When you’re a college football power with your own national TV contract and a recruiting focus to match, does it matter if you have much of a presence in the nearest metro area?
Yes, say a couple of prominent recruiting analysts. And history backs them up.
The program is Notre Dame, coming off a great season with a not-so-great ending: that 42-14 loss to Alabama Monday in the BCS championship game.
The question of the day, apart from whether coach Brian Kelly will leave for an NFL job, is whether the Fighting Irish can keep the momentum going. Their first focus is Feb. 6, which is national signing day for football.
ND recruiting did take a hit Thursday when four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone switched to Florida.
“They’re right now, right around No. 1 in the country,” CBS College Sports analyst Tom Lemming said of the Irish’s recruiting class. “[But] they’ve got to hang onto all these guys.”
And maybe pick up a few more like Greg Bryant, a five-star running back from Delray Beach. Fla., a former Oklahoma commit who said last month he was going to Notre Dame instead. What made that switch more significant was that Bryant didn’t even include the Irish among his finalists earlier in the recruiting process.
What may have flipped Bryant is ND’s obvious progress under Kelly, who has won 28 games in South Bend in three seasons, including the first 12 this year.
“Kids care more about the future than the past,” said Josh Helmholdt, Rivals.com’s Midwest recruiting analyst. “The truth is they don’t care about a single game. They care about the direction of the program.”
So getting to the national championship game carries more weight with recruits than the fact the Irish were humbled by Alabama once they got there.
And what should matter for the Irish is having more of a presence in the Chicago area. Their 2013 class features 22 recruits, but the only local one is three-star offensive lineman Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West.
It’s not for lack of trying. Notre Dame has offered scholarships to some of the area’s best, including four-star offensive lineman Ethan Pocic of Lemont and five-star receiver Laquon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. But Pocic picked LSU and Treadwell — who plans to announce his college choice next week — doesn’t have the Irish among his finalists.
There was a time when ND had a corner on the Chicago market. In fact, Lemming said, “every time Notre Dame has won a national title, they’ve had a lot of Chicago stars.”
Take the 1988 squad, which featured such home-grown talent as the late Mirko Jurkovic (T.F. North), Tim Grunhard (St. Laurence), Chris Zorich (Vocational), the late Jeff Alm (Sandburg), Stan Smagala (St. Laurence) and George Streeter (Julian) among others.
“[Frank] Leahy had it and so did [Ara] Parseghian,” Lemming said, referring to two more Irish coaches who won national titles.
Helmholdt believes the Irish would be wise to mine the steady stream of Chicago-area talent.
“2014 looks to be another strong class,” he said. “That’s easy pickings for them. Those are the guys that understand your tradition the best.”
“They’re not real strong in Chicago, but they’re strong in Florida,” he said.
But the Irish have been active in chasing the top local juniors. And those players may have noticed that one Notre Dame player who did have a big game was sophomore receiver DaVaris Daniels from Vernon Hills.
“Any time you’ve got local guys doing well, it also impresses the other local kids,” Lemming said.
And maybe it allows Notre Dame to get a leg up in Chicago again.