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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

June 17, 2021

Bud Elliott’s annual Blue-Chip ratio piece is always a must-read. BCR, the percentage of composite 4 and 5-star recruits a team has recruited over the previous four cycles, is imperfect because of injuries, transfers, and other factors, but it can’t be denied that it gives a picture of who can and cannot legitimately contend in college football.

It’s no surprise that Alabama continues to recruit at the highest level. They lead the way with 84% of the recruits they have signed having a blue-chip designation. Having Alabama, Georgia (80%), Ohio State (79%), and Clemson (67%) as the top-four in BCR is predictable to say the least.

I know, that percentage Clemson for Clemson feels lows, but consider that they have turned it up a notch in the last couple of years. They have a BCR of 80% in the most recent two cycles so they are right there with those three other programs.

Notre Dame is one of 16 teams with a BCR over 50% (55). They play no one this season who has signed more blue-chips than them, including USC (53%).

That’s good and certainly bodes well for the Irish in 2021 when you consider the recent track record of development. The bad is that the difference between them and the top-four is drastic. Every program is going to be deficient when it comes to raw talent compared to those teams. That doesn’t mean Notre Dame should shrug their shoulders and accept that that’s the reality.

They haven’t done that and out of the 14 commitments in the 2022 class, 10 of them are blue-chips (71.4%). I think it’s more than fair to say that they will keep it close to that ratio as they fill out the rest of the class. That’s not Alabama level and there aren’t likely to be multiple 5-stars included in that, but it’s definitely closing the gap.

The staff has only signed over a 70% BCR once in the last four cycles (2019). Before that one would have to go back to 2014 for when they last last signed over 70% in a class.

The kind of class the Notre Dame staff is working on has to become the norm. Coaching and development can close some of the talent gap, but not enough if the opponent is recruiting blue-chips at a rate 25% higher than them.

80% over a four year span might be too ambitious. Over 70% is realistic as proven with this cycle. If they start stacking classes like this on top of one another, then scheduling so aggressively suddenly doesn’t seem as crazy as it might look today.

2. I think most fans are aware of the recruiting challenges Notre Dame has compared to teams who have more of a regional base to start with. This article from Max Olson of The Athletic ($) makes it obvious what the Irish are up against.

They are fourth in top-100 recruits signed from out of state and that’s not surprising at all. They have always recruited nationally and even during lean times on the field, they can attract good talent from anywhere in the United States.

They signed 34 top-100 recruits over the last decade who weren’t from Indiana. LSU was fifth on the list with 31 and Georgia was sixth with 29. Those two programs have the advantage of much better prospects from their state, though.

Indiana had one top-100 recruit in the 2021 cycle. That was Blake Fisher and he ended up at Notre Dame. Louisiana had four and all of them signed with LSU. Georgia had 11. Seven of them signed with the Bulldogs.

Notre Dame’s only solution is to recruit better nationally because Indiana is never going to be able to match those states for homegrown talent.

3. As of today, only three of the projected 22 starters on offense and defense are in their first or second year of college football. For a program that has practiced and preached development, that’s a good thing.

Last year’s squad had two to start the season (Kyren Williams and Kyle Hamilton). 2019 had two (Lawrence Keys and Jarrett Patterson). 2018 had one (Robert Hainsey). 2017 had four (Tommy Kraemer, Julian Love, Daelin Hayes, and Jalen Elliott).

Obviously there is a lot more to it than how many first or second year players start, but this current roster feels closer to the 2017 one than those other three when looking at them in totality. In other words, they’re probably built more to make a run the next season, but not in a place where they won’t have older players carrying much of the load to have success this fall.

4. In going back and researching how Tommy Rees used his backs in the passing game, I noticed that Notre Dame’s backs stayed in to block more than others.

Williams was 120th in percentage of passing plays he ran a route. He stayed in to protect 39% of the time. Chris Tyree stayed in 46.1% of the time.

Both players also struggled in blitz pickup when it came to giving up pressures. Williams gave up more than any back in the country. That Clemson game where stories were written about his blitz pickup was an exception to his overall blocking. Tyree definitely struggled with that part of the game as a true freshman as well.

Both should be better blocking this season, but the point remains that they need to be more involved in the passing game. I think they will and Rees recognized that in the Alabama game where Williams ran a route on 78.8% of passing plays. That rate seems more appropriate for him and Tyree.

North Carolina’s two backs, both very productive as receivers, ran routes on 69.5% and 77.5% of passing plays respectively. Najee Harris ran a route on 83.9% of passing plays for Alabama last season. Travis Etienne was at 77.2%.

The player I think Williams is most comparable to both as a runner and receiver is former LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He ran a route on 88.5% of passing plays in 2019. That might be pushing it for Williams this season, but closer to 70% or above seems like what we should be seeing from him as a receiver in 2021.

5. I have no idea about the strength of Amorion Walker‍’s commitment to Notre Dame and I’m not even going to speculate on that.

I do know that if Notre Dame didn’t believe in his talent and the potential they saw in him, they would have cancelled his official visit and moved on to other targets. They clearly saw something in him that other prominent programs have now seen after he competed at camp.

When a commitment is flirting with other schools, it’s easy to say “good luck” and then move on. Some guys are worth trying to do everything to keep committed and some aren’t. It’s obvious how Notre Dame views Walker, who just received an invite to compete in the Under Armour All-American game despite currently being the lowest ranked member of this Irish recruiting class.

Whether some people like it or not, the rules change for commits visiting other schools depending on the prospect. Notre Dame’s reaction says a lot not just about how they view Walker’s potential, but also the need they have at the wide receiver position in this class.

6. Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia all have open weeks before they play Notre Dame this season. This has become an annual issue for the Irish versus their ACC opponents. The conference is doing everything in their power to give teams an advantage against Notre Dame.

Too bad it hasn’t helped much recently. ACC teams not named Clemson are 1-23 against Notre Dame in the last four seasons.

That record means that the ACC is only going to continue to try and give their own teams every advantage possible. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m not sure I see a scenario where Notre Dame will have the leverage to stop them from doing so year after year.

Is there another program in the country who has to play more teams who have an open week before their game than Notre Dame? I’m genuinely curious to know.

These open weeks haven’t bitten the Irish yet and maybe they never will if the ACC doesn’t improve as a whole. It doesn’t make things any easier for Notre Dame with how they schedule, though. It’s one reason why Brian Kelly and his staff probably deserve even more credit for their record against the ACC.

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