The initial stages of college football's offseason are jovially referred to as the "silly season," with national signing day being its high point.
As Notre Dame has experienced in recent years, "silly season" hasn't been the most enjoyable of times for the Irish, though that hasn't changed the program's pressing needs leading up to national signing day on Feb. 5.
As it stands, head coach Brian Kelly and his program have 22 commitments in the 2014 class, which originally held firm at 23 prior to San Mateo, Calif., defensive end Matt Dickerson's decommitment and ensuing commitment to UCLA, per 247Sports.
Dickerson's spurning of Notre Dame will now allow the Irish to take up to 28 commitments in the class, a figure that considers fifth-year decisions, transfers and early entries to the 2014 NFL draft.
Given the overwhelming need for defensive linemen, expect the Irish coaching staff to turn up the heat on its pursuit of the remaining prospects among the front seven still interested in Notre Dame. One such prospect has been a target of Notre Dame's for quite some time.
Solomon Thomas, DE
Hailing from the same hometown—Coppell, Texas—of current Irish running back Cam McDaniel, Thomas has cooled on Notre Dame in recent weeks, though an intensified interest could come as a result of immediate playing time.
A 4-star prospect per 247Sports.com, the 6'2", 258-pound defensive end officially visited UCLA on Dec. 14 and has upcoming officials scheduled to Stanford (Jan. 18), Arkansas (Jan. 25) and Ohio State (Jan. 31).
With only four official visits on his slate, he has room for one more, although it doesn't appear that he will take another visit given that his schedule is already booked. And with Stanford currently in the driver's seat for Thomas' services, it's unlikely that Notre Dame will secure a commitment.
However, college football recruiting always has many twists and turns; he could cancel one of his previously listed official visits in favor of an official to Notre Dame. Only time will tell.
Thomas Holley, DT
Originally thought to be a Notre Dame lean, Holley eventually cooled on Notre Dame in favor of a commitment to Penn State.
However, as timing would have it, the 4-star defensive tackle has recently expressed some doubt in his commitment to the Nittany Lions in the wake of head coach Bill O'Brien departing to take the Houston Texans' head coaching job.
Julian Garcia of the New York Daily News spoke with Holley's head coach at Abraham Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, N.Y.) about where the 6'4", 285-pound defensive lineman stands in his recruitment. Coach Shawn O'Connor said the job status of Penn State's defensive line coach Larry Johnson will play a pivotal role.
If Larry stays, I think Thomas is comfortable staying. But if they bring in a head coach who decides to redo the whole scheme, we'll have to see where that leaves Thomas. But I think Larry Johnson being named interim head coach is a positive sign for Thomas.
According to Jeff Lockridge of USA Today, CBSSports.com and ESPN report that Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin is expected to accept the Penn State job, and his decision of whether to retain Johnson will likely sway Holley one way or the other.
Thus, if you're an Irish fan, you'll be hoping for Franklin to clean house should he accept the Penn State job.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR
What would be a firm commitment to Notre Dame from McKenzie has been delayed by academic matters.
McKenzie, a 3-star recruit is awaiting SAT scores to send to Notre Dame, which, if satisfactory, would be the final piece to the puzzle in his recruitment, aside from signing his national letter of intent on Feb. 5.
However, with the 5'9", 172-pound receiver currently in academic limbo with the Irish, McKenzie's recruitment has taken on an added twist in recent days, as Oregon entered the fold via a scholarship offer on Tuesday.
Recruiting process has just got crazy!!! 😳 #oregon— Isaiah McKenzie (@JoyStick_izzy) January 8, 2014
With that offer now on the table, it's tough to envision what will transpire in McKenzie's recruitment. Will sufficient test scores be enough to reaffirm his pledge to Notre Dame? We'll have to wait and see.
Michiah Quick, WR/ATH
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly predicates his offense on getting the ball into the hands of explosive athletes in space.
One such athlete who would thrive in that role would be Fresno, Calif., receiver/athlete Michiah Quick, a 4-star recruit. The 6'0", 170-pound prospect has narrowed his recruitment to Notre Dame and Oklahoma, which are the only two schools he has officially visited.
However, Oklahoma would appear to have taken the lead in the race for his services, as the Sooners are coming off an exclamatory 45-31 victory against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And considering two of Quick's former Central East High School teammates and former Notre Dame recruiting targets—L.J. Moore and Hatari Byrd—attend Oklahoma, it would make perfect sense for the Sooners to hold a distinguishable edge.
Thus, it would be a coup for Notre Dame to secure a commitment from Quick.
For now, those thoughts are purely semantics, as Quick and his camp have been all too quiet during the recruiting process.
John "JuJu" Smith, WR/S/ATH
For the better part of the recruiting process, Notre Dame has been a legitimate player for Smith, a 5-star prospect, per 247Sports.com.
While Notre Dame appears set at receiver and safety for the foreseeable future, an elite talent such as Smith can't be ignored, particularly when he's shown interest. The Long Beach, Calif., native developed an even stronger interest in the program when he visited campus on Oct. 18 to take in the Irish's 14-10 victory against USC.
Interestingly enough, USC is in the lead for Smith's services, despite the Trojans undergoing a coaching change in recent weeks when Steve Sarkisian replaced the ousted Lane Kiffin.
Regardless, the 6'1", 200-pound athlete has scheduled an official visit to meet with Sarkisian and his assembled staff on Jan. 17, which all but signifies an impending commitment to the Trojans. However, nothing is certain in college football recruiting until pen hits paper on national signing day.
Notre Dame is still in the chase, though securing a commitment from Smith should be considered a long shot at this point.
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