Every championship-caliber team has one undeniable trait—depth.
Like other coaching staffs, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his assistants have hit the recruiting trail to establish depth at each position.
While the Fighting Irish assembled one of the nation's most gleaming recruiting crops in the 2013 cycle, their efforts in 2012 will be a haunting memory.
Rewind to national signing day 2012.
At the time, the Irish had commitments from a handful of elite prospects, including 5-star quarterback Gunner Kiel, 4-star cornerback Tee Shepard, 4-star receivers Deontay Greenberry and Davonte' Neal and 3-star WR Justin Ferguson, among others.
On that morning, bad news reared its ugly head.
At 11:30 a.m., Greenberry spurned Notre Dame in favor of Houston, a program with an assistant coach, Jamie Christian, who had developed a relationship with the 6'3", 198-pound receiver.
While Greenberry was the only player to jump ship on national signing day, his cousin, Shepard, would soon leave school as well.
That left the Irish with just 17 signed prospects, a low number, as the majority of programs like to end national signing day with at least 20.
After enrolling at Notre Dame as an early enrollee, Shepard, a hearing-impaired prospect out of Fresno, Calif., left the university in February 2012. The reasons for and specifics of his departure remain murky.
Kiel, who committed to three different schools during the recruiting process—Indiana, LSU and Notre Dame—and Ferguson were in search of playing time, while Neal wanted to be closer to home and his infant daughter.
So, as it stands now, the Irish have just 13 players remaining from the 2012 haul.
While the class still has playmakers—including KeiVarae Russell, C.J. Prosise, Chris Brown and Sheldon Day—the lack of depth behind them will separate the Irish from the Alabama Crimson Tide.
When looking at both programs, it's evident that the Tide, which defeated the Irish by four touchdowns in January's BCS National Championship Game, boast a lot of talent. As a result, head coach Nick Saban can field a competitive team with his second and third units.
The same can't be said for the Irish, which aren't the same without the firepower of the starting 11 players on each side of the ball.
Some fans will be displeased with this notion and retort with Kelly's "Next Man In" mantra. While this philosophy is that of a winner, a team faces difficult circumstances when its second and third units are significant drop-offs from the first unit.
And that is why the Southeastern Conference has won seven consecutive national championships.
Whether it's Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or Texas A&M, each program benefits from knowing that the inevitable injuries, suspensions and the like won't be body blows because of team depth.
That's not to say that achieving depth is impossible for Notre Dame, though.
The Irish were sixth in 247Sports.com's 2013 team recruiting rankings, signing 23 prospects, which does factor in Eddie Vanderdoes' departure. He chose to enroll at UCLA after committing to Notre Dame.
Compare that to a 19th-place finish in the 2012 rankings, and you see the importance of piecing together top 10 classes on an annual basis. Prized recruits help to establish the depth that will allow Notre Dame to remain in the national championship race every year.
The Irish might be on track to sign their second consecutive top 10 class. Their 2014 crop is currently ranked 11th in the 2014 rankings.
So while the 2012 class will spend the next three to four seasons flying under the radar, the incoming classes will help Notre Dame to attain championship-caliber depth in the future.
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