National recruiting: Notre Dame bulks up along the lines

Associated Press

South Bend, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly announced a 23-player recruiting class Wednesday and said it filled a lot of his program’s needs, no matter how the Fighting Irish fare in the College Football Playoff.

“Offensive line and defensive line (were) really the immediate focus,” Kelly said. “We were looking for length and athleticism on defense, and then, from an offensive standpoint, continue to build speed on the perimeter.”

The class is ranked in the top 15 in the 247 Sports composite rankings.

Among the top prospects are defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (6-2, 285), defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah (6-4, 231), inside linebacker Osita Ekwonu (6-2, 220), offensive tackle Quinn Carroll (6-6, 295), offensive guard-center Zeke Correll (6-4, 285), Kendall Abdur-Rahman (6-1, 180) and quarterback Brendon Clark (6-2, 217). Ten recruits will be early enrollees.

“Mid-year enrollment has been very effective for us,” Kelly said. “We can get them ready to play as true freshmen.”

Kelly indicated the Irish have some flexibility to add more recruits in February. Brian Polian, the recruiting coordinator and special teams coach, said he likes how this class fits with others.

“One of the things that is really exciting is we’re starting to stack some really good classes on top of each other,” said Polian, who indicated that this class was pretty well in place before Notre Dame made its run to the Cotton Bowl semifinal Dec. 29. “This class was solidified in the summer and early fall. Winning is great but it’s not as if guys were jumping to us late because we got on a little bit of a roll.”

Tide upgrades

Alabama has returned to the top of the recruiting heap.

The Crimson Tide closed strong Wednesday and signed at least 22 players as the early signing period kicked off.

Two five-star prospects announced Wednesday that they’d picked the Tide. The No. 5 overall prospect, running back Trey Sanders announced his choice of the Tide on ESPNU. Alabama hadn’t received his signed letter of intent as of late Wednesday afternoon.

Offensive tackle Evan Neal also picked the Tide.

Five-star defensive lineman Antonio Alfino of New Jersey is rated the No. 28 prospect overall in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Alabama had a string of seven straight No. 1 classes end last season.

The Tide signed two quarterbacks with strong pedigrees. Taulia Tagovailoa is the younger brother of the Tide’s Heisman runner-up Tua. Paul Tyson is the great-grandson of Bear Bryant.

Gasparilla Bowl

Marshall (8-4) vs. South Florida (7-5)

When: 8 tonight (ESPN)

Line: Marshall by 21/2

Series record: First meeting

Key matchup: Marshall’s stingy run defense against a balanced South Florida attack featuring a pair of runners in Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford who both averaging more than 6 yards per carry. The Thundering Herd rank ninth nationally in run defense (103.9) and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. USF averages 202.1 yards per game rushing and 242.1 passing.