Twenty years ago, the Irish were not alone among major independents, but by 1993, Florida State, Miami and Penn State had all joined conferences. Is it a coincidence that 1993 was also the last time Notre Dame came close to a national title? As I wrote Monday, today's blue-chip football prospects grow up watching certain conferences. Kids in Georgia and Louisiana dream of playing in the SEC. Kids in Texas dream of playing in the Big 12. Besides the South Side of Chicago and certain Midwestern Catholic conclaves, not a lot of kids today grow up specifically watching Notre Dame. So not only does the school have to recruit nationally, it has to sell prospects on why playing for Notre Dame is better than playing in a certain conference. Weis was able to sell Jimmy Clausen, Michael Floyd, et. al., on his pedigree as an NFL offensive Yoda, but I'm not sure what incentive he could offer to comparable defenders.
Here are Notre Dame's recruiting ranks for Charlie Weis's four full classes:
2009 - 24 (12th in average star ranking)
2008 - 2 (1st in average star ranking)
2007 - 8 (6th in average star ranking)
2006 - 8 (13th in average star ranking)
And lest we think that Weis was compiling great classes that contained nothing other than offensive players, here is Notre Dame's starting lineup on defense this year and their recruiting ranks by Rivals:
DE - Kapron Lewis-Moore - four-star, 5.8
DE - Kerry Neal - four-star, 5.8
DT - Ian Williams - three-star, 5.7
DT - Ethan Johnson - four-star, 6.0
LB - Darius Fleming - four-star, 5.9
LB - Manti Te'o - five-star, 6.1
LB - Brian Smith - four-star, 5.8
CB - Robert Blanton - four-star, 5.8
CB - Gary Gray - four-star, 5.9
S - Sergio Brown - three-star, 5.6
S - Kyle McCarthy - three-star, 5.5
Wow, only eight blue chip players! It really is impossible for an independent program like Notre Dame to convince top players to come to South Bend! Why are Irish fans so foolish to think that such a result is possible when recruits are clearly going to discriminate against them for not being in a conference?!? (Seriously, have you ever heard a recruiting analyst claim that players make decisions based on conference affiliations?)
How the f*** is 8-4 the ceiling for a roster that is probably only rivaled by Texas, USC, Ohio State, Georgia, and Florida in terms of the percentage of blue chip players occupying the starting spots? Notre Dame does not have any disadvantages that are killing its recruiting, as evidenced by every recruiting class of the Weis era. They do have the self-imposed disadvantage of having hired three bad head coaches.
And then this argument is so bad, I, I, just read it:
In his article, Walters cites Alabama's long spat of mediocrity before hiring its home-run coach, Nick Saban, as a comparison to Notre Dame. But unlike Saban, Notre Dame's next coach can't sign 30-plus players knowing some won't qualify. He won't be able to land 95 percent of his roster from within the Southeast. That's why Alabama (and Florida, and Texas) will never stay down for long, and that's why coaches like Saban, Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops don't view the Notre Dame job with as much allure as its history would seem to warrant.
So let's see. Alabama has a regional recruiting profile. Because they are recruiting the Deep South where the public high schools can be, shall we say, hit or miss, Bama oversigns because they know they are going to lose some of their recruits to qualification issues. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has a national recruiting profile. Unlike Alabama, they can go to Hawai'i and pick off a five-star linebacker like Manti Te'o. Because of its huge geographic base, Notre Dame does not need to take chances on potential academic casualties. And this is a disadvantage for...Notre Dame? That makes perfect sense! I look forward to Mandel next making the case that he is in a better situation with the opposite sex than George Clooney because he has fewer options and therefore has an easier time making decisions.