This past week, July 7-13th, 2008, might be the most important week in Notre Dame recruiting this season. The Irish received verbal commitments from three players, Marlon Pollard, Tyler Eifert, and Chris Watt, and more importantly, they kept some vital momentum rolling.
Irish fans have seen what momentum can do last season when the ND coaching staff signed the No. 2 recruiting class in the country despite finishing well below expectations on the field last year.
But this year has been different. The effects of a 3-9 season has been felt to some extent, yet the Irish coaching staff continues to get commitments from many of their elite prospects on their board.
Recruiting rankings are important as you'll normally see the teams ranked high in recruiting for a particular year excel on the field three to four years down the road if the program is in good shape. But more imperative, I believe, is landing truly elite players that can match up with the best talent in the country. After all, usually only 10 players or so in each class will see significant playing time over their careers, so landing elite talent is the most vital need.
Not many teams are going to sign 10 five-star players in any given class, so a truly elite talent can also be ranked a four-star prospect or even lower. A good rule of thumb would be: Can this player potentially match up favorably against any other player on the field? Can he match up with the best that USC and Ohio State might have available? If you can say yes to that question, you likely have an elite prospect.
Landing Watt was critical as offensive line is a significant need for ND this recruiting season. Watt, I believe, is an elite prospect. He should be able to match up with anyone that a team puts across from him in the future. Alex Bullard, the other offensive guard committed in this class, might have even more "upside" than Watt because he is so athletic for his size. Both players fit a critical need for the Irish, and both could be true difference makers in the future for Notre Dame.
Also, there are plenty of players who can develop into elite prospects. David Bruton, for example, fits that mold. Bruton was a lowly-ranked three-star prospect when he enrolled at Notre Dame, but his "upside" was tremendous because he was such a great athlete who could really run. If you're keeping score throughout this process, "potential" guys can be just as effective as a highly-ranked, elite five-star prospect. For example, Dan Fox might be considered a potential guy. He's very quick and fast for his size, and his best football is likely ahead of him.
If they Irish do take some potential guys, the hope is that they're physically and athletically gifted, but just haven't maximized their potential at this point. What you don't want is to land a bunch of prospects who may have "maxed out" their potential in high school. In the spirit of kindness, I won't point out any such players past or present, but I'm sure many of you can think of some if you try.
The question Irish fans need to ask themselves when all is said and done, and the recruiting class is signed is: Did the Irish sign 10 guys that are as good as anyone else's 10 guys in the country?
If they did, they have signed a truly great class. If you can go deeper, and say Notre Dame's best 15 are as good as anyone else's top 15, then you've signed a great class with some excellent depth. But most essential, I believe, is getting 10 elite prospects.
How many of the current 12 commitments are elite players? I'm not sure we know just yet. I think we'll need more information before we can decide. However, after a senior season and hopefully getting a good look at some of them during the all-star games, we'll have a much better idea.
Closing out the summer
Historically July and early August are important months in recruiting. Many top players will make their decisions over the final weeks before their football season starts. Key players like Anthony LaLota and Zach Martin could very well make their decision before the season starts. Other important prospects like Pat Muldoon and E.J. Banks are two others that may decide before their senior season, but are less certain about deciding early. Patrick Ward, a newly offered offensive tackle prospect, might also be a factor for the Irish and plans to make a decision sometime before his senior season.
If these players do decide, obviously landing them would certainly help Notre Dame. All five are prospects at need positions for the Irish. At the very worst, all would be considered potential players with a few being labeled as elite prospects.
I'm certain the Irish would love to add another defensive lineman, offensive lineman and defensive back in this class before the season. It's quite possible that could happen. If Notre Dame can get to 14 or 15 by summer's end, by adding some of these players mentioned above, they should be in good shape to wait for some of their other elite prospects left on the board who likely won't decide until later in the season.
While the ride thus far has been up and down, the fact remains that Notre Dame continues to land many of their top guys despite some bumps in the road….that is quite impressive considering the circumstances. Most important, however, will be filling out this class with 10 elite guys. If they can get there, that would be four solid to outstanding recruiting classes in a row for Charlie Weis and his staff—it's been a very long time since Irish fans could say that. The Irish should have enough talent to play with anyone in the near future with another good class signed this February. They're well on their way to getting there.
Which players on Notre Dame's commit list and target list would be in your top 10?
Looking for 10
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