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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

July 4, 2024
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Signing day isn’t anything close to what it used to be with recruiting. There may be some unexpected flips during December or February, but the days of dozens of top prospects waiting to make their choice are over.

Everything has been sped up with the recruiting calendar. June official visits are the new December official visits. Most players are either done with the process or hope to be done with it before the summer ends and in the last few years Notre Dame has had most of their class committed before June.

They are looking to finish right now and rather than searching for plan B prospects, they are battling it out for priority targets with other blue-blood programs. If they want to land recruits like JaDon Blair‍, Madden Faraimo‍, Nathaniel Owusu-Boateng‍, and Derek Meadows‍, they’ll have to beat out Penn State, Michigan, Texas, USC, Alabama, and Georgia for those commitments.

As nerve-wracking as it may be for Notre Dame fans awaiting those decisions, it shouldn’t be seen as anything but a good thing that this is the competition they are up against. These are the teams they’ll have to beat in an expanded College Football Playoff.

Everyone understands what landing these blue-chip recruits would mean for Notre Dame. Not landing them means that the Irish will probably have to go up against these players at some point in time in the next few years.

In Marcus Freeman’s first full class, they ended up winning some key recruiting battles with their June official visitors highlighted by cornerback Christian Gray, offensive tackle Charles Jagusah, running back Jeremiyah Love, and linebacker Jaiden Ausberry. They’re now extremely valuable players on the roster for this season and beyond

. While those wins were significant, they didn’t land defensive lineman Jason Moore (Ohio State) or safety Caleb Downs (Alabama then transferred to Ohio State). No one bats 1.000, but being in the game for so many top of the board targets is what matters.

It was a different scenario last year with only a few comparable prospects they were trying to secure commitments from during those June officials last year. It wasn’t in the cards for them and edge Elijah Rushing, but beating Ohio State for Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa was about as big as it gets for a recruiting win for Freeman and company. (Guerby Lambert was absolutely considered on that level in terms of ranking, but who they were competing with to sign him was very different)

They’re in a similar position to where they were in with the ‘23 class. They won more than they lost back then. Each recruitment is different, but this staff has proven that they can close in these situations against this type of competition. They might not land them all, but I see that batting average continuing to be high this year and in the years to come.

2. I know a lot of people don’t care about defensive line play as much as I do, but anyone who is interested in learning more should check out Chris Long’s Greenlight podcast whenever he has a current or former NFL defensive lineman as a guest.

They typically get very detailed about pass rush and there’s a lot that can be learned from what is shared there. This latest episode with Seattle Seahawks edge Boye Mafe is a great example of that.

Mafe went on a run of having sacks in seven consecutive games last season and he talked about how important his confidence was during that span. That confidence leads into Mafe talking about what a coach told him at one point:

“Don’t let them (offensive linemen) dictate what you do. You dictate what they do.”

From a Notre Dame perspective, this is relevant in a couple of ways. The first thing that comes to mind is that I think Boubacar Traore already understands this. It’s why I feel very strongly that he’s going to be a successful pass rusher this season. He dictates things with his get off like and is going to force offensive tackle to worry about getting depth quickly in their pass set.

And I’ve seen him counter back inside and win when tackles overplay it. While that seems like such a simple concept, it’s not something that many young pass rushers have as their mindset.

The second thing that comes to mind is that this is what Jordan Botelho was doing when he had a great run in the second half of the 2022 season. He racked up 17 pressures in only 67 pass rush opportunities in the final six games, which also included four sacks. He was dictating things with his approach.

If he can get back to that, then he can get back to the pass rusher he was at the end of 2022. And if that happens, Notre Dame’s pass rush is going to be scary.

3. Adding to that, Jaylen Sneed has an opportunity to do the same thing with his speed off the edge. He gets picked up here by right tackle Anthonie Knapp in the spring game and it was a great job by Knapp, but Sneed has the kind of reactive athleticism to win inside if tackles worry about his speed.

via GIPHY

That kind of speed off the edge will eventually lead to these kinds of games up front when the tackles are constantly worried about getting beat outside and it will open up other possibilities.

4. Pre-season projections mean very little when games start being played, but since we’re still waiting for it to happen, I do find them interesting to look at in July. A lot of people know about ESPN’s Bill Connelly and his SP+ projections. Kelley Ford is another individual who puts out pre-season power ratings. He has Notre Dame seventh.

What’s interesting is that he has four Notre Dame opponents ranked in the top-21 (Florida State, Texas A&M, USC, and Louisville), but he has the Irish needing to go 11-1 in order to be in the College Football Playoff conversation.

It’s not shocking based on how a lot of people feel about Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. At least it’s not shocking until anyone looks at some teams he says would be in the conversation with 10 wins.

This is all based on strength of wins which are based on his ratings, which is an extremely college basketball way of looking at it. It’s also not in any way how the CFP committee has made selections in the past.

With that in mind, it’s not anything to get worked up about him having a nine win Georgia Tech team in the CFP conversation over a 10 win Notre Dame team. But since he put it out there for everyone to see, this is when power ratings and projections can lead someone into some truly stupid results.

Totaling up nine wins for them probably equals to more value based on top-40 wins than other teams. I’m sure that’s how they found their way into that tier for Ford. But let’s just lay out Georgia Tech’s schedule and see how it looks.

They have to play UGA, ND, and FSU in the top-10. Those would be the logical three losses, but for the sake of argument, let’s say they win one of those. That would mean a loss to either Miami (17), Louisville (21), or NC State (28).

Yes, it’s a difficult schedule and going 3-3 in those games would be noteworthy, but it’s not taking into account how those three losses would be viewed. That’s exactly why you can’t just put a total into a spreadsheet and say this win is worth this. It’s not just that the committee will not look at it that way. It’s that the difference between the 28th ranked team and the 60th ranked team isn’t large enough in college football for anyone to put too much stock into certain wins having way more value than another.

I’m not a college basketball expert, but I’d guess there’s a massive difference when there are so many more programs who play D-I basketball.

A two-loss Notre Dame team might get edged out by another two-loss power program from the Big Ten or SEC. A two-loss team like Iowa State isn’t going to get the nod over them unless they end up winning their conference.

5. California isn’t what it used to be when it comes to football talent. They definitely are lacking at certain positions and no one is making the argument that they are one of the top two or three states when it comes to producing talent these days.

Despite dropping down a tier overall, they still have blue-chips that programs from around the country want on their roster. The top-15 recruits in the state are all in the top-170 in the composite rankings.

14 of those are currently committed and only one of them has pledged to USC. There are four committed to Alabama, four to Texas A&M, and three to Oregon. UCLA and Penn State are tied with one commit each.

The only uncommitted recruit is Faraimo. USC is in it for him, but are attempting to play catch up after focusing on others.

It’s gotten to the point where it’s impossible not to dunk on the mistakes Lincoln Riley has made at USC. It’s admirable to try and go toe to toe with Georgia for top defensive linemen from that area of the country. Even though they didn’t stay committed, I wouldn’t blame them for going for it because during the peak of the Pete Carroll era, they could go and get those types of players from anywhere in the country.

This ain’t the Pete Carroll era, though. One thing that Carroll made sure to do was also focus on the top local players as well. Right before Carroll left, they were still dominating California recruiting with eight of the top-15 from the state signing with the Trojans. Riley has only signed four of the top-15 in his last two classes.

All of those players are considered good enough to commit to the teams who want to beat USC. To not make these players a priority is a mistake that Riley could have easily avoided.

6. Riley Leonard impressed people as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy and even won the Air It Out challenge.

Is that a good sign of things to come for him as a passer at Notre Dame? Maybe. Leonard isn’t known for his downfield accuracy when compared with his running ability, so to win a passing competition against most of the other top quarterbacks in the country is a good thing.

It worked out pretty well for Michael Penix Jr., who won the competition last year before he led Washington to the national championship game and eventually became the eighth pick in the NFL Draft.

It hasn’t always worked out for everyone. Who could forget Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook who won it in 2018 or South Carolina’s Jake Bentley who won it in 2019? (It’s me. I forgot they existed before looking up past winners.)

The main takeaway from it is that Leonard performed well under pressure, which is something he did at Duke and something he’ll have to do a lot of with more eyeballs on him at Notre Dame. The real tests will happen with a pass rush in his face, but he’s checking all the right boxes this summer to make up for missing most of the spring.

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