, or have at least followed my articles over the past eight years, you know I am a huge fan of Florida high school football. But what I especially like is the Florida skill position talent. Notre Dame must start landing skill position talent from Florida once again. It is not easy, and everyone knows all the pitfalls of recruiting within the state of Florida. But it does not change the fact that Florida is loaded with cornerbacks, tailbacks, wide receivers, defensive linemen and "speed" linebackers like Maurice Crum almost every single year. And those just happen to be positions that Notre Dame generally struggles to sign the truly elite recruits most of the time.
It only takes a few recruits from Florida to sign with Notre Dame each year to make a significant difference. I do expect Notre Dame to do better down the road within the Florida borders once the Irish start winning big games with regularity. Then, and only then, will the truly elite Florida skill position athletes consistently sign with Notre Dame. I am not against landing talented offensive linemen like Daron Rose, Daniel Wenger or Sam Young either, but it is the skill position talent that Notre Dame truly needs. The Midwest, especially when excluding the state of Ohio, is generally much weaker at the skill positions than with the linemen, tight ends and quarterbacks. That is why a state like Florida is so important to Notre Dame.
Miami is Miami, even with a coach like Larry Coker at the helm. I think he is a decent head coach for a major program, but he is no place near Jimmy Johnson or the like. He is what I call a caretaker, not a program builder. Miami will win with the talent it has from South Florida alone, but I don't think it will win another title with Coker at the helm.
Florida State is much like Penn State, who will take over when coach Bowden steps down? It is hard to say when coach Bowden will step down in Tallahassee, but the decision will be a tough one for the Florida State powers-that-be.
Then of course there is Florida, under the direction of Urban Meyer. The Gators are hot right now, and Urban Meyer can certainly recruit. I will wait and see how well that staff (especially the co-defensive coordinators, of which I am very skeptical) does over the course of the next few seasons before casting a vote. Either way, Florida is "State U." and will always sign a great deal of top recruits within the Florida state borders.
Notre Dame has been successful at landing a handful of key recruits from the state of Georgia over the years. Notre Dame is once again making a concerted effort to land a few recruits from Georgia, but with Georgia having Mark Richt at the helm the task is going to be difficult every single year. Still, there is enough talent within Georgia that the Bulldogs are not going to land every recruit Notre Dame covets.
The last program from Dixie that Notre Dame continually competes against for top recruits is Tennessee. The Volunteers and Irish will likely continue to do so, but it is unlikely that the number of recruiting battles with the Volunteers will rival that of the battles with Southern California, Michigan or the big three in Florida.
And speaking of the Trojans, Notre Dame's old nemesis, the rivalry is about to become truly interesting once again. The days of Notre Dame being hammered by the Trojans on the football field are over. Notre Dame can once again compete toe-to-toe with the Trojans for top recruits with coach Weis at the helm selling his NFL resume. Even so, Notre Dame is still so far from California that it will always struggle to land recruits from the Golden State. But aside from that, Southern California is simply a dominant program right now. Combine the two factors together and Notre Dame is going to lose the vast majority of head-to-head battles with the Trojans for recruits that live out West. When Notre Dame starts winning big again that trend will change, at least a little bit.
The bigger question is which program will be the overall winner when recruiting against one another for recruits that live outside of the state of California? The Trojans are really recruiting nationally now, much like Notre Dame always has. Keep an eye on the various recruiting battles between the two schools "outside" the state of California; or better yet, when the battle is played out from neutral ground.
I believe that the Trojans are extremely talented this year and have a solid coaching staff, but no place near what it had over the course of the last few seasons. Losing Norm Chow is going to be a big problem for the Trojans down the road. It appears that Pete Carroll's ego has caught up to him once again. That same ego was upset because the media constantly praised coach Chow as an offensive mastermind, and rightfully so. Soon there after coach Carroll attempted to take credit for the Trojans' recent offensive success with small, but meaningful comments through the press. Please…
I still believe coach Carroll is a glorified defensive coordinator with great talent. So now Chow is the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans the truth will be known about just how good a "head coach" Pete Carroll truly is.
Other key losses for the Trojans include among others quarterback coach Carl Smith to the Jacksonville Jaguars to become its offensive coordinator, their all-important yet under publicized offensive line coach, Tim Davis to the Miami Dolphins to be the assistant offensive line coach, and without question the best recruiter for the Trojans, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron took the head coaching job at Ole Miss. Coach Carroll has an excellent opportunity to win a national championship this year, but once Leinhart, Bush and White are gone next season (I expect Bush and White to leave school a year early), the Trojans will come back to the pack quickly, both on the gridiron, and the recruiting trail.