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Think Notre Dame can't hang with Florida State? Think again

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The Irish have quietly been one of the best on the recruiting trail over the last four years.

Saturday's prime time matchup between No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 2 Florida State will feature two of the most talented teams in the country.

Fifty-six percent of the prospects signed by the Seminoles over the last four years have been rated four- or five-stars by the 247Sports Composite. Only seven schools have done better. This probably isn't all that surprising, considering that FSU is the defending national champion and is located in the most fertile recruiting region in the country.

One of those teams that has done better, however, is actually the Irish, an 11-point underdog at Tallahassee. Sixty-three percent of the prospects signed by the Irish have met the mark. Only three schools -- Alabama, Ohio State, and USC (the latter with much smaller classes, due to sanctions) -- have brought in better ratios.

What Notre Dame has built

Notre Dame's recruiting has been steadily improving under Brian Kelly. That progress may have been obscured from view of the casual college football fan by Notre Dame making it to the BCS Championship before it was ready to play in one, thus being blown out by Alabama. That talent level was also distorted by a four-loss 2013, after quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for cheating, and some key players being suspended in 2014 for academic misconduct.

On the recruiting trail, however, Kelly's staff has done a great job, and the same can be said about the Irish's coaches' work on the field with the players who are eligible to play. Notre Dame has aggressively sold its combination of tradition, facilities, academics, and alumni base, telling recruits to make 40-year decisions, not four-year decisions.

Difference-makers on defense

The Irish have been able to recruit better defenders, something that previous Irish coaches Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham failed to do. And that often means winning recruiting battles in the South. Notably, the Irish signed Louis Nix (Florida), Prince Shembo (North Carolina), Aaron Lynch (Florida), Stephon Tuitt (Georgia), Romeo Okwara (North Carolina), Isaac Rochell (Georgia), as well as reaching into Texas and remaining strong in California.

Notre Dame is again doing a good job in the South, with commits from offensive tackle Jerry Tillery (Louisiana) and defensive end Bo Wallace (Louisiana). It is also considered the favorite for Florida linebacker Tevon Coney.


Notre Dame fans saw in 2013 what lacking a top-quality quarterback can do to a team. Kelly and his staff have taken big steps to ensure that won't happen again.

Kelly has done a good job convincing mobile, strong-armed quarterbacks to come play in his offense. In 2011, he signed Golson out of South Carolina, in 2013 he landed Malik Zaire of Ohio, in 2014 he signed DeShone Kizer of Ohio, and this year, he has flipped New Jersey's Brandon Wimbush, formerly a Penn State commitment. All of these quarterbacks have strong arms and mobility, traits that pair well with Kelly's spread offense, which looks to run a lot of vertical routes and create space underneath for the mobile quarterbacks to work.

And Notre Dame is looking for its next quarterback, who just might be in Tallahassee Saturday:

One top prospect for whom Florida State and Notre Dame are battling is 2016 five-star quarterback Malik Henry, of Thousand Oaks (Calif.) Westlake. Florida State and Notre Dame have emerged as two of the major favorites for Henry, along with UCLA, and the QB plans to make his commitment sometime during his junior year. Landing Henry would be a huge deal for either school, as he could help bring other members of the 2016 class to South Bend or Tallahassee.

The winner of this game, however, likely won't have that big of a leg up on the loser on the recruiting trail, as both schools have been and should continue to recruit at an elite level. But it should be a great atmosphere to impress recruits.