Even in June, recruiting chaos can take hold of the college football world. And the last week has put the quarterback carousel into quite a spin. In less than 48 hours, Notre Dame went from having one of Southern California's best quarterbacks top-lining their recruiting class to having another top SoCal signal-caller in their crosshairs.
Even though the Irish coaching staff thought it was finished recruiting quarterbacks when Blake Barnett committed to the Irish back in November, less than 48 hours after Barnett's decommitment, the Irish put out three offers and became the favorites to land Travis Waller, arguably a better prospect than the one the Irish started the week with.
So with Barnett gone and Waller trending toward the Irish, let's take a step back and see how one crazy week impacted the Irish quarterback depth chart.
What Just Happened?
If you took off on your summer vacation last week, you might have missed everything. So just in case you did, let's go over the highlights.
- Around this time last week, Barnett was saying all the right things about his commitment to Notre Dame. He even talked up his upcoming June visit to South Bend with Rivals.com's Adam Gorney (subscription required).
- But behind the scenes, Barnett had planned an unofficial visit to Oregon, and fresh off of it, 247Sports' Justin Hopkins first reported that Barnett decommitted from the Irish. He also cancelled the June visit to Notre Dame, eliminating the Irish from consideration.
- The Irish coaching staff reopened its quarterback recruitment by taking aim at three top prospects: Travis Waller, Texas Tech commit Jarrett Stidham and Florida quarterback Deondre Francois.
- Waller posted a cryptic tweet Monday that had many thinking he was ready to commit to Notre Dame, sight unseen.
- Instead, Waller named his four finalists, with Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State and Alabama in the final grouping. He'll decide on July 1.
In a matter of days, Notre Dame rebooted its quarterback evaluations, targeted three elite players and made well-received offers for all three. Even Jared from Silicon Valley would've been impressed at the Irish's pivot.
How Waller Compares to Barnett
It's no surprise that Notre Dame would be interested in Waller. He's a perfect system player for the Irish offense. He comes from a Notre Dame pipeline school in Anaheim's Servite, which most recently produced former tight end Troy Niklas.
Waller also works out with noted quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, Jimmy Clausen's personal quarterback coach. The South Bend Tribune's Bob Wieneke caught up with Clarkson and asked about his most recent star pupil, and as you'd guess, Clarkson gave Waller a glowing review.
One of the things that Clarkson pointed out is how Waller has played against big-time competition, listing national powers Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and Las Vegas Bishop Gorman as teams Servite has tangled with.
"And he's been a dominant player in those games," Clarkson said." He'll fit in at any system. He's what I like to call a pro-style athlete. He can operate out of a pro system but also is your new-wave spread quarterback. He's very gifted athletically. he's extremely accurate as a passer."
Clarkson said Waller is hopeful to make a visit to ND soon and expects a decision within weeks. A top four or five could be announced this weekend.
"He's a great kid, he's an outstanding football player," Clarkson said. "If Notre Dame is fortunate enough to get him, they're not going to be ... they're not going backwards that's for sure. The kid's one heck of a football player."
It's worth noting that Clarkson has worked with both Waller and Barnett, so he's seen the apples-to-apples comparison of both quarterbacks. His last comment is likely an evaluation as well as a statement of support for Waller.
On the field, Waller fits the mold of recent Irish quarterback recruits, capable of being both a dynamic runner and passer. Playing some of the top prep competition in the country, Waller shows a great deal of talent doing both—and doing so from a spread offense that's highly evolved.
"He's a very dynamic kid running the ball," Servite head coach A.J. Gass told AL.com on May 20. "Athletically, he's like a linebacker in the backfield. When he's got to stand back and throw, he's got great arm strength and tremendous accuracy. He's truly one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation."
From a prospect perspective, Barnett's raw abilities seem to project a higher upside, and they've been a big reason why his ranking shot up during this summer evaluation period. Barnett has a big arm and a little bit more size and speed than Waller. But he's also a far less finished product and plays in an inferior high school program as well.
How Does Waller Project in Notre Dame's QB Depth Chart...If He Chooses the Irish?
If Waller does pick the Irish on July 1, he'll enter the same competitive situation that Barnett had signed on for. Everett Golson is a senior on paper but will have a fifth year of eligibility in 2015. Both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer enter the 2014 season with all four years of eligibility. Unless something drastic happens, Kizer will redshirt, giving him four years at the start of 2015 as well.
On paper, Waller—just like Barnett—is a higher-rated recruit than either of the Irish's young quarterbacks. But as Brian Kelly showed with Tommy Rees, Dayne Crist and Gunner Kiel, star ratings don't matter once the ink is dry on a letter of intent.
Still, Waller is another custom-made quarterback for what Brian Kelly wants to do with his offense, likely part of the reason the Irish were so quick to offer and recruitniks were so quick to connect the two prospects.
While over 80 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have the Irish landing Waller, it'll be a fierce competition for his signature as well. As the Irish make up for lost time, it's also worth noting that the tectonic shifts among elite quarterbacks has added some interesting twists to a handful of recruitments.
Some believed Waller would end up at Oregon...until it looked like Barnett was ready to commit to the Ducks. Now, Barnett wants to visit (subscription required) Alabama, Georgia and LSU before making a decision, putting Oregon's quarterback choice likely on hold for a bit longer as well.
Alabama had 5-star quarterback Ricky Town committed until Lane Kiffin became the Tide's offensive coordinator (Town's now committed to USC). That leaves Nick Saban still looking for a quarterback, with one additional target off the board after Quinten Dormady pledged to Tennessee on Monday, per his 247Sports page.
Deondre Francois is interested in both Alabama and Florida State, and there's a good chance he wants to come up and see Notre Dame as well. His high school coach, Chris Weinke, has ties to FSU, where he won a Heisman. He also has great respect for Notre Dame and is a part of the Cretin-Derham Hall family that has supplied so many players to the Irish in recent years.
For the past seven months, the Irish have felt good about their quarterback situation in the 2015 recruiting class. They still could by the end of the month if Waller commits, which certainly would be no consolation prize after losing out on Barnett.
But with three offers out and a dozen elite quarterbacks still trying to decide on a college, Waller's decision is one of the many dominoes yet to fall.
(And another reason why following college football is so fun.)