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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

July 8, 2021

As projected, running back Nicholas Singleton‍ chose Penn State over Notre Dame on Tuesday. It’s a blow to the Irish class as they were looking to add a second blue-chip back this cycle to go with JD Price‍, though they aren’t exactly in a bad spot with the way they’ve recruited the position (more on that in a bit).

Adding a second back was more of a want than a need and was discussed by Matt Freeman and I on Power Hour this week, it’s probably not going to stop Notre Dame from pursuing Singleton to potentially flip his commitment later on. But if that doesn’t happen, I see the staff having a few options of how they may choose to use that now available scholarship.

1) They sit back and evaluate any backs who may emerge during the fall

This happened last year when they went out and grabbed Audric Estime in December after he put together a monster senior season. It’s something that could happen again and it’s much more likely that a handful of backs could go from under the radar to being chased by several elite programs because of how unique the last high school football season was.

Someone may be on the verge of blowing up, but played only a handful of games last fall or in the spring. With a limited camp season and with running back evaluations in camps and 7 on 7 being much more difficult than receivers and defensive backs, seeing what is out there this fall might end up being the move.

2) Use that scholarship for another elite prospect at a position where they had planned to take less players

I believe the goal is for Notre Dame to take four offensive linemen in this cycle. Losing out on Singleton may open the door for them to take five if that fifth lineman is one that they really like. (Looking at you, Aamil Wagner‍ and Zach Rice‍.). That would be one scenario where Notre Dame could add an extra prospect where they originally had planned to take a lower number.

3) Use that scholarship by taking an extra corner or receiver

Receiver and defensive back would be more about adding numbers to positions that are critically important. Rather than be picky if spots are filling up, grabbing an extra corner might be something they can explore whether that is flipping someone who is already committed or even looking at expanding the board.

At receiver, they might not have viewed taking an extra slot receiver as a priority, but perhaps this would open up an opportunity to push for someone like Xayvion Bradshaw‍.

Notre Dame turned the disappointment of losing Will Shipley at running back in the last cycle into two quality backs. The answer in this cycle might not be to pursue another back, but they can flip it into a positive if they land the right player with that now open spot in the class.

2. Lance Taylor received some heat after losing out on a commitment from Singleton. This is his third cycle and because Notre Dame didn’t land Shipley, I guess some fans are still bitter about it.

That casually ignores that they already have Price in this class or that they took two backs in the last class. Taylor hasn’t been around a long time, but in his first two cycles he landed two blue-chips, one of them a top-100 prospect in Chris Tyree. When comparing how Taylor has done to other programs, it’s pretty clear that the reaction to how he has recruited is a bit overblown.

Tony Alford has landed two blue-chip backs over the last two classes, the exact same as Taylor. They were both ranked in the top-100 according to the composite, but he also grabbed a commitment from a 3-star as well.

LSU landed one top-100 back and three blue-chips. Texa A&M did the same. Georgia did the same.

Oklahoma one landed one 4-star and decided to take transfers instead. Not taking a back in the last class is what helped them land commitments from top backs this cycle. Penn State was helped in their pursuit of Singleton because they didn’t take a back in the 2021 class. They signed two 4-stars, neither of which were in the top-100 in the previous class.

This idea that Taylor is being outclassed in recruiting is not what has actually happened. I’m one of the first in line to say that putting all of their focus on Shipley was a mistake in the last cycle, but he has recovered nicely since then.

Notre Dame can do better and people should hope that they are able to close on players like Singleton and Shipley. Running back recruiting has not been a problem, though, even with those misses.

3. It seemed like half of the listener questions for Power Hour this week were about recruiting on the offensive side. That’s why I decided to go and dig deeper into running back, receiver, and O-line recruiting.

Since 2018, Del Alexander’s first full recruiting cycle, the Irish have landed two top-100 prospects and eight blue-chips overall. That’s pretty good. The problem is that the programs Notre Dame are competing against are doing much better than pretty good.

Ohio State has signed 10 top-100 prospects at the receiver positions since 2018. Throw on two additional blue-chips on top of that and that puts them in a different universe than Notre Dame. They can do that and if they even have a few of those top ranked players become busts, they end up being more than fine. When they get a late riser in the rankings like Chris Olave, it’s an extra cherry on top.

LSU has signed six top-100 receivers over that same span and 12 blue-chips overall. Georgia has signed the same number of blue-chips as Notre Dame (8), but six of them were top-100 prospects. It’s the exact same numbers for Clemson since 2018. We all know Alabama is right up there as well with five top-100 prospects out of their 10 total blue-chips.

I don’t think it can be emphasized enough that Notre Dame needs to close with CJ Williams‍, Tobias Merriweather‍, and hopefully add one more blue-chip to that group whether that is someone they are still pursuing or if Amorion Walker‍ can have the type of senior season that elevates him as a prospect.

This is where the big gap exists in Notre Dame recruiting and there isn’t any way to spin it positively compared to what those other teams are doing.

4. On the other hand, Jeff Quinn has somehow become underrated as a recruiter because he might not come away with any of the three 4-star O-linemen from Wisconsin.

Quinn became the O-line coach at Notre Dame late in the 2018 cycle. He closed with 4-star Jarrett Patterson, the first of 10 blue-chips he’s signed since. Four of them were top-100 prospects overall in their respective cycles.

Ohio State has signed an equal number of blue-chip O-linemen from 2018 and five top-100 players. Oregon has been praised for their OL recruiting under Mario Cristobal and he started on the staff in 2017. They have matched Notre Dame with both top-100 prospects and blue-chips, yet we don’t see Quinn getting anywhere close to the hype Cristobal gets as a recruiter.

I looked at LSU and Texas A&M because when Quinn started coincided with when Ed Orgeron and Jimbo Fisher took over those programs. LSU has signed one top-100 OL and five 4-stars total. A&M has signed two top-100 OL and nine total 4-stars.

The only two programs who have recruited definitively better than Notre Dame while Quinn has the O-line coach are Georgia (10 top-100, 14 blue-chips) and Alabama (six top-100, 13 4-stars).

Obviously Quinn has a challenge ahead of him this season with so much turnover up front, but put some respect on his name as a recruiter. He’s delivered results and I wouldn’t bet against him closing out this class with at least one more 4-star to go with the two he already has committed.

5. Jay Brunelle announced his transfer destination of Yale yesterday. He’s the 11th transfer player since the end of the 2020 season and I know that might feel alarming to some.

Those who feel that way probably have to get used to it. This is how roster turnover is going to look in many seasons. Most of the transfers were not in two-deep and not having them won’t have a major impact on Notre Dame this season.

Maybe more of these kids should stick it out and deal with adversity. Maybe the new transfer rules will prevent Notre Dame from having major one season impacts from fifth-year players like Asmar Bilal and Javon McKinley. There are a lot of maybes that come with allowing more transfers. Not all of them are bad, though, especially for the players.

I know a lot of people think about Notre Dame first and care about that over everything else, but if they put themselves in the shoes of some of these athletes, they might feel a lot differently. I hope this is the right fit for Brunelle and all of the former Notre Dame players find what they’re looking for at the next stop.

6. I was looking at the Athlon Sports 2021 college football preview magazine and they had North Carolina’s offensive line ranked third in the ACC. If I’d have to guess, it’s solely based on the fact that all five starters are returning as well as several backups.

PFF has their O-line ranked 12th in the ACC. That’s a pretty massive discrepancy with those rankings.

The correct ranking is probably somewhere in between, but I thought it was worth highlighting both of the projections because it shows how little anyone actually knows about these pre-season rankings.

Is UNC’s line going to be this seasoned group that all takes a big step forward with more time working together and more overall experience? Or are they going to be closer to the group that got whooped by Notre Dame’s defensive line and graded out as the 94th best line in pass protection according to PFF and finished 106th in sack rate?

UNC avoided Pitt and Clemson on their ACC schedule, the two other best defensive lines in the conference, so that is what they did against a pretty favorable schedule.

Whether UNC’s line is going to be good, average, or bad is something we won’t know about just by looking at who is returning. There’s a lot more context to it than that. Heck, we might not know how good their line is before they travel to Notre Dame. The best D-line they are projected to go up against early in the season plays for Georgia Tech.

How good is North Carolina’s offense going to be? They have quarterback Sam Howell and some intriguing talent at the skill positions so probably pretty good. How good will that offense be if they are getting whooped up front again? Probably a lot less than pretty good.

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