Story Poster
Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

May 12, 2022

After spring ball finished for Notre Dame, everyone was waiting for the inevitable rush to the transfer portal.

The sprint to the portal wasn’t even a light jog. The only scholarship player who entered was C’Bo Flemister who a) wasn’t on the roster this spring and b) has already graduated from Notre Dame.

What does that say about where things stand with the players within the program? For one, it likely means that mostly everyone is getting along great with the new coaches on the staff. It also could mean that Marcus Freeman and his staff didn’t have too many hard conversations with players after spring ball concluded, which could be a positive sign for how they feel about the roster as a whole.

Just because players didn’t rush to enter their names before the May 1st deadline doesn’t mean that everyone we saw in the spring will be back in June. That’s rarely how it works as some players go home unhappy thinking about leaving and then make the decision to not come back to South Bend.

And that deadline for one-time transfer players to be eligible this fall is a bit flimsy. Players can get a waiver like Devin Aupui did when he transferred to UCLA.

I think it says a lot about where things are with Notre Dame that there aren’t a handful of players who anyone could point to as obviously headed to the transfer portal at some point. There will be more transfers, there always are, but the players who fit into the “this guy will never play at Notre Dame” box isn’t there like it used to be when I first started working for ISD in 2015.

I could see some players decide to look at other opportunities and not be back in June. It might be more likely that we see some guys realize where they stand in fall camp and then reassess things in August. The fact that there aren’t more underclassmen who I feel confident in predicting aren’t going to make it at Notre Dame is a great sign for the program as a whole.

2. I think the idea of transfer windows for players that is being suggested by the American Football Coaches Association is stupid.

Why should any person be forced to wait to enter into the transfer portal during a specific window if they already know they are going to months earlier? Just imagine Lawrence Keys sticking around for the entire season last year and being miserable the entire time. That’s not good for the team or good for him.

There are hundreds of similar situations that used to play out like that and can now be avoided. Why prolong that, especially if we actually care about the mental health of the players? It doesn’t make sense in that respect for me.

The other thing is the sheer hypocrisy of this while coaches are free to leave in December before bowl games/the first signing period. If that was the only time they were leaving, that’s fair enough. They’ll also leave in January after that initial signing period or in February after the next signing day. And if there’s a scandal that sees a coach lose his job later on, there will always be coaches who are willing to leave for those openings then too.

Whenever they leave, they are doing it when it’s best for them and aren’t restricted to a five-week period like this transfer window would be. The intention behind this is to make things less chaotic for everyone and I understand that part of it. It just doesn’t fly for me when you look at what is happening with coaches.

3. Very interesting read by The Athletic’s Chris Vaninni featuring an interview with former Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia, who also happens to be the former CEO of TD Ameritrade.

He unsurprisingly rips on the NCAA and how things have been run there. He has a lot of interesting ideas about how things should be going forward and one that I think makes sense is reorganizing the FBS.

It’s the kind of thing that just makes business sense as there is an obvious gap between the top teams in the Power 5 and everyone else. Some kind of “Super League” seems inevitable.

“You look at 65 schools in the Power 5, pick half of them or so, then you separate with Group 1 and Group 2,” he said. “I’m not saying you have to do this, but if you run it like a business, you have to consider all these things. Let’s not make believe we’re worried about the FCS. The Power 5 is running all of this.”

This is pretty much what Jack Swarbrick said to Pat Forde in a recent interview. Things are going to blow up when the conference media deals expire, which for the ACC isn’t until 2036. Who knows if things will get accelerated before then, but the only way that that happens is if a main media rights holder like ESPN decides on it.

It does make one wonder about the length of Notre Dame’s next television contract. The smart move would be for it to be short, something in the five year range. I’m sure NBC or whoever the deal is with will try to lock them up for as long as possible.

4. The coaches who were easy targets for not delivering in recruiting at Notre Dame are gone. I guess that means that there needs to be someone new to single out in recruiting on the coaching staff. It appears it’s Mike Mickens for some.

It’s more than fair to say that this is a very important cornerback class for Notre Dame. The results will speak for themselves in the end, but at the moment, they don’t have any corners committed after Justyn Rhett decommitted. That had nothing to do with Mickens, but that really won’t matter if the Irish don’t bring in at least two good prospects at cornerback this cycle at cornerback.

That is true. What is also true is that Mickens came in and was dealt a bad hand in recruiting and on the field. He was hired in February of 2020. I guess somehow people forget that a worldwide pandemic started a month later. His first recruiting cycle he not only got into the game late, he never got to get out on the road during any evaluation periods or get to have players on campus to meet them in person. People weren’t exactly taking flights then either so any visits were essentially shadow protocols, which put Notre Dame in a tough spot.

He also took over a position group where Todd Lyght had one foot out of the door and there is no way that didn’t have an impact on his recruiting the position for that 2021 cycle. Don’t forget that Mickens also had the assignment of coaching a position group that by end of the season started a graduate transfer in Nick McCloud, who played far better than he ever did at NC State, and a true freshman in Clarence Lewis. Oh, and he had exactly one practice during spring ball to coach his group and a shortened fall camp. 

Compare that to what Jeff Quinn inherited in 2018 with where all of those players were ranked as recruits and there is no comparison.

I think Mickens has done a good job patching together some better than expected corner play considering what he inherited in terms of talent. I think his one full class he recruited already looks like they have a big hit in Jaden Mickey and we’ve heard good things about Jayden Bellamy as well. I’m excited to see what the future holds for 4-star prospect Benjamin Morrison too. Notre Dame beat out Washington for him and they had won several head to head battles with defensive back recruits in recent years prior to Mickens’ arrival.

I think everyone should slow down on the questions about him and then reassess after we see who they bring in at corner in this class. There’s a chance people could be singing a different tune in June if things go well after official visits.

5. Ohio State was 1st in EPA (expected points added) per play last season. They were 14th in EPA per rush and 1st in EPA per pass. They are loaded at the receiver position and the match up on paper against Notre Dame’s secondary looks like a favorable one for them to say the least.

The lowest point totals they put up last season were 26, 27, and 28. They lost two of those games. One was against Michigan and although Michigan’s defensive line was fantastic in that game, a 47.2% pressure rate according to PFF, they still gave up 27 in a snowstorm.

So when I say that Notre Dame’s defense can play well and still give up 30 to Ohio State, this is what I’m talking about.

The Irish need to put points on the board to win the game. Running the ball efficiently is going to be a huge part of that. Oregon and Michigan both ran for over 7.0 yards per carry and Utah, who put up 42 on the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl, ran for 5.14.

6. Greg Flammang and I recorded “Hit & Hustle” on Wednesday evening and we talked about our “dream class” for Notre Dame in 2023.

Even though this was a best-case scenario type of exercise, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the classes we set out were pretty close to what Notre Dame signs this cycle. They are in good position for almost all of the players we listed and as Matt Freeman pointed out on Power Hour this week, things are set up for them to have a good shot at a top-3 class when everything is finished.

The scary part about all of this is that there is still a level for Notre Dame to move up in recruiting. Right now an offer from the Irish means something and it always has, but it’s not quite the same as an Alabama, Georgia, or Ohio State offer at the moment. They move the needle more because of not only winning, but the volume of players they put in the NFL on an annual basis.

The Irish aren’t there yet.

They look like they are on their way if they continue to be as organized and dogged with their recruiting efforts under Marcus Freeman. About 55-60% of the players Brian Kelly signed were blue-chip recruits (4 or 5-stars). Out of all the players Notre Dame signed under Kelly who developed into NFL Draft picks, 79.5% of them were blue-chip recruits and he didn’t come close to signing that high of a percentage of 4 and 5-stars. 

Freeman is projecting to closer to 80% or higher in the 2022 and 2023 classes. Even if he keeps it relatively close to that level, Notre Dame is going to have a roster with a different level of raw talent, which should lead to more NFL Draft picks, more wins, and more cachet when they initially offer a prospect.

Of course, it sounds simple when I lay it out like that, but Freeman will have to navigate being a first time head coach, inevitable staff changes, and much more as time goes on in South Bend. Very few coaches have proven that they can consistently recruit at the level Notre Dame is recruiting at currently and then build on it. And only Saban has done it at the highest level at the same school for over a decade in recent college football history.

That’s the bar and it may have felt unreachable at Notre Dame, but I don’t think it is with the right person leading the program. Time will tell if Freeman is that person. He’s certainly off to a heck of a start.

Men’s Notre Dame Slides

subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.