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Recruiting a Championship Team vs. a 4-8 Squad: A Closer Look at Clemson’s and Notre Dame’s Recent Classes


National Signing Day in college football is fast approaching and the current national champions, the Clemson Tigers, are ready to do what they do best: sign a boatload of four- and five-star players. Conversely, Notre Dame stumbled to a 4-8 record this past season. Their problem, obviously, was that they have not recruited enough top-level players.

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It is true that Clemson’s roster is stuffed with five-star talent. But what were their players’ recruiting rankings coming into college and how do the Tigers' recruiting classes stack up to a program that had a losing record in 2016?

The bulk of the Clemson roster that now wears the crown – as well as the 2016 Fighting Irish – were assembled in the 2013-15 recruiting cycles. Let’s take a look at how each program recruited each of those three years with rankings courtesy of 247Sports' Composite team rankings.


Clemson – 22 Recruits 

Final Team Ranking: 15

Average Recruit Rating: .8838

Key Contributors: Mackensie Alexander, Dorian O’Daniel, Tyrone Crowder, Shaq Lawson, Ben Boulware, Jayron Kearse, Mike Williams, Scott Pagano, Wayne Gallman, Cordrea Tankersley, Jordan Leggett, T.J. Green, Jadar Johnson, Ryan Carter

Notre Dame – 24 Recruits

Final Team Ranking: 5

Average Recruit Rating: .9137

Key Contributors: Jaylon Smith, Tarean Folston, Steve Elmer, Isaac Rochell, Cole Luke, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern, Torii Hunter Jr., Durham Smythe, Will Fuller, James Onwualu

The 2013 Clemson class had just one five-star recruit, Mackensie Alexander, and he lived up to the hype. But it was the rest of the class that made it so special. The group listed above combined for 15 All-ACC nods over the course of their careers.

Even though Notre Dame’s class was rated 10 spots ahead of Clemson’s, the contributions fell far short. Jaylon Smith played like a five-star talent, Will Fuller is now a solid NFL receiver, and Mike McGlinchey has Sunday potential. But the rest of the class was a bit underwhelming.

Additionally, Notre Dame thought it had landed five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes on signing day in 2013. But he never made it to South Bend and wound up at UCLA.


Clemson – 19 Recruits

Team Ranking: 17

Average Recruit Rating: .8778

Key Contributors: Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott, C.J. Fuller, Kendall Joseph, Taylor Hearn, Greg Huegel

Notre Dame – 24 Recruits

Team Ranking: 11

Average Recruit Rating: .8852

Key Contributors: DeShone Kizer, Quenton Nelson, Nyles Morgan, Alex Bars, Andrew Trumbetti, Sam Mustipher, Drue Tranquill, Greer Martini, Tyler Newsome

Neither team knocked it out of the park in terms of productive quantity. But Deshaun Watson was on another level and Artavis Scott also was a special player for Clemson. Added to this group was a walk-on wide receiver named Hunter Renfrow.

Notre Dame got Kizer, who is projected to go in either the first or second round of the upcoming NFL Draft. The offensive line got three starters from this group and Nyles Morgan led the Irish in tackles this fall. But this was not a very exciting class overall.

Related: Ranking the Quarterback Recruiting Classes Since 2002


Clemson – 24 Recruits

Team Ranking: 9

Average Recruit Rating: .8919

Key Contributors: Mitch Hyatt, Deon Cain, Christian Wilkins, Ray-Ray McCloud, Albert Huggins, Jake Fruhmorgen, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Van Smith, Tanner Muse

Notre Dame – 24 Recruits

Team Ranking: 13

Average Recruit Rating: .8944

Key Contributors: Equanimeous St. Brown, Jerry Tillery, Asmar Bilal, C.J. Sanders, Josh Adams, Tevon Coney, Nick Coleman, Justin Yoon

For a group that just finished their true sophomore seasons, this is already an impressive class for Clemson. Christian Wilkins is a star and Mitch Hyatt, Clellin Ferrell, Van Smith, and Deon Cain were indispensable this championship season.

Equanimeous St. Brown had a very good sophomore campaign and Josh Adams is a solid feature back. But the Irish are still waiting for the rest of the class to develop.

Overall Analysis



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Clemson signed two more five-star recruits over this three-year period than Notre Dame; but just one more if you count Vanderdoes. However, the Fighting Irish inked 18 more four-stars and their recruits’ average ranking is higher.

So why is Clemson positioned at the top of the mountain and Notre Dame under an avalanche?

Clearly, Clemson has done a better job of evaluating and developing talent. The Tigers’ five-star recruits have all hit and they have had a better success rate with the three- and four-star prospects as well. Beyond Jaylon Smith and perhaps DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame has not developed many elite players once they arrived on campus, while Clemson has seen guys like Deshaun Watson, Christian Wilkins, Shaq Lawson and Mackensie Alexander have a significant impact, and then some.

Plus, Notre Dame has had an attrition problem. Nineteen (nearly a third of the 72 total signed) recruits over this three-year period were not with the program as of the end of this past season, which saps depth and makes injuries even more damaging.

During Brian Kelly’s first press conference at Notre Dame, the incoming head coach said that he would be targeting RKGs – Right Kinda Guys. The star rating didn't matter as much as how the player fits into the program. But Kelly has neither recruited the Right Kinda Guys nor has he developed them to their fullest potential.

But Dabo Swinney sure has.

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.