Why Notre Dame has fallen behind in quest for talent; more notes
With its tough admission standards, Notre Dame can't admit many top players
The Irish simply can't compete with the likes of Florida, Alabama and USC
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier swoops in and lands former commits
Notre Dame officials made a critical choice a few years ago. They could lower their academic standards to allow in better athletes so alumni could take pride in their football team, or they could keep those standards high so alumni could take pride in their university.
By placing the school's primary mission above athletic success, they chose correctly. Unfortunately, Notre Dame fans must accept the consequences.
The Fighting Irish can fire or keep Coach Charlie Weis. It won't matter. The combination of high academic standards and a changing recruiting landscape has assured that even if the Fighting Irish somehow genetically engineer a coach who combines the best traits of Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi and Winston Churchill, Notre Dame still won't have the players to compete for BCS bowl berths on an annual basis.
On Saturday look at the discrepancy in talent between USC and Notre Dame. The Trojans are allowed to recruit just about anyone, and that, combined with a talent-rich backyard and charismatic coaching staff, allows USC to stockpile quality players. Texas, Oklahoma and Florida enjoy similar advantages, and though Ohio State and Penn State must face slightly tougher standards than the others, they still aren't as restricted as Notre Dame, which falls closer to Duke, Stanford and Vanderbilt on the athletic admissions continuum.
Yet Notre Dame is expected to compete for the national title every year because it is Notre Dame. The popular notion now is that Weis can't coach. He coached just fine when he had the players from the "empty cupboard" Tyrone Willingham left behind. Notre Dame earned BCS bowl berths in his first two years and got blown out by teams (Ohio State, LSU) that can recruit better players.
Why do you think Urban Meyer took the Florida job in December 2004 when he could have taken his "dream job" -- his words -- at Notre Dame? Meyer knew he could win more easily at Florida. Winning consistently in college football is tough enough without having to fight the admissions office at every turn. Quarterback Tony Rice led Notre dame to a national title in 1988. Rice, who was admitted under Proposition 48, wouldn't be considered by Notre Dame today.
Another popular knock against Weis is that while he has recruited well, he hasn't developed those players. That's a misconception. Recruiting gurus say Weis recruits well because, for years, players had stars added in front of their names because Notre Dame was recruiting them. But let's look at the actual players who showed up on campus. Yes, Weis has brought in receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate and quarterback Jimmy Clausen. He also has a 2009 commitment from top-ranked Oxnard, Calif., tailback Cierre Wood, and the Irish are in the hunt for Honolulu linebacker Manti Te'o, but how many of Notre Dame's other recent recruits would start for a perennial top-10 program? The Georgias, LSUs and Penn States sign five game-changers every year. Notre Dame, fishing from a much smaller pond, can't match that depth.
The best recruiting year for Weis should have been 2006. He had just come off a 10-3 season, he had just signed a monster contract extension and he could easily dismiss the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State as a fluke. Rivals.com loved his class, ranking it No. 8. That's one spot ahead of an Oklahoma class that included quarterback Sam Bradford, tailback Demarco Murray, tight end Jermaine Gresham, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy defensive end Jeremy Beal and offensive tackle Trent Williams. Meanwhile, Florida (Rivals.com No. 2) signed a class headlined by quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes. Alabama (Rivals.com No. 11), still led by soon-to-be-fired Mike Shula, signed offensive tackle Andre Smith, cornerback Javier Arenas and strong safety Justin Woodall.
Few of the players Notre Dame signed that year would start on any of the 2008 versions of the teams listed above. There's no need to name names, because those players are working hard on the field and in the classroom, and it's not their fault they aren't as fast as Harvin. Weis probably would have loved to sign any of those players from the other schools, but most of them weren't on Notre Dame's board because they wouldn't have been admitted. Of the players listed, only Oklahoma's McCoy seriously considered Notre Dame. Oklahoma's Beal probably could have gotten in -- he got an offer from Duke -- but he didn't consider the Irish.