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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

June 8, 2023
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The very first year I started following recruiting was back in 1999. I remember Notre Dame was getting ready for their end of the season banquet and that was set to be a huge recruiting weekend. From a commitment standpoint, the class didn’t really start until after that weekend.

Things are much different today.

The process starts so much earlier than it did back then and everything is accelerated. It’s not just that freshmen and sophomores in high school are being offered now when they were barely on the radar back then. It’s that recruiting classes are now close to being finished in the summer.

2019 was the final year for The Opening and that was a camp that featured the top prospects in the country, many of whom weren’t committed. It took place in the first week of July every year and one of the great things about it from a media perspective was that there were plenty of Notre Dame targets still on the board at that time who were competing.

Spring and summer official visits changed the dynamic of any kind of camp like that in the summer. That’s one of the reasons why they will never be able to replicate that camp today. Most of the players who would have been competing in it would have taken all of their official visits and made a commitment before it happened.

Notre Dame already has 19 commitments in the 2024 class. That’s more than anyone in the country right now, but it’s not a shocking number. Oregon has 14 commits, Penn State has 17, LSU has 16, and Michigan and Georgia both have 17.

This is the new normal. Classes are filling up and that means that recruits have to make a choice about committing or potentially losing a spot in a class. That’s been a good thing for programs like Notre Dame, but I think it’s been a bad thing for college football.

There are more de-commitments and transfers than ever. I know a lot of the blame for that gets put on NIL and the transfer portal and it would be ignorant to suggest that those aren’t factors. I don’t think there is enough blame put on how accelerated the recruiting process is now compared to how it used to be, though.

Two decades ago it was players not making a commitment until late in their senior year. Five years ago there were still a lot of players who committed early, but there wasn’t the pressure of making a decision in the summer like there is now.

Some players can still wait as long as they want, but the majority don’t have that luxury. There are many who get put into a position where they have to make a choice now because next week that spot might be gone.

That’s not even taking into account the players who get pushed out of some recruiting classes because a program takes a commitment from someone better later on. That is happening often as well and then a recruit has to find a school that still has a spot open for him and also be a place where he wants to go.

This current set up benefits Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan and others who can be in a position to put pressure on recruits to choose their program at the risk of not being able to later on. I also believe it can be a good thing for many of these players to get their decisions over with and then concentrate on their senior year of high school.

The flip side is that some players don’t even get a chance to take all of their visits in the summer because they feel the need to save a spot in a recruiting class. And sometimes they do that and it’s them making the choice because they feel they have to rather than being 100% sure about it.

Things aren’t going back to how they used to be so even mentioning it seems kind of fruitless. It’s something that has been on my mind, though, as I see some visits get canceled by players and by teams.

Making a commitment to a college football program is a huge decision. There’s a lot of good things about the acceleration of the recruiting process, but anyone having to make a decision before they might not be ready to is not one of them.

2. As I mentioned, we’re now at a time where we’re seeing previously planned officials canceled. When players commit and the class grows, the board changes. It happens every year and there are players who Notre Dame misses on or decides to pass on when they land other prospects.

When it happens, it gets more reaction from fans who follow recruiting than actual commitments.

People remember when Notre Dame went all in on running back Will Shipley…and then didn’t get him. They’ll never forget when defensive end Braiden McGregor chose Michigan in a way that made it appear he was genuinely misleading Notre Dame’s staff.

Sometimes those players who seem so important to a class don’t end up being as big of a loss as expected. Shipley is doing well at Clemson, but the Irish did pretty well with Audric Estime and Logan Diggs in that class (even with Diggs leaving after two years). Notre Dame is definitely not haunted by anything McGregor has done at Michigan. He was in the same class as Rylie Mills and Jordan Botelho and I doubt anyone would trade those two for McGregor.

It’s a funny thing because every decision seems so huge when it happens. Passing on a linebacker in the 2020 class meant Notre Dame not taking Cody Simon. That seemed stupid at the time, but now it looks a lot more foolish that they didn’t offer the brother of another Notre Dame player, Tommy Eichenberg. There was a lot less noise about that than when they passed on Simon.

We’re not far away from many teams having a good chunk of their recruiting class committed and there’s going to be a lot of discussion about who Notre Dame missed on or who they passed on. It’s a weird thing because I know I was someone who thought they made a mistake by not pushing for Simon at the time, but you just never know how things are going to look when everything plays out a few years down the road.

3. If I had to make a choice between taking an extra player at a crowded position or passing on a good prospect, I’m always leaning towards taking a good prospect.

It’s easy for me and others to think that way, though. We can play virtual GM or treat recruiting like it’s NCAA Football by EA Sports. We don’t have to manage a bunch of personalities in a position room or worry about reps not just in games, but in practices.

It sounds simple to over-sign because there will always be room and Notre Dame will always be under 85, but it doesn’t take into account other factors. This is why it’s important to have tiers or categories for recruits. If it might create a potential problem with managing a position, the player better be worth it. He has to be in a certain category to be a take no matter what.

I was thinking about this with Notre Dame balancing how many to take at positions like safety and defensive end. Of course I’m in favor of the Irish being aggressive and adding more players they view as elite, but they also can’t get into treating players like they are just numbers. Alabama can do that. Just about everyone else can’t.

They have to walk a fine line with it and I’d rather they dip their toes over the line than be a foot away from it, but they also can’t sprint by it.

4. This leads into something else that has been on my mind recently in regards to the defense. TaRiq Bracy was so good as the nickel last season that he was clearly one of the best 11 for the Irish. If he wasn’t, would they have played as much nickel? How would they have approached it if they had a Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at Rover? There is no way they wouldn’t have had someone like him on the field as much as possible.

Marcus Freeman talked about his overall philosophy on defense with the Make Great Defense Great Again podcast when he was initially hired by Notre Dame as defensive coordinator. This is what he said at that time:

“Everybody wants to know your three down team or your four down team. Are you a nickel team? It's again, let's get the best 11. That's my job and that's our job as the deepest staff to figure out the best 11 and then the best 22 and say, ‘OK, are we better to have a four defensive linemen alignment or better to have a nickel on the field? You know? And what are we trying to take away? What are we trying to stop the offense from doing? So there is no perfect answer to that question.”

Obviously that goes into being talent dependent as much as adjusting to the opponent and what personnel it will take to defend against them. And that’s the other side of the coin with over-signing at a position. If you bring in enough top talent, it gives you the flexibility to mess around with your best 11 from week to week.

I don’t know who Notre Dame’s best 11 are yet and I’m pretty sure the coaching staff doesn’t have that figured out yet either. It will be interesting to see if three of those 11 are corners this season, but there could be more instances when the best 11 might mean three safeties one week or three linebackers the next.

5. Stanford has eight commitments so far in the 2024 class and none of them are blue-chips. I just noticed that when looking at some of the recruiting rankings and it made me dive into their current roster and…yikes on bikes.

Yes, Notre Dame should have never lost to that Stanford team last season. That squad at least had some good players sprinkled throughout with quarterback Tanner McKee, receiver Elijiah Higgins, receiver Michael Wilson, corner Kyu Blu Kelly, and safety Kendall Williamson all drafted.

This year’s team? WOOF.

They have 14 former blue-chip recruits on the roster. Only two of them are projected to start on defense.

The last decent team they had was in 2018 when they won nine games and had 31 former blue-chips on the roster. They were the second most talented team in the Pac-12 on paper at that time. As bad as they were last season, they were the fourth most talented team in terms of recruited talent on their roster. They’ll be closer to 10th this season.

There should be enough motivation for Notre Dame to beat the brakes off of Stanford this season, but even if they didn’t have any, it’s possible they could stumble into beating them by 20.

I don’t know just how bad Stanford is going to be this season or for the next couple of seasons, but they will continue to be bad. It’s been an incredibly steep decline in the last five years for a program that was seen as a consistent contender in the Pac-12.

6. Notre Dame’s recent run in recruiting has them with 13 composite blue-chip recruits in the class. It could soon become 14 if they land Brauntae Johnson and I think it’s a safe bet they’ll end up with at least 18 by the time the class is finished. (Hey, 14 is how many Stanford has on their entire roster!)

Let’s just say 14 for now and forget about them finishing the rest of this class. That would be 14 in 2021, 18 in 2022, and 19 in 2023. That’s 65 blue-chips over four classes.

To put that into perspective, the 2015 team had 59 blue-chips from the four cycles that made up that team. That was the most Notre Dame has had in four consecutive cycles at any point in the last twelve years. That was also arguably the most talented team Brian Kelly put out on the field.

From an NFL Draft perspective, there is no argument. 11 starters were drafted in the first four rounds and seven in the first two rounds from the 2015 team. The 2012 team had only four drafted in the first two rounds. The 2018 and 2020 teams had five each.

That 65 is going to end up being closer to 70 and that will be what they’ve signed over four years which will make up most of the 2024 roster. The 2025 roster is going to be above that number. I don’t really see it dipping much below that number going forward either and that’s the Marcus Freeman effect.

When this class is done, he’ll have put together a roster of recruited talent that is greater than the best one Notre Dame has had in probably decades. There might be some disappointment in the next few weeks if the Irish don’t close with a key prospect or two. The total results of the last few years need to be recognized when looking at the big picture, though.

Looking at everything rather than just focusing on one or two things adds the proper perspective with what’s going on right now. Notre Dame was always capable of recruiting at this level and they now have a head coach who is doing it.

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