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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Saturday’s Game Within the Game

The story on the field is this: Notre Dame has won four straight, U.S.C. five of six, and it’s highly likely that the winner lands a national ranking in each poll next Monday. The Irish, who haven’t officially beaten the Trojans in South Bend since 2001 — unless we count the “Bush Push” game since vacated by the N.C.A.A. — look to win their second straight in the series after eight consecutive losses. Notre Dame is finding its groove, both on offense, where the Irish have significantly cut down on their turnovers, and on defense, where the Irish currently rank 31st nationally in scoring. U.S.C. is 5-1, 3-1 in the Pac-12, and looks for a rivalry win heading into next weekend’s key game at Stanford.

That’s the game as we know it, along with a few other notes and factors vital to the final outcome. But this weekend holds enormous importance for the Irish not just on the field but along the sidelines, where the program hosts a tremendous haul of potentially difference-making prospects in the biggest recruiting weekend of the season.

Sixteen recruits will be in town, and only one, according to Rivals.com, carries a star ranking of less than four stars. Three visitors have already given Notre Dame their verbal commitment — Justin Ferguson, he of the three stars, Deontay Greenberry and Tee Sheppard — so one thinks that this visit, regardless of the outcome, only solidifies their bond to the university.

That leaves 13 uncommitted prospects; 10 such prospects, actually, as three recruits have verbally committed elsewhere. Thirteen prospects, 13 chances to make an impression, 13 players who could give N.D. their signatures and add further talent to a program hoping to augment an already-strong roster.

The list of visitors is a who’s who of stars from the class of 2012. There are offensive linemen like John Theus, Ronnie Stanley and Zach Banner, each of whom could theoretically help the Irish continue their rebuilding up front — though I must admit that I don’t know anything about the prospects other than the stars next to their names.

Running backs. Wide receivers. Defensive linemen. Defensive backs. Athletes, which can mean anything. The Irish are seemingly inviting every top recruit with a pulse, which is an interesting to conduct business on the recruiting trail. As with great opportunity — the chance to impress major recruits against a major rival — comes the opportunity for failure; N.D. could lose by 30 points, which wouldn’t do much for its chances.

For Notre Dame, this may be “their greatest in-season (recruiting) weekend ever,” as Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports told The Chicago Tribune. It’s going to be “disorganized, organized chaos,” safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin told The Chicago Sun-Times. “It will be like being a Wall Street trader here come Sunday,” said Martin.

This is the game within the game. It happens every Saturday: teams don’t win just to win — though that’s the bottom line — but also to impress the kids, those whom the home staff have pinpointed as their must-haves in each recruiting cycle. A win is a win on multiple fronts.

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  1. SoCal Native 59 says:

    “The Irish, who haven’t officially beaten the Trojans in South Bend since 2001 — unless we count the “Bush Push” game since vacated by the N.C.A.A.”

    How in the world could a vacated loss be tranposed into a win?

    Domer logic, amazing.

    What do you think the recruits thought about the batdown SC put on ND. Chris Gallipo had it right, “they just quit.”

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