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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

January 13, 2022

The two teams in the national championship game recruited better than everyone else. What a surprise.

84% of the players Alabama signed in their last four recruiting classes were blue-chip prospects (rated as 4 or 5-star players). Georgia was at a 80% blue-chip ratio over that same time.

That doesn’t seem fair, but it’s reality. Talent wins out in college football. This tweet from my friend Michael Bryan sums it up well for everyone trying to get to the top of the mountain. If you want to get there, you better bring a loaded roster with you.

The only program that has played for the national title in the last five years that didn’t have a top-5 roster on paper was Clemson. And they were close plus they had Trevor Lawrence at quarterback.

Notre Dame has never had anyone remotely as good as Lawrence at quarterback in a long time and they never had a top-5 roster based on recruited talent under Brian Kelly. That wasn’t likely to change if he stayed, so the odds of them winning a championship with him were pretty much zero given what is currently needed to win it all.

I don’t want to speak for Michael, but I’m pretty sure his tweet was suggesting the idea of needing a 50% blue-chip ratio to win a championship (which is the whole idea behind BCR) is bogus when the top teams have signed 30% more 4 and 5-stars. It takes much more than 50% of your signees these days, which is why the talent gap is so noticeable when the Irish were only at 55% in 2021.

As it stands right now, Notre Dame will be moving up to 62.1% next season after having an 81% BCR with this class. They are currently at 100% with their eight 2023 commitments and it’s fair to assume that the overall number could make another significant jump heading into the 2022 season.

That’s what they call progress and exactly why I’m bullish on Marcus Freeman’s potential running the program. He’s on track to have more talent on his roster than Kelly ever had.

Can he get Notre Dame to around 80% BCR? It’s pretty ambitious and the only way to do it is to have four great classes in a row. Good isn’t going to be good enough to achieve it. It has to be great.

But that has to be the goal because Notre Dame might be a College Football Playoff contender at over 50% BCR, but they aren’t a contender to win a championship at that rate.

Until Nick Saban retires, Alabama isn’t going anywhere. They’ll still be as talented as ever. Neither is Georgia under Kirby Smart or Ohio State under Ryan Day (79% BCR in 2021). Texas A&M is rising up with a class that has a BCR of 89%. Even they can’t screw up that much talent if they continue to recruit at or close to that level.

I don’t know if Notre Dame will ever match those programs in the recruiting rankings, but they have to come close. I don’t think they can do more than talk about winning it all until they do.

2. This is looking way ahead, but I know Mike Frank and I have already been asked on Power Hour about how Notre Dame matches up with Ohio State with the focus being that the Irish are likely to be better than the Buckeyes up front on both sides of the ball.

That may prove to be true. It also may not mean much unless the Irish are significantly better than them.

I guess the thinking is that Michigan bullied Ohio State last year on their way to Jim Harbaugh’s first victory in that series. OSU rushed for 2.13 yards per carry while the Wolverines averaged 7.24 YPC behind a Joe Moore Award winning offensive line. They also pressured quarterback CJ Stroud on 47.2% of his drop backs.

If Notre Dame’s offensive line is that much better and their defensive line can consistently pressure Stroud like Michigan did, that’s a recipe to win the game. If they aren’t at that level of being better up front, then Notre Dame is likely going to have to try and outscore Ohio State to get the win because those receivers are nasty.

3. Jon Heacock looks like he’s one of the top choices to be Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator and it makes sense for many reasons. He’s done a tremendous job at Iowa State finishing in the top-30 in F+ in the last four seasons and they aren’t anywhere close to having elite talent.

His experience would be invaluable in allowing Freeman to not have to micromanage the defense and he should fit right in with the staff given their previous time working together at Kent State and Purdue.

The best thing he brings to the table is his ability to adapt. What he did turning to the 3-3-5 at Iowa State after traditionally playing with four down was a brilliant move to adjust to Big 12 offenses and what he did with disguising coverages has been copied by plenty of coaches around the country. Notre Dame fans will be familiar with how Clark Lea utilized a three safety look on 3rd downs in 2018 and 2019. That helped the Irish go from 65th in 3rd down defense in 2018 to 19th and 11th in the next two seasons.

If Heacock is the call, then it’s going to be interesting to see what he does with the personnel for the Irish and how that might marry with what Freeman was doing. The spot to watch with him would be Rover. Already a hybrid position, I wonder if that will transition even more to safety than linebacker and if that is the case, then Xavier Watts feels like he has the right kind of skill set to do some good things there.

4. The Irish defense this past season was fantastic on 3rd down (tied for 10th) and in the red zone (4th in touchdown percentage). They were the only defense in the country that ranked in the top-10 in both of those categories.

They weren’t nearly as spectacular when it came to Havoc rate. The sack numbers were good (41 total and 34th in sack rate), but they simply didn’t make enough plays overall with a Havoc rate of 16.5%. That’s extremely average.

It didn’t help that they lost Kyle Hamilton halfway through the season (9 Havoc plays in six games) and that they didn’t have Marist Liufau the whole year. Not having the two biggest playmakers on the defense at the second and third level clearly made things more difficult.

Everyone should be optimistic that things will tick up in 2022. Part of that has to do with Isaiah Foskey and his 19.5 Havoc plays returning and then with Liufau back and the addition of Brandon Joseph (17.5 in 21 games the last two seasons), it should automatically provide a boost in the Havoc department.

5. I think every fan wants a position coach to be hired that checks all of the boxes. No one wants hypotheticals. They want proof that a coach can develop great players and recruit at an elite level.

If someone doesn’t have years of doing that on their resumé, then it’s tough to get excited about the hire.

There’s obviously a risk with Notre Dame hiring Chansi Stuckey because he hasn’t been coaching college football very long. The track record barely exists to be examined.

We really don’t know how well Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees are at evaluating coaches either. They have more power now that they didn’t have previously so this is all new for them. Who knows if they will get these hires right when Brian Kelly got his fair share of hires wrong and he had a lot more experience making those decisions.

The one thing I can say is that this first staff for Freeman looks like it could be a nice mix of youth and experience. That’s typically a good thing.

6. Notre Dame is looking to add some players in the 2022 class on the February signing day. They have found some quality with late offers like in 2017 when Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah were additions to that class. Then again, so were Jordan Genmark-Heath, Jafar Armstrong, and Kofi Wardlow. They don’t all turn out to be gems for Notre Dame.

The Irish could add three players who they don’t know much about, which is why the transfer portal at least offers more information about what they might be getting. It can also be a crap shoot, but I’d say Notre Dame has a higher hit rate than most when it comes to who they have taken.

Cain Madden didn’t play close to an All-American level, but he started every game at right guard. Jack Coan ended up outplaying expectations when everything was all said and done. I don’t believe they would have won 11 games without him.

Isaiah Pryor played solid football at Rover for one of his two years. Nick McCloud was a quality corner and Ben Skowronek got himself drafted after playing a key role at receiver.

Throw in Alohi Gilman on top of that group and it’s been a while since things didn’t work out with the likes of Freddy Canteen, Cam Smith, and Avery Sebastian. Trevor Speights is the only one similar since then and him not playing due to injury was not a surprise.

Notre Dame has been very selective with transfers and I know some of that is not by choice, but it’s probably for the best that they aren’t in a position where they need to dive into the portal as heavy as many other programs. With some of the positions they missed on, it might be better to go the transfer route than take too many swings at unsigned 2022 prospects.

I like the three recent offers they have made, but the board doesn’t have to be expanded too much. They may not find another Brandon Joseph type of player to help them at wide receiver, but maybe they can find someone who can at least become a contributor at that spot.

The odds are better than signing a recruit who may be a contributor two years from now, provided that player sticks around long enough to find out.

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