Irish Closing the Gap

Recruiting has always been a crap shoot when it comes to predicting which players will pan out and which might bust. It's also a crap shoot in saying X team should be great in a few years based off of one recruiting class. But consistently good recruiting should give any coach and team a chance to be successful.

For Notre Dame to climb back up the ladder they're going to need to get back to the top of recruiting again. They don't need to have consensus No. 1 classes each year, but they do need to consistently be in the top 5-10 class each year in order to be able to compete with the elite teams in college football (most likely the top five).

Yes, coaching matters, and a good coach can do wonders with less talent, but when a good coach with less talent faces another good coach with superior talent, the result is usually a loss, and sometimes a blowout. Speed kills, and talent matters. Sure, you might see the occasional heroic game where a lesser team beats an elite team, but you'll also see a whole lot of blowouts between those heroic games.

Championship teams are built, and the first part of that building process is to get the best players on campus. The Irish will have to land their share of elite players before they can challenge for anything. Luckily, head coach Charlie Weis and his staff are starting to do just that.

I set the bar with USC. While that's a bitter pill to swallow, that should be the bar. The Trojans have been the nation's most dominant team over the past five years, and that doesn't seem to be changing if you look at their recent recruiting success. In order for the Irish to win any championship, they'll most likely have to beat USC along the way. To beat USC, they'll need to have similar talent because Pete Carroll has proven he knows how to coach and win big games.

So where do the Irish stand against USC when it comes to recruiting? Let's look at the past two most recent classes.

I've never been a guy who puts much stock into "rankings" or "stars," as I feel too much bias enters the process when ranking teams or assigning stars to players. But we have to use something to judge this, so we'll have to use the star rankings to get somewhat of an accurate picture of where both programs stand.

Quarterback

USC: 2 five-star

ND: 1 five-star, 1 four-star

The Irish and USC appear pretty even here. Notre Dame has landed five-star recruit Jimmy Clausen and four-star QB Zach Frazer, while USC has landed a couple of five-star recruits in Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain, who recently transferred to USC. I say it's pretty even because Mustain will have to sit out a year before joining the team. Both Corp and Mustain will compete for John David Booty's spot next year, while the Irish will have a new starter, who will likely have a year head start over Corp or Mustain. Both teams have shown they know how to develop quarterbacks.

Running back

USC: 2 five-star, 3 four-star

ND: 1 five-star, 3 four-star

The Trojans might have a slight advantage here, but it's small. Only one guy can play at a time, and both teams have a nice mixture of speed and power with this group. USC might have the advantage in overall speed of their running backs. All of Notre Dame's backs have excellent hands, and that might be the one advantage the Irish have as Weis loves to throw to his backs. Both teams are loaded at the position.

Wide Receiver

USC: 2 five-star, 3 four-star

ND: 2 four-star

The Trojans have a fine history of producing great wide receivers, and judging by the talent on hand, that will probably continue. The Trojans don't appear to have an elite speed wide receiver, but they rarely do and have had a lot of success without one. Notre Dame did land two four-star players last year, but failed to land any in 2006. Advantage has to go to the Trojans on this one.

Tight end

USC: 2 four-star

ND: 1 five-star, 1 four-star

The advantage probably goes to Notre Dame here. While the numbers are similar, the Irish use their tight ends as a weapon on offense much more than USC does. Weis knows how to use his tight ends, and they'll become big factors in Notre Dame's offense in the future. While USC uses their tight ends, they don't make as many plays, and aren't featured as much in their offense, at least currently. That could change.

Offensive line

USC: 1 five-star, 2 four-star

ND: 1 five-star, 7 four-star

Surprisingly, USC has struggled to land numbers at offensive line lately, but they do have a five-star and four-star lineman committed already in 2008. But the Irish appear to have a definite advantage at offensive line at this point. They'll need it when we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

They say "defense wins championships," and this is where the Irish are lacking right now. But with the addition of new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown, the Irish appear to be moving in the direction of closing this very big gap between the Irish and the Trojans, and it's a big gap currently.

Defensive lineman

USC: 2 five-star, 3 four-star

ND: 2 four-star

Remember where I said the Irish would need some great linemen? Well, here you see it. The Trojans again appear to be reloading at defensive line. The Irish have added much more speed with guys like Kerry Neal and Kallen Wade, but they'll need some great interior guys to get over the hump. It gets worse when we look at linebacker.

Linebacker

USC: 5 five-star, 2 four-star

ND: Zero, yes, I said zero

Notre Dame has signed a good number of linebackers, but none were considered four-star or higher by Scout.com. I do believe players like Toryan Smith will prove them wrong, but as it currently stands, there is a glaring hole here. Again, Brown appears to be moving towards fixing the problem. Signing 5 five-star guys over the past two years is quite an accomplishment though. The Trojans are going to be loaded on defense for the immediate future.

Defensive backs

USC: 4 five-star, 1 four-star

ND: 6 four-star

Again, USC appears to have an advantage, although the Irish have been recruiting well at defensive back. I was surprised they signed 4 five-star guys over the past two years, but they have. Still, I think Notre Dame can be competitive with the defensive backs they've signed.

While the defensive numbers are alarming, nobody should expect the Irish to have great success on the defensive side of the ball considering how they've played defense recently. The Irish struggled to land great offensive players until they showed they could be successful on offense. Now that they have, the offensive players continue to show great interest in attending Notre Dame. The same will happen for the Irish defense once they show the gritty attitude you'll see Notre Dame play with under Corwin Brown.

So far Brown has already made a big splash when it comes to defensive recruiting. I fully expect to see this gap on defensive talent between to two teams to close, but currently, it's quite large.

Based on talent alone, the Irish still look to be trailing USC, but as I mentioned, that should be expected. The gap between the two teams is starting to close, and a successful season on defense will certainly help, but as I pointed out here, they have a ways to go.


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