Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The University of Notre Dame is making a recruiting splash following a season that began with the Fighting Irish outside college football’s national rankings and ended with an appearance in the championship game.
Today is the first chance for high school football players to make an official written commitment to a college under National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. Recruits previously could make only non-binding verbal commitments.
Notre Dame is poised to bring one of its best groups of players in years to South Bend, Indiana, buoyed by a season in which the Fighting Irish started 12-0. Notre Dame, which earned its first appearance in the championship game since 1988 before losing to Alabama 42-14, has an incoming class that’s ranked among the four best in college football by recruiting analysts at Scout.com, Rivals.com and ESPN.
“Now they have the tangible proof that Notre Dame is essentially back,” said Brandon Huffman, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “Yes, they no-showed for the BCS championship game, but the fact is that nobody expected them to get there. Guys are seeing that coach Brian Kelly is turning this program around. They’ve got the players, they’ve got the talent and have done a great job on this class.”
Alabama, after winning its third Bowl Championship Series title in four years, is set to land another top recruiting class, with a group that’s currently No. 1 in the Rivals.com team rankings. The Crimson Tide had Rivals’ top-ranked classes in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director, said Alabama has excelled at recruiting in anticipation of players entering the National Football League draft as underclassmen. Alabama’s prospective class is currently ranked No. 2 by ESPN, behind the University of Florida.
“They can go into any home now and say this is what we’ve developed,” Luginbill said on a media conference call. “They’re continually bringing in waves where one player leaves, the player coming on the field is not a drop off.”
The University of Michigan has Scout.com’s No. 1-ranked class heading into signing day. Ohio State, Louisiana State, Texas A&M, Georgia, the University of California at Los Angeles, Mississippi and the University of Southern California are also projected to have top recruiting classes.
Like Notre Dame, Texas A&M is enjoying a recruiting boon after a season that began with the Aggies outside the top 25 in the Associated Press poll. After finishing their debut season in the Southeastern Conference with an 11-2 record as quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Texas A&M has gotten verbal commitments from 32 high school players. The group includes seven wide receivers, including Ricky Seals-Jones of Sealy, Texas, who’s regarded as the nation’s top wideout prospect.
“They’ve had a perfect storm,” Huffman said of the Aggies in a phone interview. “They had an incredible season, a win at Alabama, joining the SEC and the Heisman Trophy winner. They’ve got so much momentum that they have this gigantic class, but it’s a good problem to have. You got so much talent and you can figure out how they’re going to fit later.”
Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-4, 282-pound defensive end from Loganville, Georgia, and the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit, said this morning in a televised announcement that he’ll attend the University of Mississippi. Nkemdiche selected Ole Miss over Florida and LSU, pulling out a Rebels hat from behind a podium as the school’s coaching staff was shown cheering.
“I feel like it’s the right place for me, they can do special things for me and it’s a program on the rise,” Nkemdiche, whose older brother Denzel is a sophomore linebacker for Mississippi, said on ESPNU.
The top offensive line recruit, Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Florida, is also considering Mississippi along with Alabama and Georgia. Eddie Vanderdoes of Placer, California, the No. 2 defensive tackle prospect, will decide between Notre Dame, Alabama, USC and UCLA.
While many high school football standouts have already given verbal commitments, they’re not official until the players sign a letter of intent today and fax it to the school.
The nation’s top linebacker prospect, Reuben Foster of Auburn, Alabama, originally committed to Alabama in July of 2011. After transferring to another high school, the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder held a news conference last April to say he was changing his commitment to rival Auburn University. Two days ago, Foster said in a televised announcement that he’s instead decided to sign with Alabama.
“It’s not all about emotion now, it’s a business decision,” Foster said on Fox Sports South. “I know they can put me at the next level.”
Scout.com’s Huffman said he’s never seen more high school players waver on their verbal commitments.
“Twenty years ago you never knew where a kid was going until a press release was delivered by the school,” he said. “The way these kids bounce back and forth is more than it’s ever been. Social media plays a big role. You’ll see guys who say, ‘If I get 20,000 Twitter followers, I’ll go to Michigan.’”
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