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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

December 22, 2022

Notre Dame lost their 5-star commitment on signing day. They lost a couple of other 5-stars who were committed along the way. That stings for the Irish coaching staff and it should.

This wasn’t a deal where Notre Dame was getting Byron Cowart to take a visit or sending a truck out to gain the attention of Demetris Robertson. This wasn’t getting Baron Browning to show up and watch Irish Invasion or hoping that Amon-ra St. Brown would want to follow his brother and end up Irish.

Notre Dame had these players committed. It’s a step in the right direction compared to what Brian Kelly had done at Notre Dame, but it ultimately ended up without those players choosing to sign with Notre Dame. That’s the bottom line.

Losing those players overshadows the rest of the class for a lot of Notre Dame fans and for everyone starving for the chance at winning another national championship, they won’t be able to let that go all of next year unless something changes with 2024 recruiting. Concentrating on only that ignores an important question, though. I think it’s the only question that matters for Marcus Freeman and his staff.

Did Notre Dame get closer to winning a championship with this class?

The answer is yes. With zero hesitation, yes. As emphatically as I can put it, yes they are much closer to winning a championship now than they were a few days ago.

That’s because they just signed a class that has 20 4-star prospects. That’s something Kelly never did at Notre Dame. Freeman just injected a ton of talent into the program and made the roster a lot deeper. And he did it for the second year in a row.

They have an 83.3% blue-chip ratio (percentage of 4 and 5-stars signed) with this class. If you combine what they did with the 2022 cycle, they’re at 82.2% over the last two seasons. That’s Alabama and Georgia level.

Notre Dame is missing some of the top end instant impact players that those two programs have, but this roster just took a big step in an effort to close the talent gap with the best teams in college football.

Kelly was stuck around the 55-60% mark in combined BCR over the previous four recruiting classes while in his final years at Notre Dame. They could never climb over that hump and almost seemed content to stay there while he was head coach.

That changed when Freeman arrived as defensive coordinator and now he’s produced two classes that’s going to put next season’s four-year BCR up to 66.7%. That percentage is bound to get better again the next year because they already have six blue-chips committed in ‘24 and they only had nine in the class that the ‘24 group will be replacing (the 2020 class).

Did Notre Dame do enough with this class to put them into that top tier of talent in college football? Not yet, but it was another significant step towards that and as long as they keep working like they have, the talent gap between them and the ones they want to beat the most is going to continue to shrink.

2. The programs that ended up landing the 5-stars in this class were Alabama (6), Texas (4), Miami (3), Georgia (2), Ohio State (1), LSU (1), Oregon (3), Oklahoma (2), Tennessee (1), Clemson (1), Penn State (1), Texas A&M (2), USC (3), Florida State (1), and UCLA (1).

What’s the difference for Notre Dame with and without the 5-stars they had committed? If they had signed Peyton Bowen‍, Keon Keeley‍, and Dante Moore‍, it’s a top-three class. I think we can be completely honest and say that if Notre Dame was doing what Miami and Oregon are doing with NIL, all three of those guys would have ended up Irish. (Okay, maybe not Moore. Calling his situation unpredictable would be an understatement)

So, is it as simple as Notre Dame having to play that game if they want to land 5-stars? That would seem to be the conclusion based on this cycle, but we also don’t know if things are going to keep going the direction they are with recruiting.

The stories about players not getting paid what they were supposed to haven’t been more than speculation at the moment and while everyone has heard about multi-million dollar promises, I’m not sure if that’s going to come crashing back down to earth or if that’s just a starting point for where things are headed.

I also don’t think it’s as simple as finding the players who aren’t interested in that as a driving factor in their recruitments. Most players aren’t thinking that way…until someone around them takes it there. Then things can change quickly as everyone witnessed this cycle.

Maybe this recruiting class drives some Notre Dame collectives to shift their focus to recruiting. I guess we’ll wait and see, but there is no way everyone involved in Notre Dame’s recruiting department didn’t learn some things from this cycle. How they adapt will determine whether or not the ceiling changes for a Notre Dame recruiting class or not.

3. Where did Notre Dame miss in this class? One would think safety or running back with decommitments from Dylan Edwards‍, Jayden Limar‍, and Bowen, but I think they are still in a really good spot with numbers and talent at those two positions.

They hit on corner, linebacker, defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, and quarterback as well. There weren’t a lot of boxes left unchecked.

The only two in my opinion are at Vyper and left tackle. That’s why I would argue that the two most significant losses in the class were Keeley and Elijah Paige‍, if one was looking at it purely based on need.

These two spots have to be massive priorities in the 2024 cycle. As I dive deeper into the prospects over the next month, I’m excited to see what candidates at those positions should be priority prospects as well.

4. Junior year is the most important year for any future college football player when it comes to recruiting, but a senior season from a player can often get overlooked because of it.

Benjamin Morrison is an example of someone who I thought made a significant leap as a senior. I thought that leap was going to help him compete early at Notre Dame, but there is no way I would have predicted he was going to be playing as well as any corner in the country to finish his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Marcus Freeman admitted at his press conference yesterday that they also didn’t envision Morrison being a starter right away, but it happened and he made the biggest impact out of any freshman that the Irish signed in the 2022 cycle.

That’s a long way of saying, I don’t know if there is someone who is going to be a surprise starter out of the 2023 group that just signed. I do think that there are several candidates who have a shot at making an early impact, though.

I think it’s going to be very difficult for any front seven players to see the field much in year one and I think all of the O-linemen they signed will need some time before they are ready to play for Notre Dame.

There is a need at safety so Adon Shuler‍ and Benjamin Minich‍, both early enrollees, will have opportunities to get into the mix right away. There may not be a position on the team next year with more opportunities for a freshman to emerge than safety so that automatically puts these two on the radar for playing time.

Notre Dame has much less of a need at corner and running back. One might even say they are set at those positions for next season. However, I would put Christian Gray‍ and Jeremiyah Love‍ in “may be too talented to keep off the field” category. Love especially is simply a different type of player than the other backs on the roster so that could allow him some chances to earn touches.

Notre Dame just landed a good receiver in the portal plus they have Deion Colzie, Jayden Thomas, Lorenzo Styles, and Tobias Merriweather returning. It could be tough for a freshman to come into a play in front of those players if they continue to improve as expected.

I think this receiver class that is coming is very good, though. I think Jaden Greathouse‍, Rico Flores Jr.‍, and Braylon James‍ are all players that I think will play next season for Notre Dame. Greathouse and Flores are two who I believe are beyond their years in some areas and that could give them an edge in an effort to see the field.

All three of these freshmen will be on campus in January as well.

5. The Notre Dame staff is getting their flowers for how hard they worked to put together and keep together most of this class. They deserve it. I’ll send some their way for that as well.

They also need to get some love for some really good late evaluations that ended up being key pieces in the class.

When Notre Dame offered Minich, he wasn’t a top-500 recruit. He ended up as a composite 4-star prospect. When Notre Dame offered Brandyn Hillman‍, most sites didn’t even have him ranked. He also ended up as a composite 4-star.

When Notre Dame offered Armel Mukam‍, he wasn’t ranked in the top-1000 recruits in the country. I think he might have the highest upside as a pass rusher out of the commits they landed this cycle and bumped him up to 4-star status after his senior season. 247Sports also has him ranked as a 4-star.

They weren’t following anyone’s lead when they offered these players. They trusted their own evaluations and everyone else is just catching up to them. (Note: I did have Minich and Hillman as 4-stars when they were offered by Notre Dame. The film told no lies)

It’s one thing to be about hype and the grind in recruiting. That stuff matters, but not as much as the evaluations do. I think the staff did a great job of evaluating the talent they landed in this class.

6. I guess we don’t know where Peyton Bowen is going to end up because he doesn’t know where he is going to end up yet. Despite his announcement, he hasn’t sent in a letter of intent. I guess that could change quickly, with any school.

I’m sure Notre Dame fans will not be getting their hopes up either way.

Obviously everyone involved wants this to be over. Bowen and his family want it that way too, but it seems pretty clear that he’s being pulled in different directions by even the people who are close to him.

This isn’t a commentary on how he’s handled things or what he should do or what I would do in his shoes. I’m not in that position so it’s easy for me to say I would do one thing when I don’t have the pressure to try and please so many different people.

It’s been a wild recruitment and has gone several different directions even within the last week. When that happens, it’s almost impossible for a reporter to cover it and get it right when the truth can change from hour to hour.

With that in mind, I just want to commend my guy Matt Freeman on the work he has done here. Yes, I’m biased because he’s a friend and colleague at ISD, but he’s worked his tail off making sure the latest information is out there for ISD subscribers all the while covering the team as well.

To put it bluntly, he’s a beast who has covered this recruitment better than anyone. That’s no shot at anyone else. It’s just what I have seen from Matt from day to day with this.

We should all tip our caps to both Matt and Marcus (no relation, although both Korean) for the job they have done with this over these many months.

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