Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2017

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

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54 FEBRUARY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I f one were to ask who the three most disappointing Football Bowl Subdivision teams in 2016 were, the most popular answers would be 4-8 Notre Dame, 4-8 Oregon and 5-7 Texas. Two outcomes generally re- sult from such poor showings by "brand name" schools. One, the head coach is fired. That occurred at Oregon with the ousting of fourth- year boss Mark Helfrich, who was 37-16 with a national title appearance two years ago. It also happened with third-year Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong, who was 16-21. However, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly will return for an eighth season, albeit with a vastly al- tered staff. The second fallout usually is tra- vails on the recruiting trail. Three weeks before National Sign- ing Day, Texas was No. 45 in the Ri- vals rankings with 13 verbal commit- ments. How in heavens name does Texas — with resources, tradition, a premier recruiting base, a football job that is considered the best in the land — ever rank out of the top 10 in re- cruiting, never mind barely make the top 50? Oregon — the school with the most opulent, spare-no-expense facilities, the "hip" school with the multiple uniforms and the one with the appeal to today's youngsters — was No. 47 with 13 verbals. Meanwhile, Notre Dame … was No. 13 with 16 verbal pledges despite losing four who originally committed, most recently athlete Paulson Adebo Jan. 9. Notre Dame was rated ahead of even prime southern schools such as Miami (No. 15), national champ Clemson (No. 16) and Florida (No. 18). Rose Bowl champion USC was No. 17, College Football Playoff partici- pant Washington No. 26 and 11-2 Wis- consin — which has the blue-collar, no frills style many Fighting Irish faithful believe Notre Dame should replicate — is No. 30. And speaking of emulating a school's football success, Stanford, which has averaged 11 wins per year the past seven seasons, is No. 33 with nine commitments. Could you imagine the angst among Fighting Irish faithful if the Irish had nine verbals at this point? Now, schools such as Clemson, USC and Florida are likely to close with a flourish, like they have been apt to do over the years. Conversely, Notre Dame seldom makes a splash in the closing week or two prior to National Signing Day (Feb. 1 this year) with linebacker Manti Te'o a notable exception in 2009, and de- fensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes as well in 2013, although that was short-lived. Once the 2017 recruiting dust set- tles, Notre Dame probably will be in a position a little below the past three cycles from 2014-16, and better than when it inked only 16 in 2012. It was No. 11 in the Rivals ratings in both 2014 and 2015 plus No. 12 last year, and its low mark was No. 22 in 2012. Not bad … but if you're pining to be the Alabama of the North or match Ohio State, bring sedatives. That's why losing to the Crimson Tide, Buckeyes or even Trojans can be understood, but falling to South Florida, Tulsa, Duke, Navy, North- western, et al, or even an "aspira- tional peer" like Stanford, is far more distressing. What remains amazing is no school in the country is consistently able to overcome miserable on-field results with off-field recruiting success — relatively speaking — like the Fighting Irish, be it the present or more than a half-century ago: • Despite going 34-45 from 1956-63 and with only an in- terim coach, the 1963 recruit- ing bonanza included four future first-round linemen, led by Alan Page, that would significantly aid the run to a national title. • Although he opened his career with a 5-6 record in 1981, former high school coach Gerry Faust signed No. 1 and No. 2 classes his next two sea- sons with the Irish. • Lou Holtz debuted with a 5-6 mark in 1986, and Notre Dame had its first back-to-back sub.-.500 sea- sons in its history — yet the 30-man harvest the following February was the consensus No. 1 group that in- cluded luminaries such as Ricky Wat- ters, Todd Lyght and Chris Zorich, among others. • Unproven and new coach Bob Davie lost six games his first year in 1997 — yet his next two recruiting classes were both consensus top five. • In year three back in 2007, Weis was an abysmal 3-9 — yet his recruit- ing class a couple of months later was ranked No. 2, behind only Alabama, including several five-star prospects such as wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph. This year 's haul after a 4-8 mark will not receive such high marks. Let's face it, the gap is not closing between Notre Dame and schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, et al, a primary theme early in the Kelly regime. Yet it is a testament to the Notre Dame name that the appeal can still somewhat remain amidst tumultu- ous times. ✦ Recruiting Boat Swaying Yet Surviving THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Unlike erstwhile Texas head coach Charlie Strong, Brian Kelly not only managed to hold onto his job at Notre Dame but also has been able to put together a solid recruiting class. PHOTOBY BILL PANZICA

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