Notre Dame’s Southern Push Continues

It can’t be ignored.  For all the talk and praise of the Southeastern Conference’s dominance in football after capturing seven consecutive BCS national championships and barely falling short of an eighth, the point has been completely missed.  Forget conference affiliation – it’s merely a symptom of a trend that has been bubbling beneath the surface for some time.

The SEC isn’t dominant in football – the South as a whole is.

In the 16 years of the BCS’ existence only two non-Southern programs have won a national title, and it was Ohio State’s upset victory over the Miami Hurricanes in 2003 and USC’s blowout of Oklahoma in 2005.  The other 14 seasons boasted champions from below the Mason-Dixon Line regardless of conference affiliation.  A sample size of nearly two decades with one region of the United States winning a national championship 87.5% of the time is far too strong to be considered an anomaly.

To make matters worse, the two non-Southern teams to finish atop the college world, Ohio State and USC, both possess rich in-state talent, allowing them a built-in advantage in stemming the Southern tide that other Northern programs simply do not possess.  Notre Dame must fight nationally to fill its roster spots – Ohio State and USC can do most of their talent digging in their own backyard.  What, then, is a program like Notre Dame to do to counter such a developing trend?

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick utilized the university’s unique position as an independent to form a partnership with the ACC conference.  In addition to finding a home for Notre Dame’s Olympic sports and securing access to the ACC’s bowl tie-ins, the alliance with the ACC allows Notre Dame a foothold in fertile Southern recruiting grounds and increased exposure to Southern audiences, highlighted by a likely nationally televised night game in Tallahassee against defending national champions, Florida State.

In addition to gaining exposure to the South, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has made significant strides in netting the pool of talent from Southern areas producing the very best athletes.  The graph below shows the five states with the most players recruited to Notre Dame since Kelly’s arrival.


Number of Players











Recruiting Years: 2011-2014

The most notable portion of Kelly’s recruiting efforts comes courtesy of Texas.  Notre Dame has made the Lone Star State a point of emphasis and it shows in the results.  Kelly has managed to sign nine Texas natives since taking over in South Bend compared to former ND head coach Charlie Weis only signing two, an increase of 350%.  But the importance of an increase in Texan talent goes far beyond numbers.  Notre Dame isn’t fending off Texas Tech or Houston for talent – Notre Dame is going toe-to-toe with the Longhorns, and the Fighting Irish are winning.

The recruiting Class of 2014 signified a breakthrough.  Brian Kelly and staff managed to land Dallas native and Rivals 4-star defensive back Nick Watkins, and had to fend off Alabama, LSU, Texas and Texas A&M to do so.  Notre Dame also managed to hang on to linebacker commitment Kolin Hill despite a late charge by Texas head coach Charlie Strong.  All together, the Fighting Irish signed three Texas players in the Class of 2014, all of whom possessed an offer from Texas, a very rare feat.

Notre Dame’s success in Texas is only one indicator of a Southern strategy.  Kelly and staff nearly managed to pry Class of 2014 Louisiana natives Terrence Alexander (Stanford) and Courtney Garnett (Oklahoma) away from their eventual destinations despite late scholarship offers.  The success Notre Dame has experienced, including an early commitment from Class of 2015 Rivals 4-star and Louisiana native Jerry Tillery, has encouraged an even more aggressive Southern strategy.  Notre Dame’s 2015 scholarship offer sheet, listed by scouting site 247 Sports, provides insight to Brian Kelly’s plans for the future.


Number of Scholarship Offers











Class of 2015 Scholarship Offers, Top 5 States

To date, Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick have done an excellent job transitioning Notre Dame to the 21st Century of football dominated by Southern programs.  With Notre Dame’s partnership with the ACC set to begin in 2014, and an aggressive strategy to net more Southern talent in place, the Fighting Irish have positioned themselves to be one of the premier non-Southern programs well into the future.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. Let’s all wake-up. NotaDame’s 2012 regular season NatChamp did not include much competition. Yes, there were close games in which we prevailed. But the B1G has lost a lot of my respectability. Traditional “Big Uglies” and now modern “Big Fatties.” Think Wisconsin cheese. The south has garnered all of my respectability. (“all,” that is, secondary to NotaDame) They grow ’em fast down there. And speed kills. Think Texas oil. Now answer me this: which do you fear more, Wisconsin cheese or Texas oil?


    1. Fear this, Chineese food from Alabama

      or as Confucius say “Sum ting wong wit tiss poss hum”

    2. Hey. Not sure I follow the “Chinese food from Alabama” metaphor, but that could just be my poetic ignorance. (; I was just making a blanket-statement of support for ND’s presence in the South – ACC – and the bygone days of B1G football.

  2. Kelly is putting together a good program but I wish he would let his asst
    coaches be the on field coaches

  3. we got enough,just barely at dt,but enough. no excuses this year. i like that finally special teams might get attention…finally….. we have talented depth. shut down,shut out defense…skiy’s the limit on offense

  4. Recruiting/offering Cal and Florida goes without saying. Hell, the MAC gets kids from Fla. It’s nice to see more of a focus on Louisiana and Georgia though. What about Alabama and South Carolina?

  5. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a lot more 6’5″ 300 plus pound smart guys who play the O line and not nearly as many on the D line. There just is not a nearly as many D line prospect that we can take.

  6. It has nothing to do with talent positions, the reason the SEC is dominate is offensive and defensive line depth. Go through the NFL and look at the rosters for quality defensive line talent, they all come from the South. Look at ND’s top d-lineman over the past years all are from the South:

    Nix: Florida
    Tuitt: Georgia
    Lynch: Florida

    ND needs to do a better job recruiting defensive lineman period. Weis was horrible and BK is better, but not good enough. I think that you saw the push from VanGorder to get defensive line talent. Diaco lacked in that area over the past two recruiting cycles. Don’t look for the perfect guy just get a guy that can play and is big. If your a good coach you can develop them into a great d-lineman.

  7. Chris, a national program like Notre Dame isn’t dependent on talent in Indiana. It can reach into much of the country and have it’s pick of talent.

    I like the direction Kelly is taking the program. He had to take a program in shambles, stuck in the lore of the Holtz years and bring it into the 21st Century. From facilities, training, recruiting, player development and culture.

    Clearly, looking back, it was completely out of the question to demand it be done in 3 years (the old Notre Dame litmus test as to whether a coach was good or not). As someone else mentioned, 10-2 would be a successful season. But they need to build on it moving forward.

    I don’t see ND winning 3 of 4 titles, but I do think they can pick one up in the next 3 years.

  8. However, we still need more big body defensive lines. This is where it wins chanpionships. Alabama signs about 3 or 4 defensive tackle every year. Even Lsu , georgia, or Florida signs many just at this position. It sucks that Indiana doesnt produce enough.

  9. I totally agree Damian,12-0 is an attainable goal. I thick we are going to surprise a lot of people this year. The offence has the talent and the defence, if they can jell as a unit, has the ability to make enough stops and cause enough turn overs to post such a season. I have the same feeling about this season that I had in 2012. It may be hard for a lot of people to believe but I saw 2012 comin. I sure hope I’m right again.
    Go Irish!!!!!

  10. BK is recruiting the kids ND needs to be successful, both from a regional and a position standpoint.

    Now it’s up to him to turn that to success on the field. He sort of got a pass from the media last year because of the loss of EG, which was huge. Their record is about what I would expect with a QB like Rees, who is a hard working player, but just didn’t have the ideal skills for BK’s system.

    But this year, they have to make a push. I do believe anything less than 10-2 for the season would be a failure of a season. They actually have enough talent for 12-0, but the schedule is tough.

  11. I still say things won’t be fair until a NC game is played in the north. Think FSU could have beaten OSU (or us for that matter) in Soldiers Field, Chicago in January.

      1. It is really pretty simple. The south continues to produce more talent than anywhere else. As long as the kids can read, write and aren’t getting felonies….Load the roster with them. You’d be a fool not to

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