Senior Writer

Sometimes best recruits are the ones you keep


The three biggest lies used to be, "I love you," "The check's in the mail" and "Notre Dame has a monster recruiting class."

Romance, finances and Irish recruiting continue to be moving targets. But at least Notre Dame has a head start in the always-unpredictable science of wooing teenagers to northern Indiana as National Signing Day approaches. When receiver Michael Floyd decided to return for his senior season last month, Notre Dame's 2011 recruiting class was made. We can argue semantics when talking about a player still on scholarship but if Brian Kelly says that's the case, well ...

Michael Floyd gave Notre Dame its biggest offseason bump when he passed on the NFL. (US Presswire)  
Michael Floyd gave Notre Dame its biggest offseason bump when he passed on the NFL. (US Presswire)  
"He's the No. 1 signee without question," Notre Dame's coach said. "If there is a sixth star, he gets a sixth star."

Floyd is on a short list of stars whose decision to come back in 2011 changed the recruiting fortunes of more than Notre Dame. When Stanford's Andrew Luck decided to return, it eased the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh and likely made the Cardinal a preseason top-five candidate. Oklahoma State is going to have the same high-powered offense (at least) with the return of receiver Justin Blackmon. Houston quarterback Case Keenum's decision was out of his hands. But the Cougars immediately became more formidable when the NCAA awarded Keenum a sixth year of eligibility after he missed most of 2010 because of an ACL tear.

There may be no bigger bump than the one Notre Dame got with the return of Floyd. For what it's worth, Notre Dame started the week as MaxPreps' No. 1 recruiting class of 2011. Floyd, of course, is not included on the list of hyped preps but remains, as Kelly suggested, the biggest "get" of the program's recruiting season. Floyd's polite decline of the NFL and its riches made things a lot brighter for endlessly optimistic Domers. Kelly's Heroes won their final four games, beating Miami in the Sun Bowl. The last time Notre Dame finished with a season with a better winning streak was 1992.

"It was kind of in my head, thinking about, where this team could be," said Floyd, who caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul native was projected as a third-round choice but players just as draft-savvy as Floyd have thrown away future first-round potential to go all in a year early. In the end, Floyd did and said all the right things. He promised his mother he would get his degree. (Floyd says he is 40 hours short.) That Notre Dame degree will unlock doors no matter what he does as a pro.

"I knew," he said, "it was a 40-year decision and not a four-year decision."

No one is saying Notre Dame is back, just that a key contributor is back. The problem with buying anything you see, hear or read this week in regard to the Irish -- or any recruiting class -- is a lack of perspective. Four years ago, Jimmy Clausen was the nation's No. 1 recruit and Notre Dame had a top-10 recruiting class. In the next four years, the Irish averaged six victories and changed coaches.

In 2008, Notre Dame finished in the top five in recruiting. The best players in that class, arguably, were quarterback Dayne Crist (currently recovering from knee injury), tight end Kyle Rudolph (gone early to the NFL) and Floyd.

More on recruiting

Recent developments do indicate, though, a significant pulse at Notre Dame, certainly more of a beat than after an Oct. 30 one-point loss at home to Tulsa. That was Kelly's last loss. The season ended with him being the first Notre Dame coach to win a bowl game in his first season. Wednesday's expected defense-heavy recruiting class carried on the momentum. It is an indication that for all his promise about a high-flying offense, Kelly gets it. Defense still wins.

But will that defense arrive in time for a 2011 turnaround? Floyd has the classic look of a game-breaking receiver. Now he just has to be one on a game-by-game basis. The Sun Bowl was a nice tease. Floyd caught six passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder already is first in Notre Dame career touchdowns and receiving yards per game.

"When you really cut to it, he believes he's the best wide receiver in the country," Kelly said. "He wasn't perceived or evaluated as such [in the past]. He wants to prove to everybody he is, in fact, the best receiver in the country."

Signing Day 2011's best "re-recruits"

(These players' return next season will significantly improve their team's recruiting bottom line during this signing period.)

Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, Alabama: When these three 'Bama defenders decided to stay, the Tide defense got that 2009 look real quick. Nick Saban already has assembled a top-five recruiting class. These guys "added" to it.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: With his quarterback Brandon Weeden also returning, the Cowboys' offense again will be lethal.

Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State: The (Football Writers) All-American and three-year starter says he has more to learn at the position.

Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma: Landry Jones' go-to guy (131 catches, 14 touchdowns) just made things a whole lot easier for Jones in '11.

The Buckeye Five: No matter what you think about the possible NFL potential of the five suspended Buckeyes -- Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas -- they made that "promise" to Jim Tressel and stayed in school. Ohio State is better for it, at least on the field. Pending an appeal, the B-Five will sit out the first five games of the season. The Bucks could hold on long enough to pursue a seventh consecutive Big Ten title.

Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska: Bo Pelini needs all the defensive weapons he can get heading into the Big Ten. Crick led the Huskers with 9 ½ sacks.

Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Gives Crist, or whoever plays quarterback, a tall, rangy, game-breaking target.

Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M: Despite the Cotton Bowl, the Aggies are trending upward. Fuller and his school-record 29 career touchdown catches are a big reason.

LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: LaMike's decision to return is the best reason some have Oregon as the preseason No. 1.

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida: A torn labrum in Jenkins' right shoulder affected him during the season and likely affected his NFL decision.

Case Keenum, QB, Houston: The NCAA mercifully gave Keenum a sixth year of eligibility after he tore that ACL in the third game of the season. Keenum should end as the NCAA's career passing leader.

Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: With Broyles and Lewis back, Bob Stoops returns 18 starters. Time to start the national championship talk again.

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: The Heisman runner-up's decision to return changed the Cardinal's fortunes significantly.

Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky: The Cats lost their best offensive player (Randall Cobb) but keep their best defender. Trevathan led the SEC in tackles (144).

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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