One thing that last month's 42-14 beating by Alabama did for the Notre Dame football program was to give Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly and his team an accurate assessment of its place on the college football landscape.
Surviving in games against Purdue, Brigham Young and Pittsburgh last season allowed Notre Dame an invitation to the BCS National Championship game. However, it also showed – as did the Crimson Tide – that the fourth-ranked Irish have a ways to go before printing up a new round of shirts touting “#1rish” or “Undefeated Season.”
“We have some work to do,” Kelly said recently. “There is no question. But we know where we want to go.”
A good deal of that “work” culminates Wednesday at noon at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, where Kelly will announce his 2013 recruiting class, which will undoubtedly, arrive in South Bend in a better position than previous classes had.
“Here's the great thing for me,” Kelly explained. “In three short years, when I stood before our team my first year, we did not have one player on our roster that had beaten a top 25 team.”
The 2013 Irish roster will include over 50 athletes that achieved that feat four times over the previous 12 months.
Notre Dame currently has 23 commitments, with five of those players already attending the university having enrolled last month.
There is no higher thought of recruit for Kelly than Bishop Luers High School linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Smith is the rated as the seventh-best player in the country according to ESPN and the highest Notre Dame recruit. Smith is expected to back-up Prince Shembo and Danny Spond at the outside linebacker spot, but he is confident that he'll be on the field immediately.
“I'm just preparing myself for Notre Dame and getting ready to have a fantastic career,” Smith said recently. “I'm going to have a great impact. Whatever role they have for me, I'm going to be ready for it.”
ESPN has the Irish with the third best class nationally as of Monday behind Florida and Alabama. However, that could change – even as late as Wednesday.
Nailing down a definitive decision from an 18-year-old, especially when they are engulfed by adults pulling them in varied directions, isn't easy. As late as two weeks ago, Notre Dame was in the running for highly-regarded recruits such as linebacker Deon Hollins Jr. and Torrodney Prevot, but both have cooled on the Irish.
However, Notre Dame is still alive in the race for a pair of California standouts.
Kylie Fitts is a top 10 prospect among defensive ends and visited Notre Dame last month. He is going to announce his decision today at 10 p.m. (EDT). The Irish are battling USC, UCLA and Utah for Fitts.
Notre Dame also has a shot at securing defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, who is rated as the 10th best player – regardless of position – by ESPN. Vanderdoes will make his announcement at 8 p.m. (EDT) on Wednesday.
“Three years later, we're playing in the national championship game with 15-plus starters coming back,” Kelly said of his program's future. “So I'm really excited about the progress that our program has made in a very short period of time.”
The class of 2013 (so far)
Steve Elmer - OL Midland, MI 6'6" 305
Mike Heuerman - TE Naples, FL 6'4" 220
James Onwualu - ATH St. Paul, MN 6'1" 205
Corey Robinson - WR San Antonio, TX 6'4" 195
Malik Zaire - QB Kettering, OH 6'0" 196
Committed - Not Yet Signed
Hunter Bivin - OL Owensboro, KY 6'7" 288
Greg Bryant - RB Delray Beach, FL 5'11" 197
Devin Butler - DB Washington, D.C. 6'1" 179
Michael Deeb - LB Plantation, FL 6'2" 237
Tarean Folston - RB Cocoa, FL 5'10" 195
William Fuller - WR Philadelphia, PA 6'1" 168
Torii Hunter Jr. - WR Prosper, TX 6'0" 172
Rashad Kinlaw - ATH Galloway, NJ 6'2" 184
Cole Luke - DB Chandler, AZ 6'0" 165
Jacob Matuska - TE Columbus, OH 6'5" 240
Mike McGlinchey - OL Philadelphia, PA 6'9" 280
Colin McGovern - OL New Lenox, IL 6'5" 284
John Montelus - OL Everett, MA 6'5" 295
Doug Randolph - LB Richmond, VA 6'3" 237
Max Redfield - DB Mission Viejo, CA 6'2" 195
Isaac Rochell - DE McDonough, GA 6'5" 260
Jaylon Smith - LB Fort Wayne 6'3" 212
Durham Smythe - TE Belton, TX 6'6" 230