Clemson's roster rivals Notre Dame's in recruiting talent
Few teams can claim to recruit at as high a level as Notre Dame. Over the last five years, Clemson can.
The Tigers have been ranked higher by Rivals in three of the last five recruiting cycles. Neither team has dropped outside of the top 20 nationally during that span. It’s no surprise that the teams taking the field Saturday are considered equals.
Yet Clemson has become notorious for failing to connect that potential to a national championship run. Ten-win seasons have become the new standard for the Tigers, but they are still waiting to become contenders in January.
“They're the one team in the country that recruits better than anybody else that still doesn't have anything to show for it,” said Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell. “They recruit above their standing.”
Coaches with a passion for recruiting at a school in the Southeast has given Clemson a talent infusion. The focus on the recruiting trail starts with head coach Dabo Swinney and is amplified by the Clemson offensive and defensive coordinators.
“They're not afraid to go into Florida, which I think some programs in the ACC are,” Farrell said. “When they lose people, they continually re-staff not only with great coaches but with great recruiters.”
“You have a very active defensive coordinator in Brent Venables, who is extremely active on the recruiting trail. Their offensive coordinator, Jeff Scott, is one of the best recruiters in the country. The head coach is very involved in recruiting. Those three things, your coordinators and your head coach being involved, that's a recipe for success."
Clemson’s highest-ranked class under Swinney came earlier this year when Rivals slated the class No. 4 in the country. Head coach Brian Kelly’s best class at Notre Dame finished No. 3 in 2013.
Though both schools have corralled talent, few recruits have had both schools as legitimate contenders before committing. Defensive end Richard Yeargin, who flipped his pledge from Notre Dame to Clemson in 2014, serves as the exception rather than the rule. Notre Dame defensive end Isaac Rochell admitted earlier this week he was close to committing to the Tigers.
When it comes to scholarship offers, Notre Dame has been increasingly shopping down some of the same aisles as Clemson. Six Clemson freshmen claimed Notre Dame offers during the recruiting process, according to the Rivals database. Only two Notre Dame freshmen — linebacker Te’von Coney and wide receiver Jalen Guyton — sported scholarship offers from the Tigers.
Nineteen players on Clemson’s roster reported Notre Dame offers as recruits. Only 10 Notre Dame players declared Clemson offers.
"Notre Dame's starting to get into Clemson territory more,” Farrell said. “I think that was the whole point of the ACC deal. It's really the best of both worlds for them. They get to go into North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida. The Southeast is where you win national championships. Clemson doesn't go into the Midwest much. They don't go into Texas much. They don't go out to the West Coast. Notre Dame is much more national.”
Though Clemson’s recruiting radius may be smaller than Notre Dame’s, its roster relies on highly-touted recruits to carry the load. Quarterback DeShaun Watson, defensive end Shaq Lawson, offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt, cornerback Mackensie Alexander and wide receiver Artavis Scott were all praised as prospects.
The Tigers do rely on a handful of starters who were lightly recruited before committing to Clemson. Safety T.J. Green, who leads the team with 15 solo tackles, was a two-star recruit with no other offers from Power 5 conference schools. Defensive end Kevin Dodd, center Jay Guillermo and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley were all three-star prospects with short offer lists.
“Tankersley is a guy who wasn't a national recruit, who is really starting to get a lot of attention because nobody throws at Mack Alexander,” Farrell said. “Some of these guys turn out to be good and some of these guys just turn out to be starters. There's a big difference between good and starters.”
Overall, Farrell said he sees more recruiting talent on Clemson’s roster from top to bottom. The recruiting numbers back him up by a slim margin. Clemson’s recruiting classes have finished in an average position of 10.6 in the last five recruiting cycles. Notre Dame’s classes average out at 11.
But the way Notre Dame has developed players like running back C.J. Prosise, wide receiver Will Fuller and quarterback DeShone Kizer has impressed Farrell.
“Notre Dame does a better job of developing talent, whereas Clemson does a better job of recruiting natural Southeast talent,” Farrell said.
Notre Dame’s roster seemed to be building to a peak in 2015. For Clemson, it could come next year. Farrell compared the current Tigers to the 2012 Florida State team, which went on to win the national championship the following year. If guys like Alexander and Lawson decide to stay in school, Clemson could be loaded.
“They could have that tag of most talented roster in college football,” Farrell said.
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Notre Dame and Clemson have recruited at a similar level in the last five recruiting cycles according to national class rankings by Rivals.
Class Notre Dame Clemson
2015 No. 11 No. 4
2014 No. 11 No. 13
2013 No. 3 No. 14
2012 No. 20 No. 14
2011 No. 10 No. 8