No clear answer at QB for Notre Dame's 2015 recruiting class


South Bend Tribune


Within the last month, Notre Dame’s biggest catch in the 2015 recruiting class left the Irish with their biggest question mark.

The loss of quarterback Blake Barnett’s commitment forced Notre Dame to restart a recruitment at a position that had been filled for more than six months, which is only somewhat shorter than an eternity in today’s accelerated recruiting process.

Barnett, who withdrew his pledge from Notre Dame in early June, left the Irish with eight months before signing day to find a quarterback. However, the majority of quarterback recruiting on the national landscape will be wrapped up by late August.

Most highly-rated quarterbacks already hold commitments. Of the 10 highest-ranked dual-threat quarterbacks on Rivals, eight hold verbal pledges. Seven of the top 10 on 247Sports are also committed.

The Irish are left playing catchup with six months of recruiting inactivity at the position. Three quarterbacks reported new offers from the Irish in June, but little traction appears to have been gained. With no immediate commitment on the horizon, the question has been raised on whether the Irish will even take a quarterback in this class.

Back in February, head coach Brian Kelly named quarterback first when asked about priorities in the 2015 class. But how much of that was an indirect compliment to Barnett to let him know how much Kelly valued him? It’s hard to imagine Kelly settling on a recruiting class without a centerpiece to run his offense, but the three-man depth chart of Everett Golson (two), Malik Zaire (four), and DeShone Kizer (four) has a combined 10 years of eligibility left heading into the fall.

Skipping a quarterback would be a calculated risk. Any combination of injury, transfer, or off-the-field issue could put a strain on the offense. The 2013 offseason, which brought the Golson suspension and Gunner Kiel transfer, serves as a reminder of the possible consequences. The Irish would likely be forced to try to recruit two quarterbacks in 2016, but that could prove to be no easier than the obstacle waiting in the 2015 class.

Here’s a look at some of the names to watch as Kelly and new quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur continue the search for a 2015 quarterback commitment.

Top targets

Travis Waller, 6-3, 190; Anaheim (Calif.) Servite: The four-star prospect was the first quarterback to report a Notre Dame offer following Barnett’s decommitment. Shortly after the offer, Waller released a top four of Notre Dame, Northwestern, Alabama and Ohio State. A visit to South Bend was scheduled to be made with a July 1 date circled for his commitment announcement. Plenty has changed since then.

The Buckeyes and Crimson Tide already have quarterback commitments, Waller has yet to make a trip to Notre Dame and some other schools may be in the mix. Oregon, whose search for a quarterback included the visit that led to Barnett parting ways with Notre Dame, offered Waller on June 21. And according to 247Sports, USC has recently increased communication with Waller.

If Waller sticks to his July 1 decision date as planned, it’s hard to imagine him choosing the Irish. With the NCAA recruiting dead period, which prohibits football programs from hosting prospects on visits from June 30 through July 13, Notre Dame would have to wait a couple weeks to host Waller.

As a junior, Waller completed 127 of his 235 passes for 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed 171 times for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns. He remains the highest-ranked dual-threat quarterback on 247Sports (No. 2) and Rivals (No. 5) who has yet to commit.

Jarrett Stidham, 6-3, 180; Stephenville (Texas) High: When the Irish offered Stidham in June, he became poaching possibility No. 1. With Stidham holding a verbal commitment with Texas Tech since March, Notre Dame can only hope to make him rethink his pledge to the Red Raiders and head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Brian Kelly has shown little fear in recruiting quarterbacks with commitments elsewhere. Half the scholarship quarterbacks to enroll at Notre Dame in the four full recruiting cycles Kelly has overseen previously held commitments elsewhere — Golson with North Carolina and Kiel with Indiana and LSU.

Swaying the four-star prospect away from Kingsbury, who’s viewed as an up-and-coming head coach with the tutelage of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M on his résumé, won’t be easy. Scheduled future games in Texas and Notre Dame’s recent recruiting success in the state could help.

As a junior, Stidham completed 160 of his 268 passes for 2,687 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also rushed 143 times for 975 yards and 16 touchdowns. Rivals ranks him as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him No. 3.

Deondre Francois, 6-1, 192; Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy: A reported offer to Francois seems to have made little impact on the four-star prospect in the Sunshine State. Notre Dame hasn’t found much success recruiting the athletically-focused IMG Academy in recent years.

In narrowing his list to a top three of Auburn, Florida State and Oregon, Francois essentially ruled out any movement with the Irish.

“Notre Dame kind of came in the picture last and it’s not happening with Notre Dame,” Francois told’s Amy Campbell. “I don’t even have a relationship with the coaches.”

Francois, ranked as the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback by both 247Sports and Rivals, impressed at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in early June and earned quarterback MVP honors. He’s expected to make a decision in late July.

Offer candidates

Recent history indicates the best connection to Notre Dame quarterback commitments is the Elite 11, a national quarterback competition sponsored by Nike and coached in part by former Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer. The last four scholarship quarterbacks to enroll at Notre Dame — Golson, Kiel, Zaire and Kizer — all competed in the Elite 11 finals.

This year, the finals consists of 18 rising senior quarterbacks, and will take place in early July as part of The Opening in Beaverton, Ore. The three previously mentioned quarterbacks are a part of the field, as well as the next five quarterbacks listed below.

If Notre Dame chooses to pursue other quarterbacks in the 2015 class, here are seven names to keep an eye on:

Brandon Wimbush, 6-2, 215; Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep: The Penn State commit showed some wiggle room with his pledge when he visited Stanford in mid-June, and Catholic schools in New Jersey are frequently targeted by Notre Dame. Wimbush, a four-star prospect, threw for 1,472 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior. He also rushed for 578 yards and seven touchdowns.

A move for Wimbush could turn the heat up on a potential recruiting rivalry with new Penn State head coach James Franklin. The two schools already went toe-to-toe for Irish linebacker commit Josh Barajas. Rivals ranks Wimbush as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback.

Brady White, 6-2, 186; Santa Clarita (Calif.) Hart: Pegged as a pro-style quarterback, White possesses enough mobility to meet the requirements of head coach Todd Graham’s spread offense. White, who committed to the Sun Devils in May, threw for 4,307 yards and 41 touchdowns as a junior. White is one of the headliners of a talented crop of quarterbacks in California this year which includes Barnett (Alabama), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Ricky Town (USC) and Waller. A four-star prospect, White ranks as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback by Rivals and 247Sports.

Sheriron Jones, 6-3, 184; Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde: Florida grabbed a commitment from Jones, a four-star prospect, days after Notre Dame lost Barnett. As a junior, he led Rancho Verde to an 11-3 record with his feet and arm and earned all-state honors. 247Sports slates him as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback. Rivals ranks him the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback.

Sam Darnold, 6-4, 209; San Clemente (Calif.) High: An injury-shortened junior season hasn’t stopped some major programs from recruiting Darnold. After Barnett chose Alabama over Oregon, the Ducks made Darnold their next offer. With no immediate decision on the horizon, Darnold continues to weigh his options, which include USC, Northwestern, Utah, Duke and Tennessee, and take visits. Darnold, a three-star prospect, threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 322 yards and five touchdowns before breaking his foot in the third game of his junior season. 247Sports slates him as the No. 17 dual-threat quarterback.

Ryan Brand, 5-10, 190; University of Detroit Jesuit: Easily the Elite 11’s most undersized and under-recruited player, Brand’s inclusion in the finals certainly turned heads. He holds offers only from Air Force and Indiana State and doesn’t even have a Rivals star rating. Brand threw for 1,871 yards and rushed for 832 yards as a junior. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 44 dual-threat quarterback.

Lamar Jackson, 6-3, 185; Boynton Beach (Fla.) Community: Leaving the state of Florida doesn’t appear to be an issue for Jackson. Interest in Nebraska, Louisville and West Virginia show that Jones remains open to schools out of his immediate region. However, Notre Dame’s quarterback recruiting hasn’t gone very far in Florida in recent years. As a junior, the four-star prospect threw for 1,688 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns. 247Sports slates Jackson as the No. 9 dual-threat quarterback. Rivals ranks him No. 11 at the position.

James Morgan, 6-4, 210; Green Bay (Wis.) Ashwaubenon: Morgan visited Notre Dame for a pair of games last season, but his recruitment never picked up with major programs. He committed to Bowling Green in June, choosing the Falcons over Ball State, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. He threw for 2,540 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior. 247Sports slates him as a four-star prospect and the No. 12 pro-style quarterback. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 19 pro-style quarterback. | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Quarterback Travis Waller, a 2015 prospect, is set to announce his commitment decision on July 1. (Photo courtesy Student Sports/TOM HAUCK)

Sunday: Quarterbacks

Monday: Running backs

Tuesday: Wide receivers

Wednesday: Offensive line/Tight ends

Thursday: Defensive line

Friday: Linebackers

Saturday: Defensive backs

Part one in a seven-day series bringing a position-by-position analysis of Notre Dame's 2015 football recruiting efforts.