Notre Dame football recruiting: Time to pounce in California

Tom Lemming
Tribune Correspondent

There is so much talent on USC’s roster, the Trojans can turn things around in a hurry. A new coach can come in, get the kids to buy into his coaching and philosophy, and it can be turned around as quick as the snap of a finger. They’re still, in my opinion, the most talented team in the Pac-12, along with Oregon. They have more NFL potential players than Washington, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA. USC athletic director Pat Haden saw that a disaster was looming, and fired Lane Kiffin. Rarely does anyone get fired in September, so that leads me to believe there was more to it than wins and losses. I used to co-host a TV show with Haden. He’s a very standup guy, but he also speaks his mind. I get the feeling that there were things bothering him more than just the win-loss record. That’s my opinion. USC was in on every top player in California. This gives Notre Dame a chance to make some hay while there’s no coach at USC. Notre Dame had already been involved with a number of them. There were a lot of guys that looked like they were heading to USC, now ND may have to go head-to-head with UCLA or Oregon. Mike Denbrock, the ND assistant who recruits California, has one of the biggest openings he’s ever had. Not only for these guys, but also the 2015 group. The indications are that Denbrock is not letting grass grow under his feet. He spent the bye week visiting recruits and extending a few offers to 2015 prospects in the state. He’s attacking. If USC’s new coach is Jack Del Rio, it’ll likely be a while before he’s in place, since he coaches with the Denver Broncos and they look like Super Bowl contender. He’s an assistant, but I don’t see him leaving a Super Bowl team. Notre Dame had the same scenario when it hired Charlie Weis, and it was a horrible recruiting year. Tyrone Willingham put together the bulk of the class before he was fired. Weis was limited in his recruiting in December and January because he was an assistant with the New England Patriots, who won the Super Bowl that year. That really affected Weis, because it was the second of two really bad Willingham classes, and Charlie never rebounded from it after Brady Quinn’s group graduated. One really bad class can really hurt you, and that could happen at USC if the Trojans don’t get someone in place in a timely manner. If they go college ranks, I would think they’ll go after James Franklin (Vanderbilt), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern) or Al Golden (Miami), with Boise State’s Chris Petersen also in the mix. Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin will also be a name, but he’s having great success there and I don’t see him leaving. Petersen, two years ago, was super high-profile but he’s come down a bit. Still, he’s a marketable guy. Another name is Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, who is a former USC assistant. He has proven himself to be one of the great young recruiters in the country. He’s fantastic. He would be the logical choice, and he understands USC. What could be a hangup is the fact that he coaches in the same conference as USC, and I don’t know if that would fly. Quick look back to Arlington Notre Dame was expected to have a lot of prospects at its Shamrock Series game in Arlington, Texas, last weekend, and I loved what they did. Absolutely fantastic. They’ve done it before at these off-site games, but never this well. There were expected to be approximately 65 kids visiting. The bulk of them are some of the best juniors in Texas. Notre Dame has always kind of fallen behind in Texas with the A-list guys, but this gets a lot of those guys for 2015 watching the Irish play Arizona State in what is technically an ND home game. Notre Dame can talk to them and Arizona State can’t. This could be one of the most important in-season recruiting weekends in the past 10 years. This could get the A-list guys back. Next to Los Angeles, the Metroplex in northern Texas is the most productive area in the country in terms of talent for Division-I players.

Notre Dame outside wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Mike Denbrock fields a question during media day on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame opens the season against Temple on Aug. 31. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER via FTP