Forecasting the finish to Notre Dame's 2016 recruiting class

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

It’s the dreaded question that gets asked to every reporter covering recruiting: Who will commit next?

Sometimes there’s a logical answer. Most times there’s a short list of recruits who seem to be favoring one team. And every once in a while, no one is on the verge of committing.

Forecasting the weather might be the only thing harder to predict than the decisions of high school athletes. Thankfully, no one puts me on TV every night.

But with a little more than three months left until signing day, the final picture of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class has started to come into focus.

The Irish have started to hit their stride on the recruiting trail with the help of a strong first half of the season and a consistent effort from the coaching staff. Notre Dame’s biggest recruiting events of the season are in the past and now it’s up to the Irish to close.

So let’s take a shot at predicting the unpredictable. Here’s my forecast of how Notre Dame fills the estimated seven scholarships remaining for the 2016 class.

Note: No tarot cards, tea leaves, or magic eight balls were consulted for this story.

• RB Deon McIntosh, 5-11, 170; Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons: The three-star running back stayed on the fringes of Notre Dame’s radar for a while, but the Irish have surged in the past couple weeks with his official visit for the USC game. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and running backs coach Autry Denson returned the favor with a visit to his school last week.

Notre Dame made a strong impression on McIntosh and may be in position to beat out Miami and West Virginia in his recruitment. McIntosh would be a complement to running back commit Tony Jones Jr. in the backfield and in the slot position. Rivals ranks McIntosh as the No. 14 all-purpose back. 247Sports slates him as the No. 80 running back.

• WR Javon McKinley, 6-2, 204; Corona (Calif.) Centennial: Three visits to South Bend should be enough to sway the four-star recruit to Notre Dame. McKinley has one last official visit scheduled (Oregon) before focusing on a decision he plans to announce in January at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

McKinley, who caught 29 passes for 655 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games this season, would give the Irish another playmaker at receiver. 247Sports slates McKinley as the No. 17 wide receiver. Rivals ranks him 18th at the position.

• DE Carlo Kemp, 6-3, 250; Boulder (Colo.) Fairview: Notre Dame finds itself in a tug-of-war with Michigan for Kemp and linebacker Jonathan Jones. The Wolverines could certainly win both recruitments, but Kemp has idolized the Irish since he was a young child.

A decision could be coming soon, and the additions of Kemp and Khalid Kareem at defensive end in a short span would flip the momentum at a position the Irish have struggled to recruit in recent years. Rivals rates Kemp as a four-star prospect and the No. 9 weakside defensive end. 247Sports slates him as a three-star recruit and the No. 30 strongside defensive end.

• LB Daelin Hayes, 6-3, 239; Ann Arbor (Mich.) Skyline: Notre Dame put itself in a position to flip Hayes long before he withdrew his verbal commitment to USC. Now the Irish are set up to reap the benefits by landing one of their top targets.

Hayes plans to make official visits to Ohio State, Michigan State, Oregon and LSU in November, but the trips may only be a formality. Rivals rates Hayes as a five-star recruit and the No. 3 outside linebacker. 247Sports pegs him as a four-star prospect and No. 10 at the position.

• LB Jeffrey McCulloch, 6-2, 230; Houston (Texas) Aldine Davis: Programs in Texas are pulling hard for the four-star prospect, but he’s using his official visits to see other parts of the country. Notre Dame received his first visit earlier this month. Florida, Stanford and Michigan remain on the schedule.

The Irish still have work to do with McCulloch, but it seems linebackers coach Mike Elston has made an impact on McCulloch and helped him realize a fit at Notre Dame. Rivals ranks McCulloch as the No. 5 inside linebacker. 247Sports slates him as the No. 8 outside linebacker.

• S Devin Studstill, 6-1, 180; Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High: Much like with McIntosh, Miami may have eliminated itself as a serious contender for Studstill with coaching turnover imminent. But Notre Dame may have been the favorite for Studstill even before the Al Golden turmoil.

Studstill has been to Notre Dame multiple times and plans to enroll early. Following the path of former teammate Te’von Coney makes sense for the three-star recruit. 247Sports slates Studstill as the No. 33 safety. Rivals ranks him as the No. 43 athlete.

• S Ikenna Okeke, 6-2, 200; Smyrna (Tenn.) High: Twice Okeke has left Notre Dame with a commitment under consideration but plans to visit other schools. After visiting for the USC game, the three-star recruit plans to see Texas A&M before making a decision.

If other defensive backs are ready to join Notre Dame’s class before him, he may miss out on his chance to be Irish. But many of the Notre Dame targets in the secondary don’t seem to be in a hurry to commit either. Rivals ranks Okeke as the No. 32 safety. 247Sports slates him 38th at the position.

• Close calls: athlete Brandon Burton, wide receivers Damian Alloway and Melquise Stovall, defensive end Oluwole Betiku, linebackers Aaron Hansford, Jonathan Jones and Caleb Kelly and cornerbacks Troy Pride Jr., Damar Hamlin, Jordan Fuller and David Long Jr.

Safety recruit Devin Studstill walks off the field after Notre Dame's 41-31 win over USC on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. (SBT Photo/JARED HAMSHER)