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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

December 16, 2021

The first class for a new head coach is always a tough one because they don’t have a full cycle to recruit as a head coach. Marcus Freeman certainly got a head start with already being on Notre Dame’s staff and keeping key assistants like Tommy Rees, Mike Elston, and others certainly helped, but there is no doubt that any coach with less than two weeks on the job is going to be at a disadvantage with that first signing period.

That’s why what Notre Dame did is pretty remarkable. They ended up losing three players who were at one time committed to the Irish, but those three players couldn’t be considered locks for months.

Amorion Walker was basically an uncommitted recruit from day one when out of the blue he pledged to the class and we knew about CJ Williams’ indecision for months. Devin Moore de-committing when Brian Kelly left said a lot about where his head was at with Notre Dame as well. He certainly didn’t commit because of Kelly and that happening gave him a way out.

This is essentially year zero for Freeman (I believe Bud Elliott is the person who coined that term). He came in and the staff had to close out this class and for the most part, they did a fantastic job.

They lost those three, but they also gained Billy Schrauth‍ to cap what is one of the best two-year runs they have had on the offensive line. They kept most of the group together and ended up signing 21 kids with 17 of them ranked as 4 or 5-stars. That’s a blue-chip ratio of 80.9% and that includes punter Bryce McFerson as a lower ranked recruit despite him being an All-American. 12 players were ranked in the top-200 in the composite rankings.

I haven’t finished my rankings for the entire 2022 cycle yet, but I have given eight players a top-100 level grade. That’s the most since I’ve been doing this for ISD.

They accomplished this in year zero of the Freeman era. They already have seven commitments who are blue-chips in the 2023 class so year one has a chance to be even better. It’s easy to get down with what happened at the wide receiver position, but don’t forget about what the Notre Dame staff did as whole with this class and what they are capable of doing going forward. The best is yet to come.

2. No one who follows Notre Dame recruiting closely felt confident about holding on to Walker or Williams. So why did the staff at Notre Dame feel differently?

It didn’t matter that they were telling them the right things. They were telling others something different. Why wasn’t there a contingency plan for wide receiver recruiting months ago? That is the question that could linger for a while unless they are able to work something out before the February signing day or add to the receiver room via the transfer portal.

I know Del Alexander is receiving heat for the way things finished at receiver. How much of that he deserves, I couldn’t say definitively. Certainly he deserves some of it, but is the lack of a backup plan on him for not establishing enough relationships or is that on his boss for not pushing the fact that the board needed to be expanded?

It’s definitely not on Freeman, who only started to get involved with recruits on offense about two weeks ago.

All I know is that this is the kind of thing that can’t happen again. Recruiting can be wild and unforeseen things can happen at any moment, but Notre Dame should have seen that this was a possibility and had a plan in place to soften this blow.

I don’t think Freeman is going to accept coming up this short at a position of need during his tenure. Just look at what he did to secure the linebacker class when they knew they needed it in this cycle.

3. Notre Dame has won 24 straight regular season games against ACC competition. Though we still want to see how the staff is configured next season as well as seeing Freeman run the program day to day during the year, it’s hard to envision them not continuing to dominate the conference.

I know North Carolina has a top-10 class (at this point in time), but it’s not nearly as deep as the group Notre Dame brought in. Florida State was the second ranked recruiting class in the conference and they signed seven blue-chips, 10 less than the Irish did.

Even Clemson, which has a roster filled with elite talent already, had a disastrous early signing period after both coordinators left for head coaching jobs. The quality is there, but they only locked down a dozen players and their scholarship numbers are low. They could have signed 25 in this class to get to the 85 limit.

Nine of the 14 teams didn’t crack the top-40 in the recruiting rankings. That’s bad news for them with Notre Dame upgrading their recruiting.

4. I know they are likely to add more than a few by the time February rolls around, but USC signed only six players yesterday.

You didn’t read that wrong. It’s only six in the boat right now (three of them blue-chips).

They had a pretty good class in the last cycle, but let’s not forget they had the 63rd ranked class in 2020 and three of the four best players from the 2019 class are more probably not going to be there this season for Lincoln Riley. Drake London is NFL bound and Drake Jackson could be as well.  Kedon Slovis just entered into the transfer portal.

Riley is a brilliant offensive coach and I have little doubt that he’ll make USC a lot better than they have been the past decade. I wouldn’t expect for them to be great right away, though. There is still some rebuilding they have to do and they will have to hit the portal pretty hard to fill some holes on the roster.

They tried to do that last year and took nine transfers. Only one of them, running back Keontay Ingram, ended up being a high-level player in the Pac-12.

5. The defensive backs aren’t getting discussed the same way wide receiver is despite losing Devin Moore, which is a significant loss. I loved his senior film and still believe he is underrated nationally.

The three guys they did sign are very good prospects so that takes some of the sting away for Notre Dame fans. Those three make nine defensive backs who will have freshman eligibility in 2022 and both Jaden Mickey‍ and Jayden Bellamy‍ are going to be early enrollees.

Needless to say that this spring is going to be critical for the six that have already been on campus to make a move and establish themselves in the mix for playing time. Mickey is someone that I believe can compete to play right away at Notre Dame and I think we could see him create some buzz by moving ahead of the other young guys he’s competing with.

6. When 80.9% of the class are 4-stars, it’s maybe a bit unfair to pick any sleepers that just signed. I’m going to do it anyway because I think a couple of guys have been a bit overlooked.

Nolan Ziegler‍ is one of the best pure football players in the class. He’s the right fit at Rover and looks very comfortable as a space backer. If the linebacker class wasn’t so loaded, he’d be getting more attention as someone who could be another Drue Tranquill type for the Irish. I’m really excited to watch his development and see where it's at in a couple of years.

On offense, it’s offensive lineman Ashton Craig‍ for me. He’s the lowest ranked of the O-line class, but I have him ranked as a 4-star (91) and 247Sports does as well. He’s an easy mover up front and will get a chance to prove himself against better competition at the All-American Bowl in January.

It’s always a long game with offensive linemen, at least ones not named Blake Fisher or Joe Alt. I think Craig has a high ceiling. It just may take a few years for him to show that on the field at Notre Dame.

With every recruiting class, most of the players aren’t going to make a significant impact. Maybe a handful will become stars and it’s a win if only a ⅓ of them end up becoming NFL Draft picks. That’s how it typically works out for even the best classes any program signs.

The key with this class is that the depth is so good at so many different positions that the chances of hitting big goes up because of it. That should be an exciting possibility for fans to think of by the time this group finishes at Notre Dame. Not all of them will be stars, but you have to like the odds that this class has enough talent to produce some great ones.

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