Notre Dame Football: How Irish Can Solidify a Top-5 Recruiting Class for 2014

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystJanuary 22, 2014

Nov 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly (center) waits to lead the Fighting Irish onto the field to play the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. PITT won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Notre Dame is among a limited number of collegiate programs that perennially commands a national spotlight as a result of long-established pedigree. The attention translates into an effective recruiting tool that expands the team's reach and often results in top-tier classes.

Another strong batch of incoming prospects, plus the return of reinstated quarterback Everett Golson, is generating plenty of optimism in South Bend following a 9-4 season.

The 2014 recruiting haul features a pair of promising early enrollees and a stable of skilled 4-star prospects. Still, there's room for improvement in a class currently listed eighth nationally, according to 247Sports composite rankings.

Brian Kelly and his coaching staff aim to maximize the final two weeks before national signing day by landing key targets on both sides of the ball. The Fighting Irish have a specific need along the defensive line's interior.

Defensive tackle Michael Sawyers (Nashville, Tenn.) ended a six-month commitment to Vanderbilt in the aftermath of James Franklin's departure. Notre Dame offered days before his decision.

While the Irish are late to the party, Sawyers is still seriously considering the offer. The 6'2", 300-pound prospect is also mulling heavy interest from Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Ole Miss.

Notre Dame could also look to the west coast while addressing concerns at defensive tackle. Marcus Griffin (Bellevue, Wash.) recently received an in-home visit from defensive line coach Mike Elston and will visit South Bend this weekend.

He is also scheduled to spend an official visit at Mississippi State before signing day.

Cincinnati defensive tackle Daniel Cage picked up a late offer from Notre Dame and sees the Fighting Irish in a different light these days. The 4-star prospect is feeling a lot more love from the Fighting Irish.

“I've always been interested in Notre Dame,” Cage told The South Bend Tribune. “During the football season they told me they didn't really like me, but they ended up changing defensive coordinators. The new coordinator that came from the New York Jets (Brian VanGorder) liked me."

Neither Griffin, Cage nor Sawyers are ranked among the nation's top 20 tackle prospects, per 247Sports composite rankings, but they are pivotal targets for Notre Dame at this stage. These players would add depth at a position that is presently slightly thin in South Bend, especially after California prospect Matt Dickerson flipped his commitment to UCLA.

The Irish are also searching for an infusion of talent at wide receiver.

Indianapolis product Justin Brent, a 4-star prospect, is already on campus after enrolling early. Additional help could be on the way, with Florida recruit Isaiah McKenzie emerging as a top target.

The 5'9", 172-pound playmaker is slated to visit Notre Dame later this month. Ole Miss, Florida and Oregon present the biggest competition for his commitment.

While additions at defensive tackle and receiver are relatively necessary, they aren't quite "splash moves." However, a pair of California defensive back recruits could take this class to another level.

Quick is a key target for the Irish.
Quick is a key target for the Irish.247Sports

John Smith (Long Beach, Calif.) and Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif.) are coveted standouts who could potentially excel on either offense or defense. Both are likely to initially land in the secondary.

Smith, a 5-star safety, spent an official visit in South Bend during the regular season. His nationwide journey also features visits to USC, UCLA, Ohio State, Oregon and Alabama.

The 6'1", 200-pound prospect trimmed his list to four finalists this month. Notre Dame faces off against Pac-12 foes Oregon, UCLA and USC in his recruiting race.

Quick is a 4-star standout who projects favorably as a cornerback at the next level, though he may ultimately contribute at receiver. He shared an official visit to Notre Dame with Smith in October.

Quick has also visited Oklahoma, Alabama and USC. If either he or Smith signs with Notre Dame, Kelly acquires a dynamic skill player capable of contributing immediately.

Landing commitments from a few more impressive prospects won't ensure that Notre Dame returns to a national title game in the next four years, but it would go a long way toward building a complete and deep roster capable of competing at the highest level.