Alabama vs. Notre Dame: Which Team Has the Most Elite Freshman Class?
While both the depth charts of Alabama and Notre Dame consist primarily of upperclassmen, both teams do have a handful of elite freshman players at key positions.
The college football world has become enthralled with recruiting, so much so that a variety of paid-subscription recruiting sites have popped up aplenty during the past decade. Fans have developed an unquenchable thirst for up-to-the-second information regarding heralded high school prospects whom their favorite program may be targeting.
That thirst has driven heated discussion and debate among fans of both the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish during the current waiting period of January's BCS National Championship Game.
One particular topic that hasn't received a ton of attention is which team possesses the more elite freshman class.
Sure, some fans may be content answering that question by referencing team recruiting rankings on 247sports.com or Rivals.com, but delving deeper than that is necessary to provide a fair, thorough answer.
Let's begin with Notre Dame, the top-ranked team in the final BCS standings.
What the Irish's 2012 class lacked in number, it made up for in quality, particularly at the quarterback position. Head coach Brian Kelly was able to secure a commitment from the nation's top-ranked signal-caller in Gunner Kiel, a 5-star prospect from Columbus, Ind.
Kiel began his recruitment by pledging to Indiana, only to rescind that commitment in favor of the LSU Tigers. But, of course, the story didn't end there, as Kelly was able to sway Kiel just days prior to enrolling at Notre Dame last January.
Kiel's commitment has given Notre Dame unprecedented depth at quarterback, which is a good problem that very few programs have the luxury of handling.
While Kiel was redshirted by the coaching staff, two members of the 2012 class earned their way into major roles this season. Four-star athlete KeiVarae Russell and 4-star defensive lineman Sheldon Day have each heard their names called consistently this season.
Day, who played defensive tackle at Indianapolis' Warren Central High School, slid over to defensive end during fall camp due in part to the absence of Aaron Lynch. And while he hasn't yet earned a starting role, he is well on his way to doing so, especially with Kapron Lewis-Moore's starting gig set to open up following the national championship.
Meanwhile, Russell, originally recruited by Notre Dame as a running back, has had a full plate during his first full semester in South Bend. The Everett, Wash., native was suddenly and surprisingly moved to cornerback to combat depth issues at the position.
Since taking over as a starter opposite Bennett Jackson, Russell has played admirably, while avoiding the crippling big plays that plagued former starter Gary Gray in 2011.
However, depth remains an issue at cornerback, which wasn't helped by the departure of Tee Shepard prior to spring ball earlier this year.
Despite the talent that the Irish were able bring in, the Crimson Tide have them beat.
First and foremost, the Tide found their go-to offensive playmaker in the 2012 class in the form of 4-star receiver Amari Cooper. The Miami, Fla., native currently leads the team in receptions (53), receiving yards (895) and touchdown receptions (9).
Also providing fireworks on the offensive side of the ball has been freshman running back T.J. Yeldon. A former 5-star prospect out of Daphne, Ala., Yeldon has topped the 1,000-yard mark on the season while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
Defensively, it has been tough sledding for true freshmen to see the field, though it's a class that will be dominant once its time arrives. The Tide boast defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson; defensive backs Geno Smith, Travell Dixon and Landon Collins; and linebackers Reggie Ragland, Dillon Lee, Tyler Hayes, Denzel Devall and Ryan Anderson.
The Irish's 2012 class simply can't boast that type of astounding depth or quality on the either side of the ball.
Because of that, I have given Alabama's freshman class the upper hand in this battle, though there are many battles to come, including on Jan. 7.
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