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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

January 18, 2024

Notre Dame has the number one ranked class in the 2025 cycle.

We know that being ranked as the top class means nothing right now. We also know how individuals are ranked also doesn’t mean much either.

Rankings change, offer lists change, and things that impact how the industry ranks these players (offers, camps, verified testing, track times, more information available on prospects) can drastically change how a player is viewed.

That's even before accounting for the development of these players before and during their senior seasons. There are plenty of examples of how things can change in a year when it comes to rankings. Just look at the top players right now in the 2024 class.

WR Cam Coleman is a top-five player in the composite rankings today. He was 288th at this time last year. Terry Bussey and Bryant Wesco were top-100 kids who became 5-stars. DL Joseph Jonah-Anjonye is a 5-star who didn’t have a ranking at this time last year.

LB Chris Cole was a top-600 prospect. Now he’s top-40. WR Gatlin Blair went from top-300 to top-50.

247Sports had Notre Dame signee Bryce Young‍ as the 444th best prospect in the country. He’s currently 76th for them (and climbing). Kedren Young‍ has jumped over 150 spots in the rankings in the last year. There are plenty of other examples as well.

This is not the time of year to be too excited or too worried about recruiting rankings. 

The main thing I think that needs to be communicated about the 2025 class that Notre Dame has put together so far is the number of players who worked out for the staff at camp last summer. It’s eight of the 14 commits. Only nine of the 23 signees did that with the 2024 class and that’s if I include Anthonie Knapp‍ (who earned an offer from Joe Rudolph at a camp when he was at Virginia Tech).

Being able to evaluate these players at camp is more than just seeing them go through drills. It means the staff got verified measurements, verified testing, and were able to get on the field and coach these players. It doesn't mean that every one of those guys they worked out, offered, and accepted a commitment from is going to be a stud, but it means they had a better opportunity to evaluate these players than you, me, or anyone else in the industry who ranks these players. 

How Notre Dame projects them is based on more information than anyone else has who didn’t have these players compete on their own campus. It’s not emphasized enough how important that is and why that matters more than a star ranking.

Two of those players who worked out camp, offensive tackle Will Black‍ and defensive lineman Joseph Reiff‍, are lower ranked players relative to others in the class and some others Notre Dame has offers out to. They are two I have ranked higher than others in the industry at the moment and in my opinion they are prime candidates to be the type of recruits who see their rankings rise up significantly over the next year.

2. I think the idea of ranking transfer classes makes sense to get fans excited about who programs are adding.

It’s also extremely flawed. Even more flawed than ranking recruiting classes for high school prospects.

It never takes into account needs that are met or that some teams are bringing in over 20 transfers in one class compared to others who are only landing a handful.

I don’t know how to compare Notre Dame’s transfer class to everyone else’s based on numbers. I just know that based on needs on the roster, available talent that they landed, and scheme as well as program fit, they ended up doing a really good job.

So, who cares what that means when it comes transfer rankings. All that matters is that they accomplished most of what they sought out to do in terms of additions to the roster.

I’ll admit that I don’t know the roster needs for the majority of teams well because I haven’t studied those rosters and I’m not as familiar with their personnel as much as I am with Notre Dame’s. That’s the caveat I’m adding before saying that the two programs who I believe have done the best job with roster additions (recruiting and transfers combined) this offseason are Texas and Oregon.

Those two are recruiting high school players at an elite level and adding transfers who have the potential to be elite as well.

Texas has only added six transfers (so far), but Isaiah Bond (Alabama), Silas Bolden (Oregon State), and Matthew Golden (Houston) have proven production and the potential to help replace what was lost with playmakers Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell immediately at receiver. Safety/nickel Andrew Mukuba (Clemson) could have been a day two pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. The only player they added who hasn’t had big production is linebacker Kendrick Blackshire (Alabama) and he was a contender to start for the Tide this season if he decided to stay.

Oregon landed a replacement for Bo Nix in Dillon Gabriel (Oklahoma), a plug and play nose guard in Jamaree Caldwell (Houston), a multi-year starter at safety in Kobe Savage (Kansas State), a potential starting corner in Kam Alexander (UTSA), a potential elite receiver in former 5-star Evan Stewart (Texas A&M), a quality nickel in Brandon Johnson (Duke), and an offensive tackle with 39 career starts in Matthew Bedford (Indiana).

It’s that group plus taking a chance on quarterback Dante Moore (UCLA) ending up as the player he was supposed to be and adding a D-II All-American running back in Jay Harris.

I’d put Notre Dame a notch below those two and Georgia probably deserves to be mentioned with Texas and Oregon as well, but so many other programs are banking on hitting big with numbers in the transfer portal or they’re like Ole Miss going full on free agency.

Notre Dame is doing it right in my opinion, they just can still to take it up one more level.

3. It’s so interesting to see how Florida State is approaching the portal after losing just about every elite player from their 2023 team.

They signed a good recruiting class in the previous cycle and closed out a pretty good one in this one as well, but the 2021 and 2022 classes they signed were low on numbers and low on blue-chips. They had 10 total who would be juniors or seniors in the fall and five of them have already transferred.

The solution for them in the portal this year seemed to lean on former highly ranked recruits who haven’t done all that much in college up to this point.

LB Shawn Murphy, RB Roydell Williams, WR Malik Benson, DB Earl Little Jr., and OG Terrence Ferguson are all Alabama transfers. Murphy and Little Jr. played a combined 39 snaps last season in their second year in the program. Ferguson mostly saw action in garbage time on the worst Alabama O-line since the start of the Saban era. Benson was a JUCO transfer who had 13 catches last season. Williams played the most with a career high 560 yards rushing in his fourth year.

Maybe these players hit and end up helping them. The same could be said for Jalen Brown, a top-100 prospect who bounced from LSU after one season. It’s definitely too early to give up on someone like him as a player.

At the same time, it can be extremely hit and miss with these players who didn’t earn playing time for one reason or another at their previous programs. The top of the 2020 recruiting class is a perfect example.

OLB Drew Sanders was stuck as a backup at Alabama. When he got a clear path at Arkansas, he proved he could be an elite pass rusher. He was an exception, though. There’s Arik Gilbert, Demarckus Bowman, and Jordan Johnson who transferred early and never hit.

It worked out for USC with DT Bear Alexander, who had flashed at the very least when he was at Georgia. It didn’t work out with former top-50 prospect DT Ishmael Sopsher who never sniffed the field at Alabama or USC. DL Anthony Lucas is still to be determined, but he wasn’t the immediate stud they were likely hoping for.

Some elite recruits transfer early and are like Puka Nacua at BYU. Others are like Agiye Hall at Texas. You just never know how it will go.

FSU added others who are likely going to step in and help them right away. It’s easy to project that because they have played well at their previous programs. They are banking on some of these others to be great players for them who weren’t that at their previous school. They’ll need a handful of them to hit big if they want to be as good as they were in 2023.

4. I know that there are a lot of college football fans who are turned off by the current state of the sport and I understand why. I don’t see a lot of people talking about the benefits of the changes, though.

One of them is that the number of early entrants to the NFL Draft has gone down considerably. There were 128 for the 2021 NFL Draft. That number is closer to 90 three years later and it has declined the last two years.

Notre Dame has benefited from it with players like Howard Cross, Xavier Watts, and Rylie Mills returning for another season. No one has benefited more from it than Ohio State with WR Emeka Egbuka, DE JT Tuimoloau, DE Jack Sawyer, RB TreVeyon Henderson, G Donovan Jackson, DT Tyliek Williams, and CB Denzel Burke all electing to come back.

The majority of those guys are probably leaving a few years ago. NIL played a huge part in them staying. I’m sure it did the same for players like Mukuba, Quinn Ewers, Barrett Carter, Tez Johnson, and several quarterbacks who would have been fine with being a late-round pick a few years ago.

Maybe it sucks for some people that Ohio State gets to keep a stacked roster mostly intact, but isn’t it better for college football as a whole when more of these players are still playing on Saturdays? It’s pretty much the opposite of the one-and-done epidemic in college basketball.

We get to keep watching good players stick around in college a bit longer and to me that is a very good thing.

5. I added a couple of new positions in the “Defensive position breakdown” thread that is pinned at the top of the premium football board.

The first is the “Money” linebacker.

Money: Hybrid linebacker in Notre Dame’s 3rd down/sub-packages. Primarily used as pass rusher off the edge, but can spy the quarterback and match up with backs and tight ends in coverage as well. Potential to line up all over the line as well as off the ball.

That’s the role Marist Liufau played for Notre Dame in 2023 and he played it well. That’s why he went from fringe NFL prospect to being invited to the Senior Bowl.

The second is the “Aztec”

Aztec: Third safety or Dime player in Notre Dame’s “Spear” 3rd down package. Can shift around anywhere from deep to near the line of scrimmage. A chess piece that can move around. Adds in as a blitzer in certain circumstances, but can often be utilized robbing routes over the middle of the field.

This was DJ Brown’s role last season and I wouldn’t say he was the ideal fit there. This a spot where Alohi Gilman, Kyle Hamilton, or Harrison Smith could have excelled. Hamilton was doing something similar for Notre Dame when he was a freshman in 2019 when they had Gilman and Jalen Elliott at safety as well.

It’s going to be interesting to see what Al Golden and Chris O’Leary decide to do at this spot this season. I think this particular role on 3rd down is going to be around for the long run much like the “Money” will be as well based on how they’ve targeted recruits who they project to compete at these spots.

I think some of the young safeties on the roster have the potential to be great in this role. I know they talked to Kennedy Urlacher‍ specifically about playing this, but I wouldn’t expect him to win this job as a freshman. I believe the most likely candidate is Rod Heard II. He wasn’t used as a blitzer often, but he was very good as a box safety for Northwestern and I’d be genuinely intrigued to see him playing this position.

6. Back in 2019 Notre Dame looked much different up front on 3rd down than they looked like in 2023.

They started out the season with Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa as their front four. After Hayes and Okwara were injured, they were deep enough to plug in Ade Ogundeji and Jamir Jones.

They didn’t exactly have the depth at defensive end in ‘23 to roll like that. By the end of the season, the only defensive end on 3rd down was Javontae Jean-Baptiste because Notre Dame was using Liufau and Jaylen Sneed as pass rushers.

It’s a good thing to have those options at linebacker who can rush the passer, but they need to have more options at defensive end as well. The problem was that Jordan Botelho wasn’t healthy and getting after the passer the same way he was at the end of 2022 and they were very young at Vyper. It’s going to be different this season.

We’ll see what Botelho can do, but now there’s Josh Burnham, JR Tuihalamaka, Kahanu Kia, and Boubacar Traore also at Vyper. Traore is someone that has the potential to become the best pass rusher on the team next season and Kia has the skill set to play that Money role.

Then there’s RJ Oben at the other end and I wouldn’t count out Aiden Gobaira being a factor if he is fully recovered after tearing his ACL in camp last year. There’s also the possibility of Bryce Young forcing his way into the mix as a freshman.

Of course there is still Sneed. Him and Kyngston Viliamu-Asa could end up rushing off the edge this season. KVA is legitimate contender to do this in 2024. Mark that down in ink.

The options for ‘24 look a lot better. It’s going to be all about who develops and how it all sorts itself out. It sorted itself out fairly well last fall with less options and it doesn’t hurt that they’ll have Howard Cross back disrupting from the interior too.

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