A recruiting opportunity on the road for Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Opportunities like Saturday’s game at Florida State don’t come around too often.

What the game means for two undefeated teams and their chances to make the College Football Playoff are clear. But the recruiting implications, especially for Notre Dame, could be enormous. That talent expected to attend, Florida State’s prominence in the Sunshine State, and the national attention are all benefits that could favor Notre Dame if it can come out of Tallahassee with a win.

“This game, more than any one this year, could help Notre Dame’s recruiting the most,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “It’s an away game, which is unusual, but it’ll be more important than any of the home games if they play well, and conduct themselves well, which they will, and travel well and there’s a good fan base down there. Recruits pick up on that.”

They also pick up on wins. If Notre Dame can do what no other team has done to the Seminoles since November 2012 — beat them — the Irish could make waves nationally and in talent-rich Florida.

According to Noles247, a member of the 247Sports network, Florida State’s visitors list will surpass 40 recruits, the majority of which are juniors in the 2016 recruiting class or younger.

“There’s going to be a ton of talent at the game,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “There’s going to be a ton of young guys at the game, and some of those guys may have not watched Notre Dame yet this year, but they certainly know Notre Dame’s ranked high. If Notre Dame goes down to Tallahassee and beats Florida State in front of these recruits, that’s going to be something that’s going to leave a mark on them.”

The visitors alone are a group worth impressing. Four-star defensive lineman Neville Gallimore and Florida State safety commit Calvin Brewton, who recently visited Notre Dame, headline the 2015 recruits the Irish and Seminoles are both recruiting. Nine 2016 recruits who hold Notre Dame offers are also expected to attend, per 247Sports: quarterback Malik Henry, tight end Isaac Nauta, defensive back Saivion Smith, cornerbacks Levonta Taylor and Trayvon Mullen and wide receivers Sam Bruce, Binjimen Victor, Demetris Robertson and Tavares Chase.

Henry, a five-star quarterback, may be the most important of that group. He attended Notre Dame’s game at Michigan and is expected to make a decision before the end of the year. The Irish and Seminoles appear to be the two teams to beat in his recruitment.

“That’s the battleground recruit for the two schools right now,” Wiltfong said. “They’re not really fighting head-to-head over anybody else right now. There’s a chance for Notre Dame to make a statement in Florida against the best Florida team, against the defending national champs. It’s an exciting opportunity for Notre Dame.”

As it is for any team that recruits nationally, Notre Dame and Brian Kelly place a heavy importance in Florida. In the five classes that have signed with the Irish since Kelly was named head coach, 11 recruits from the Sunshine State have penned with Notre Dame. Yet the Irish do not hold a verbal commitment from the state from a recruit in the 2015 class.

The state churns out talent on a yearly basis. Seventeen of the top 100 recruits in the 2015 class hail from Florida, according to 247Sports. The top 100 in the 2016 class includes 14 Florida prospects. The numbers translate to the NFL too. No state, per Scout.com, has had more players drafted in the last three years than Florida’s 104. California (86) and Texas (82) came in a distant second and third.

With the varying states of football programs at Florida, Miami and Florida State, the power has shifted the way of the Seminoles.

“Florida State is the brand in Florida right now,” Wiltfong said. “They are the team that has everybody’s respect down there.”

Impressing recruits in road games wouldn’t be a new phenomenon for Notre Dame. Sophomore offensive lineman Steve Elmer committed to the Irish shortly after watching Notre Dame lose in person at Michigan in 2011. Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke attended the 2012 game at Oklahoma as a Sooners recruit. He committed to the Irish a couple weeks later.

But finding a parallel to Saturday’s game – one that will be seen by so many recruits in such a talented area – is tough. Lemming said he’d have to look back to Lou Holtz’s tenure at Notre Dame for anything similar to this coming weekend.

A blowout loss would be the only potential negative outcome Saturday. The Irish could still lose in a close game and use the result as a recruiting tool. Notre Dame can then tell the recruits that it needs them in order to beat Florida State in the future. The potential positives far outweigh the negatives.

“What could come out of it is these kids get very impressed by Notre Dame,” Lemming said, “the way they handle themselves, the way they play, the way they travel with fans, the way the media covers it as if it’s what it is, it’s one of the biggest games of the year.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI