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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

February 15, 2024

Earlier this week on Hit & Hustle, Greg Flammang and I discussed the most important uncommitted targets for Notre Dame in the 2025 class.

Sometimes that topic can seem like “clickbait”. It’s a little bit like someone starting a thread on a dream finish for a recruiting class. It’s fun to put out there, but not often realistic.

I think the names we mentioned could all end up in Notre Dame’s class, though. The Irish are definitely in the mix for edge Damien Shanklin‍, defensive back Dallas Golden‍, wide receiver Derek Meadows‍, linebacker Nathaniel Owusu-Boateng‍, and cornerback Devin Williams‍. It wouldn’t be shocking to see all or most of them to end up signing with Notre Dame.

No one goes undefeated in recruiting. There are plenty of players even Nick Saban lost out on that he would have loved to have in one of his many top ranked classes. In order to sign one of those top classes, it requires a very high batting average with these elite targets.

That’s something that Marcus Freeman’s staff has to improve compared to their first two full classes.

In 2023, they weren’t able to keep Keon Keeley and Peyton Bowen in the class in addition to missing out on others like defensive lineman Jason Moore and safety Caleb Downs. They deserve plenty of credit for landing Jeremiyah Love, Charles Jagusah, and Christian Gray, but two or three of those others would have made a big difference with the batting average.

In last year’s cycle they landed CJ Carr and Cam Williams early and held on to them. They also won big battles for Guerby Lambert and Kyngstonn Viliammu-Asa. Those were two high priority targets that Notre Dame hit home runs with.

Other names that would have been in the same category as them, like defensive tackle Justin Scott, edge Elijah Rushing, and cornerback Kaleb Beasley, they struck out with. Obviously there were some other factors at play and losing out on someone like Rushing is eased by the fact that Bryce Young took a massive leap as a prospect, but imagine adding even one of that group to the class Notre Dame just signed. It would make the class as a whole rise up a level.

How this class has started isn’t all that much different than Freeman’s last two. I like how the foundation and can even envision there being a couple of players who could rise significantly like Young just did.

Now comes the hard part where they have to close on the players who can take the class into a different tier. It’s within their grasp to make it happen, probably a lot more than it was with the others they were chasing in the previous classes.

Improve the batting average and it will be the best recruiting class Notre Dame has signed in over a decade.

2. 18 of the 23 recruits who signed with Notre Dame in the last recruiting cycle were offered before this time last year. (The five who weren’t offered yet are WR Logan Saldate, safety Taebron Bennie-Powell, DT Sean Sevillano, LB Teddy Rezac, and OL Anthonie Knapp)

Nine in the 2023 class hadn’t been offered at this point in the calendar year in the class before it. I don’t think we’re going to see that number get this high again any time soon. 

That’s partly Notre Dame’s recruiting and personnel department being more on top of everything in year two under Freeman and partly the entire staff understanding what they want to identify in prospects at each position in order for them to be considered legitimate targets.

I think Notre Dame fans should keep this in mind knowing that the players who will most likely fill out the rest of the class have already been offered. They should also keep in mind that if anyone gets offered after this point, it means that they are a name people should probably remember because the board now is pretty much the board the rest of the way for 2025 recruiting.

If they are adding someone else to it, it means they believe they are worthy of being included until the end of the cycle.

3. Notre Dame typically doesn’t make a big deal out of assistants signing extensions, but I know that many people were a bit worried about nothing being announced for Al Golden. He would seem like a logical candidate for NFL defensive coordinator openings.

That’s not something that anyone has to worry about now. All except one of those openings has been filled. The San Francisco 49ers are making a switch at defensive coordinator and that’s the lone job that’s open. Even if I didn’t believe Golden was staying at Notre Dame with a raise and extension, the most likely move for the 49ers is to either promote from within or hire a client of Richmond Flowers (he represents Kyle Shanahan and several current and former 49ers coaches).

We saw last season what it looked like with the players going into year two in Golden’s system. Now we get to witness the players go into year three of the same system on defense for the first time since Clark Lea’s run from 2018-2020.

Maybe the most encouraging thing to come out of last season was how Golden succeeded in adapting to the schedule Notre Dame was playing and the personnel he was working with. It will be interesting to see just how much he’ll tweak things this season with some key pieces returning, but also some new faces playing against a much different schedule than the one they played in 2023.

ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his initial preseason SP+ rankings (they get updated again after the spring) and Notre Dame is ninth overall and ninth on defense. There’s a real shot that the Irish could end up with a group in the top-five this season. Golden being able to consistently frustrate opposing quarterbacks is a huge reason to be optimistic about that.

4. Golden was a longtime NFL position coach with a history in college football. Marcus Freeman didn’t hire him because of his background in college, though. He wanted Golden because of what he was bringing to the table from his experience in the NFL.

Michigan just hired Wink Martindale, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, to run their defense. I think it’s pretty obvious that Sherrone Moore is simply trying to keep a good thing going because Michigan’s two most recent defensive coordinators before Martindale, Mike Macdonald and Jessie Minter, were Ravens assistants when Martindale was the DC there.

USC defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn was at UCLA last season and did a fantastic job with their defense. He’s another former Ravens assistant who had only worked in the NFL as coach prior to Chip Kelly hiring him.

Deion Sanders just hired former Cincinnati Bengals secondary coach Robert Livingston to run his defense. He’s a young coach who has spent the last five years with the Bengals and worked on the same staff as Golden.

Bill O’Brien just hired Tim Lewis to be his defensive coordinator at Boston College. Lewis has mostly coached in the NFL during his career and hasn’t coached in college since 1994.

I don’t know if it’s enough to call it a trend, but whatever you want to call it, Freeman was in front of it when he hired Golden. At Notre Dame, UCLA, and Michigan, it worked out really well. When that happens, people tend to copy it and maybe we’re starting to see more of that now.

5. With the Super Bowl finished, football season is officially over. Sportsbooks are still looking to hook people in who only bet on football, which is why Heisman odds and college football win totals are being released Fanduel has put those out for the Power 4 (can we work on this name? Power 2 and ⅔?) and the win totals are out for some Notre Dame’s opponents.

Only four of the teams have a total above six: Texas A&M at 8.5, Florida State at 9.5, Louisville at 8.5, and USC at 7.5.

The other four are Georgia Tech at 5.5, Virginia at 4.5, Purdue at 4.5, and Stanford at 3.5.

Notre Dame’s 2021 schedule featured only two Power 5 programs who won eight regular season games. I think there’s a very good chance the Irish won’t play a major conference team who wins 10 or more regular season games this season and I think there’s a lot of 2021 vibes to this schedule.

As mentioned, Connelly’s preseason SP+ rankings are out and Florida State is the highest ranked (12th) with Texas A&M right behind them (13th).

I’ve previously outlined how there are serious questions about both of their rosters. A&M specifically having a top-12 offense does seem incredibly ambitious when there’s so much hope pinned on Conner Weigman at quarterback. He played four games last season and lit up New Mexico and Louisiana-Monroe (79.6% completions, 10.6 yards per attempt, six touchdowns, no interceptions). He did not light it up against Miami and Auburn (58.2% completions, 6.1 YPA, two touchdowns, two interceptions).

After them it’s USC (23rd) and Louisville (24th) and then a massive drop to the rest of the schedule.

Miami (Ohio) is 53rd, Georgia Tech is 60th, Virginia is 81st, Purdue is 86th, Northern Illinois is 93rd, Stanford is 94th, Army is 98th, and Navy is 104th.

This doesn’t mean that every single one of those games will end up being a blowout, but it is pretty amazing that literally half of the schedule is ranked 80th or below. My friend Michael Bryan pointed out on Twitter that Notre Dame should be favored in every game (according to SP+, not sportsbooks) and the win probability is greater than 80% in nine games.

It’s greater than 65% in 11 games and the only game that is less than that is the opener at A&M.

They don’t play games on paper or by inputting numbers into a spreadsheet, but I don’t know how anyone could see this and not have 11+ win expectations for this season.

6. There is no question that last year’s Notre Dame football team was worn down during their stretch of eight games without an open week that was capped off by four straight night games against four opponents who finished in the F+ (combined FEI and SP+ rankings) top-30.

They won’t have the same issue this season.

Everything is spread out much better for them this fall. While they do have the tough road opener vs A&M (13th), they then play three teams who are projected 93rd, 86th, and 53rd before their next top-25 opponent. They will face Louisville (24th) at home in week five before a bye week.

The next stretch is Stanford (94th), Georgia Tech (60th), and Navy (104th) before they have their final bye week.

The Irish finish things off with Florida State (12th) and Virginia (81st) before closing out with Army (98th) in Yankee Stadium and USC (23rd) in Los Angeles. (By the way, USC has a stretch of games where they play seven straight weeks with every opponent projected in the SP+ top-45. Good luck to them.)

I think the people who put together the schedules get too much blame when they aren’t set up well and probably too much credit when things set up like it is this season. There are a lot of “ifs” that could have made this schedule look a lot more difficult than it will be.

As it stands now, the structure of it sets up really well for Notre Dame this fall. There’s some luck involved, but the Irish deserved some after how things broke for them last season.

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