Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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98 MARCH 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W hoever says there is parity in college football doesn't check the annual recruiting rankings. Every February, it's generally the same names — including Notre Dame — in the top 10 or 15. From the Big Ten, it's mostly Ohio State or Michigan. You ever see Indiana, Northwestern or Minnesota? From the Big 12 it's Oklahoma and Texas, not Iowa State or Kansas. And, of course, the warm-weather powers reign supreme. If your school happens to be in the top 10, there is often an inevitable as- sumption the program is "headed in the right direction" and BCS or national title berths are in the picture three or four years down the road. Sometimes it proves true, but just as often it does not. Seldom can one class carry a program, although there are exceptions. If you have subpar leadership, a lack of continuity or internal fracture, then teams that have "weaker" classes but a better infrastructure, coaching (see Notre Dame basketball with Mike Brey) or dynamic quarterback play (see Baylor or Stanford) can end up excelling more on the field. Notre Dame's graduating senior class from 2008 that was ranked No. 2 by ev- ery recruiting service except one (be- hind Alabama) is yet another painful Exhibit A for Irish followers. That class seemed to possess every- thing from a five-star quarterback in Dayne Crist to a defensive emphasis that featured a dozen prospects, including coveted linemen Ethan Johnson and Sean Cwynar, and prized athletic linebackers such as Steve Filer and Darius Fleming. There also were five-star athletes along the offensive line (Trevor Rob- inson), and at wide receiver (Michael Floyd) and tight end (Kyle Rudolph). In February 2008, many ardent Notre Dame supporters claimed ESPN had a "bias" against the Irish. That year, vir- tually every major recruiting service had Notre Dame and Alabama as the two best classes — yet ESPN had head coach Charlie Weis' harvest all the way down at No. 9. "The difference between 1 and 3, 7 and 9, 6 and 10, is maybe an eyelash," responded Tom Luginbill, ESPN's lead recruiting voice who defended its rank- ing of the Irish. "Those are national-title contender classes. You're never going to know un- til two or three years down the road. There are too many variables." A review of ESPN's top 10 classes from 2008 reveals what a mixed bag recruiting ratings can be, especially when the infra- structure is shaky. Here is what ESPN's 2008 top-10 haul did as juniors and se- niors — a time when they must come to the forefront — in 2010 and 2011: 1. Miami — 7-6 in 2010 and 6-6 in 2011. Head coach Randy Shannon was fired weeks prior to the 2010 Sun Bowl, a 33-17 loss to Notre Dame. 2. Clemson — Another school that seldom lives up to the hype, the Tigers were 6-7 in 2010. A promising start this year ended with a 2-4 finish, notably a 70-33 waxing from West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was fired after the game. 3. Alabama — With head coach Nick Saban at the throttle, no school has a more lethal combination of excellent leadership with top-level talent. The Crimson Tide is 48-6 (.889) the last four years, with two national titles. 4. Florida — Even with Urban Meyer as the boss, Florida was only 8-5 in 2010. This year under first-time head coach Will Muschamp it was 7-6. 5. Georgia — Although head coach Mark Richt has had his moments, he might be on one of the hotter SEC seats in 2012 after finishing 8-5, 6-7 and 10-4 (24-16 overall) the past three years. 6. USC — In Pete Carroll's last season (2009), with NCAA sanctions brewing, USC was a disappointing 9-4. Under Lane Kiffin in 2010, it was 8-5, but this year the Trojans put together a 10-2 campaign and top-five finish. 7. Ohio State — Head coach Jim Tressel consistently won big, but the infrastructure collapsed last spring with scandal, resulting in a 6-7 finish under interim coach Luke Fickell. 8. Oklahoma — The Sooners fin- ished 12-2 in 2010 and were a popular preseason pick to capture the crystal trophy in 2011. A ho-hum 10-3 season included rare losses at home to Texas Tech and Baylor. 9. Notre Dame — Despite successive top-10 ranked classes from 2006-08, the Irish have now lost a minimum of five games in five straight seasons, tying the school record from 1959-63. 10 Texas — The Longhorns fell to 5-7 when this group was juniors in 2010, leading to a gutting of the staff prior to upgrading to 8-5 in 2011. So essential to all this is building "coaching equity." That means schools such as Boise State, TCU, Wisconsin, Oregon, Virginia Tech, Kansas State, etc., with proven winners as the head coach over a length of time don't get frazzled when their recruiting classes aren't ranked among the top 10. Nobody can win without the horses, but parity truly comes from a sound in- frastructure with strong leadership at the top. ✦ Wide receiver Michael Floyd was part of Notre Dame's 2008 class that was ranked among either No. 1 or No. 2 by the majority of recruiting ser- vices, but the Irish lost a minimum of five games in five straight seasons anyway. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ MARCH 2012 Strong Leadership Must Complement Recruiting EDITOR'S NOTE: The late, great Lou Somogyi possessed an unmatched knowledge of Notre Dame football, and it was his mission in life to share it with others. Those of us at Blue & Gold Illustrated would like to continue to provide his wisdom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication.

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