Depending on the average fan’s opinion, Notre Dame is usually either Michigan’s second or third most important rival on the field. But on the recruiting trail, Michigan and Notre Dame square off for prospects far more often than Ohio State or Michigan State.
The two programs exemplify the idea “narcissism of small differences” considering how similar the programs are in their culture, history and success while hating each other’s guts. The similarities in the programs is why the overlap in the recruiting pool is so large, and it’s showing up more than ever in the 2023 class.
Michigan and Notre Dame are battling for several top-of-the-board targets this cycle. How these recruitments fall will go a long way in determining where each class falls in the national rankings. Right now, it feels like Notre Dame has the momentum in a lot of these recruitments but if Michigan is able to string them out, the Irish have a brutal schedule this year that could sow some doubt in these recruits’ minds.
We can start right at the top of Michigan’s board with five-star quarterback Dante Moore. Michigan offered Moore back when he was in middle school and has barely paid any attention to other quarterbacks in his class since. That hasn’t stopped Notre Dame from inserting itself as the probable leader for the Detroit King star.
To add insult to injury, Notre Dame has also been focusing on fellow five-star CJ Carr in the 2024 class and just received a Crystal Ball from Steve Wiltfong for the grandson of the former Michigan head coach.
Now, the chances both quarterbacks go to the same school are very low, as Carr reportedly does not want to follow Moore. So they probably won’t both go to Notre Dame, but they also won’t both go to Michigan either. The worst case scenario here is Moore goes to a place like Miami or LSU, and Carr goes to Notre Dame.
But there’s still a lot of time left to recruit Carr, and Michigan getting Moore to stretch out his recruitment is also beneficial. Needless to say, there are several dominos left to fall.
Another Crystal Ball prediction Wiltfong recently made for Notre Dame was for four-star defensive lineman Devan Houstan. This would be another gut punch considering Houstan also has ties to the program — his older brother is Caleb plays for the basketball team.
The younger Houstan was on campus a couple of times to watch Caleb play and also check out the football program. But he’s also connecting with Notre Dame enough to get two predictions for the Irish, so it looks like there’s some ground to make up here for Michigan.
The defensive line is where a few of these battles are playing out, in large part because of Mike Elston. Changing jobs from Notre Dame to Michigan means there will be plenty of overlap in targets, and Elston is trying to counteract some of the momentum he created while in South Bend and move it in Michigan’s direction.
Four-star defensive lineman Jason Moore is a great example of this. The top-50 prospect from DeMatha Catholic in Maryland was considered a heavy Notre Dame lean until Elston left. Michigan is now trying to leverage the connection he had built with Elston and get him to Ann Arbor. So far, Michigan hasn’t been able to get Moore up on campus this spring, which needs to be a priority in order to really make a move here. Schools like Ohio State and Penn State are also using this opening to make their case.
It’s going to be harder to flip a prospect that Elston secured a commitment from at Notre Dame, but that’s what Michigan is trying to do with five-star defensive end Keon Keeley. Ranked in the top 10 nationally, Keeley has started to look around after Brian Kelly left for LSU and Elston left for Michigan. This is another prospect Michigan will have to get on campus to really pick up momentum with. Keeley has already visited Alabama and Florida since the coaching changes, so Elston needs to use his existing relationship with the five-star to get him to Ann Arbor.
There are also several recruiting battles between the two schools on the other side of the ball in the trenches. Four-star offensive lineman Charles Jagusah recently spent two days on each schools’ campus. Previously, Notre Dame was the leader, but the visits allowed Michigan to gain some real ground here. As is the theme with a lot of these recruitments, getting Jagusah to wait and take his official visits will also help Michigan. Following the visits, Jagusah said he was planning to wait until June to take his officials, so that allows Michigan to keep chipping away.
On the flip side of the coin, a prospect who was leaning Michigan is now trending strongly towards Notre Dame. Four-star offensive lineman Sam Pendleton has had his recruitment swing in a number of directions so far. Once a Michigan lean, he received an offer from Clemson and looked to be heading there. Then, NC State appeared to be the leader before once again going back to Michigan. Now, Pendleton is coming off a visit to South Bend and Notre Dame has received all the Crystal Ball predictions. This latest swing looks to be the one that will stick now that Pendleton has set a commitment date for next Monday.
The list can go on and on with prospects that have both schools in their top group. Samuel M’Pemba, Samson Okunlola, Peyton Bowen, Boubacar Traore, Jayden Limar, and many more. Get used to hearing Notre Dame’s name frequently when talking about recruiting this cycle, if you haven’t already.