Notre Dame and Brian Kelly put a lot of their chips on the table for this year’s USC weekend with by far its biggest visitor list of the season. Notre Dame hosted an elite group of recruits with their arch rival in town and while the weekend didn’t produce any on the spot commitments, the Irish are getting one heck of an ROI on what’s turned out to be a wise long-term investment by the Notre Dame coaching staff.
- Daelin Hayes – Perhaps the headliner of the group, Hayes is listed as a 5-star prospect on some sites and is set to enroll at Notre Dame and begin his collegiate career today. Hayes final position is still a bit up in the air in terms of whether or not he grows into a defensive end or if he stays at outside linebacker, but regardless he is one of the highest rated recruits in the class. At the time of Hayes’ visit to Notre Dame for the USC game, he was also still committed to the Trojans. Notre Dame on the field in October and on the recruiting trail in December for Hayes.
- Javon McKinley – The latest addition from the USC visitor log, McKinley selected Notre Dame over Oregon and Washington during Saturday’s Army All-American bowl. The California native held an offer from USC, but they were not one of his finalists. The top 100, 4-star WR is currently the highest rated receiver in this year’s class. Seeing Will Fuller burn Adoree Jackson for a long touchdown on Notre Dame’s first play of the game couldn’t have hurt the Irish’s chances. McKinley isn’t a speed burner like Fuller, but he is the most versatile and complete wide receiver currently committed to Notre dame.
- Devin Studstill – Another early enrollee at a critical position – safety – Studstill selected the Irish in December over Texas, West Virginia, Miami, and North Carolina. It’s been rare for defensive backs to play early the last few seasons under Brian Vangorder’s defense, but the early start for Studstill could give him a chance to do so. Notre Dame won’t have too many safeties on the roster this spring with Drue Tanquill on the mend from his ACL injury and Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farley headed to the NFL so he will get plenty of experience this spring.
- Deon McIntosh – Yet another running back out of the state of Florida for Notre Dame, McIntosh joins classmate and fellow Floridian Tony Jones in this year’s backfield. McIntosh is the speedier of the two backs for the Irish this year and held offers from Miami, Louisville, Michigan State, Penn State, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Kareem was just named the MVP of the Semper Fi Bowl after recovering two fumbles and returning one of them for a score.
- Khalid Kareem – One of the most important recruits in this year’s class because of his position – defensive end – Kareem was at one time committed to Alabama. The Michigan native selected the Irish though shortly after his visit for the USC game and he enrolls early today with Hayes and Studstill with a chance to earn playing time as a freshman just as Andrew Trumbetti did two years ago after enrolling early. Kareem is destined for strong side defensive end, but could play on the weak-side this year where Notre Dame is in more of a position of need.
- Troy Pride Jr – Notre Dame’s early Christmas present, Pride committed to Notre Dame on Christmas Eve with a name tailor made for headline writers covering Notre Dame and USC for the next 4-5 years. Pride is one of a number of defensive backs in this year’s class and made a huge jump in the 247Sports rankings as a senior moving up to #85 overall and #9 at corner. He was previously #263 overall and the 23rd ranked corner.
Notre Dame could further its ROI from the USC weekend if they are able to lure 4-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch out of Texas to join the class of 2016. Even if they are unable to, the weekend was one of the most successful in-season recruiting weekends in years. The fact that the Irish beat their rivals is not coincidental at all either.
Notre Dame has tried the “all in” approach on other USC weekends such as 2011 and 2013 without nearly the same results after they displayed a poor product on the field. In 2011 the Irish got knocked around by a weak USC team and in 2013, the Irish hung on for dear life when Tommy Rees was knocked out and the offense completely stalled under Andrew Hendrix. This year, however, the Irish displayed a big play offense and made some opportune plays on defense such as Keivarae Russell’s game clinching interception to put on a show for those in attendance.
The gamble paid off this year. Expect Notre Dame to employ a similar approach next year when Stanford visits for what could be another showdown of top 10 ranked teams in a game in which the Irish will be out for revenge.