By the Numbers

I remember the date, February 5th, 2003. The Irish, under new head coach Tyrone Willingham, had just signed a class that many expected would finally push ND over the top. This 2003 class would finally elevate ND back to the promise land according to Irish fans…..well, almost.

I remember that proud day like it was yesterday. ND fans got word the Gilman duo—Victor Abiamiri and Ambrose Wooden--would indeed sign with ND. Three-star linebacker commitment Mitchell Thomas also chose the Irish that day. The Irish had beaten some elite SEC teams for his signature. All signs pointed to the resurrection of the ND football program.

Great names such as Brady Quinn, Tom Zbikowski, Jeff Samardzija, Ryan Harris, John Carlson, John Sullivan and Trevor Laws joined the likes of the Abiamiri and Wooden to form "the class."

But it wasn't just that class. It was "the class" combined with the previous class that had Irish fans excited. We all knew that not just one class would be the remedy to breathe new life into a dormant Irish program.

The previous class had some star power as well…..

Rhema McKnight, Maurice Stovall, Derek Landri, Anthony Fasano and Bob Morton were signed in the 2002 class. As was two-year starter, Mike Richardson.

There were plenty of reasons for the excitement at the time. The 2002 class consisted of 10 four-star players and 2 five-star players in that 18-man class….something Irish fans hadn't seen in awhile.

The 2003 class consisted of 12 more four-star players in that 21-man class.

Combine the two and Willingham and staff had a lot of talent to build a program around.

Unfortunately, that never happened…..

Willingham finished 5-7 in 2003, 6-6 in 2004, and then moved on. First-year head coach Charlie Weis then took that talent and turned it into back-to-back BCS seasons—an impressive accomplishment.

Unfortunately for Weis, he now has to work with Willingham's last real class, 2004, where the Irish signed just 17 players, and only 3 four-star prospects (once has since transferred). Sadly, only two players from this entire class look to be certain starters for the 2007 season—Maurice Crum and Terrail Lambert—and only six remain.

Combine this with the last Willingham class, the class he was recruiting before he was fired, which consisted of just 5 four-star players, and Weis certainly has a hole heading into this season.

But there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of Irish football.

Why will Weis succeed when Willingham failed? There are a number of coaching reasons people could point out, but even the greatest coaches can't beat the best teams consistently without talent.

Is Charlie Weis a great coach? I don't think anyone can definitively say yes or no at this point. But, they can say he's set himself up to be successful with these last two recruiting classes and the current recruiting season under way.

We'll know a lot more about Charlie Weis the coach next year rather than this year, when this young talent has had time to develop. But what Weis has done (at least appears to be doing) that Willingham didn't do was sign a great third class. That, to me, is what will put Weis over the top. The third class is the real key to success in my mind. Willingham didn't get it, Weis seems well on his way. Let's take a look.

As I said, Willingham did sign two very good classes as a coach at Notre Dame. A good coach like Weis rode those two talented classes to back-to-back BCS seasons. But what has Weis done in his first three years of recruiting? How do they compare?

Weis didn't have the luxury that Willingham had of a great initial incoming class. Willingham, with the assist of Davie, was given a 10 four-star class along with 2 five-star players. Willingham certainly takes credit, but Davie and his staff definitely set that foundation.

Weis, on the other hand, had just 5 four-star players in his initial class, or 50 percent less talent if you ask the "experts." But he's been on fire since.

In Charlie's first full class, he signed 12 four-star players, 2 five-star players, and players like Toryan Smith and John Ryan, two likely starters this season who were three-star players in this class.

Weis followed up that impressive class with 11 four-star players, and 1 five-star player in 2007—last year's class.

But what will push Weis over the edge (providing he signs the vast majority of this class) is the many, many elite players he has landed in this current class.

Currently, Notre Dame has 17 commitments, 12 are four-star commitments, 2 are five-star commitments. This class, as it stands currently, is already the best in two decades if not longer.

The numbers could work out that the Irish could add another 7 commitments to this class. The way it's shaping up, another 2-3 five-star commitments could be added, and the rest being four-star commits. Is it possible for the Irish to land 4-5 five-star commits to go with 17 four-star commitments? It's very possible that could happen. All I can say is "wow if it does happen.

But let's not count our chickens before they're hatched.

Let's just compare Willingham to Weis at the same time. Where does it stand….Weis versus Willingham?

If you're keeping score….


5-star in three years: 2

4-star in three years: 25


5-star in three years: 5

4-star in three years: 35

While there's no guarantee Weis will sign all those committed in this class, you could also very easily make a case that Weis could add another 2-3 five-star players (Steve Filer, Michael Floyd, Brice Butler) and another 5 four-star players to his totals in this current class.

If that happens, that would add up to another 20 five and four star players more than what Willingham recruited. Considering a roster of just 85, that's pretty impressive considering Weis took Willingham's talent to a BCS game two years in a row.

But, as always, how does that compare to USC? In Notre Dame's world, a National Championship appears to go through USC. So how does Weis compare to Carroll in his first three full years at USC?

Pete Carroll

5-star in three years: 15

4-star in three years: 22

Charlie Weis

5-star in three years: 5

4-star in three years: 35

Weis could narrow the score with 7-8 five-star and 40 four-star recruits if he closes with as many as people expect he will this year. While Carroll has certainly landed more five-star guys, Weis could definitely close the gap in overall talent with a good number of four-star prospects. Weis could also have more quality depth than Carroll had with Carroll signing 37 total 4 and 5 star players in his first three seasons and Weis signing as many as 47.

No reasonable Irish fan should crow ND has as much talent as USC currently, at least not proven talent. But it's not hard to see that the gap is certainly dwindling.

The many Irish haters out there want to deny ND will have future success, but if they look at the recruiting numbers, it's quite clear that Weis is stocking the cupboard for a National Championship run in the very near future. How does that make you feel on a groggy Monday morning? Top Stories