What's the key to consistent success in college football?
Many would say recruiting at a high level is one of the major factors. Of course, that appears to be the correct answer at first glance.
However, it isn't just recruiting star players year after year. It is recruiting star players for the good of the depth chart, filling holes that were left open by former stand-outs moving on in their football careers either due to the draft or graduation.
The same goes most of the country, including Notre Dame. Brian Kelly and his staff have been working relentlessly this offseason in preparation for National Signing Day on February 3rd. Currently sitting comfortably with a top-10 ranked class according to multiple recruiting services, the Irish have done wonders on the trail.
What exactly holes have the Irish filled? And what holes haven't they been able to cement?
Let's take a look at the positional needs in this 2011 class.
There isn't much question as to what was the most pressing need in this class. Brian Kelly, last signing day, made it clear that the staff's goal was to haul in top-notch pass-rushing talent in the next class.
With the 5-star commitments of Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch, the staff has gone over the top and beyond in reaching that goal.
In addition to these elite gets, the Irish also hauled in a number of other talented ends in Brad Carrico, Tony Springmann, and Chase Hounsell. To say the least, Kelly and his staff far surpassed their goal of defensive ends in this class in not only talent, but numbers as well.
Luckily for the Irish, there is no doubt that Tuitt and Lynch will be able to step in right away and provide depth coming off the edge. Although it isn't ideal to have freshman linemen contributing right away, both of these star-recruits are ready both physically and mentally to get after opponent quarterback's from day one.
Outside of the need for true pass-rushers, the defense was looking for speed, length, and athleticism on the edge. Because of this, outside linebacker was a pressing need coming in to this recruiting cycle.
With the addition of Ben Councell and Ishaq Williams, both near the top in the country at the respective position, the Irish have added two of the most dynamic OLB's they have received verbals from in the past decade. Length and athletic athletes, both Councell and Williams will see the field plenty and often, bringing an instant face-lift to this Irish defense.
If that wasn't enough, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco also scored a verbal from Anthony Rabasa out of the state of Florida.
With all of the talent leaving the position in the near future, this was one of the most crucial recruiting hauls for the program. Without the additions in this class, the Irish 3-4 defense would be looking very prone. However, now they look like they may be becoming one of the nation's premiere defenses.
With only three scholarship defensive backs on the roster going into the 2011 season, Kelly knew that he needed to pick up a large quantity of them in this class in order to move forward.
Starting with Jalen Brown out of Texas, the Irish have secured a class of five solid defensive backs in order to throw into the fold next year. These five include Brown, Mattias Farley, Eilar Hardy, Josh Atkinson, and Bennett Okotcha.
Although these names won't be find anywhere near the top of recruiting rankings or national merits, don't be fooled: this class of defensive backs was a great one. Kelly has added height, speed, and depth to the defensive depth chart in just one class with these five verbals.
Not to mention, not one of these commits doesn't have a big upside.
Going forward, the Irish will almost certainly need to secure a big name or two in the secondary, specifically at the safety position. However, 2011 was a good year in filling in the holes int he secondary with underrated talent and numbers.
Any good recruiting class will include at least three offensive line prospects as this unit is one of the hardest to groom over four years.
Because of the graduation and questionable returns of some fifth-year offensive linemen already on the roster, Kelly knew that he must secure a few linemen in order to keep a consistent depth chart for the next few years.
The biggest get of them all, and who may be the most under-appreciated recruit in this class, is All-American Matt Hegarty. An OL prospect with the versatility of playing either interior or exterior at the college level, Hegarty is going to be huge for this unit down the road.
Kelly also secured verbals from two big boys in the form of Conor Hanratty and Nick Martin, both legacy recruits. Both of these massive linemen play with the toughness and "RKG" that Kelly has been preaching since he stepped onto the South Bend campus last year.
Next year will be the most telling in where this unit is heading, however, as the Irish almost certainly need a bigger class talent and number-wise in 2012.
Although the Irish offense doesn't revolve around it's running game, Kelly relied heavily on his running game in the second half of the season to secure victory. Behind Robert Hughes and sophomore Cierre Wood, Notre Dame showed much promise in this aspect of their game behind a very good offensive line.
With the graduation of Hughes and Armando Allen, however, Notre Dame needed a go-to back in this class.
They have secured a verbal from one running back so far in Cam McDaniel, a very productive back from the heart of Texas. However, although he brings versatility to the program in that he can play in the slot, in the back field, or even the defensive backfield, McDaniel is not an every-down back at the collegiate level.
With a thin depth chart at the position, the Irish needed a game-changing threat to put on the roster here. Although they still have a chance at landing Savon Huggins in a few days, one of the premier talents in the nation, it appears that he is either UNC or Rutgers bound. If that's the case, the Irish will have whiffed on one major area this go around.
Moving forward, Kelly needs to land an elite back in next year's class.