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Dateline: Flint Lake, IN
|"Did he say, REO?"|
Quote of the Week
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Which led him to think about the interminable recruitment of Peyton Bowen, the 5-star safety who had made a commitment to Notre Dame virtually a year ago, while spending almost every weekend thereafter visiting a competing college.
RE-PETE (A shameless, illegal lift of Pete Sampson's weekly mail-bag)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Thoughts on Notre Dame’s 24-man recruiting class that finished 9th in the 247Sports Team Rankings at the end of the first day of the early signing period.
1. Marcus Freeman got the Brian Kelly treatment on Wednesday, navigating a signing day press conference focused as much on where ND failed in recruiting as where the program succeeded. But this is where this program wants to live, measuring its recruiting success against Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia. The Crimson Tide and Buckeyes were mentioned, unprompted, by OC Tommy Rees later when he talked about the WR culture the Irish want to build. If you’re going to take a shot at programs that sign 5-star talent in bulk, you have to be clear-eyed when you miss.
And although some criticism of Freeman might feel harsh considering this class was ranked #1 in the country when training camp opened in August, Wednesday’s reality check was healthy for ND football if it wants to really challenge for a title. To his credit, he didn’t exclusively wave pompoms, even though he’d earned the right to pat the program on the back. And that’s healthy, too, because there may be nothing more important for ND’s championship viability than perspective and context.
So let’s apply a little bit of both to Notre Dame’s 24-man recruiting class.
2. All these things can be true at once: Notre Dame hit a higher Blue-Chip Ratio (83.3 percent of Irish signees were at least four-star prospects) yesterday than at any point under the previous coach. Yet Kelly’s new program out-recruited his old one, which is one of the reasons he bolted ND in the first place. ND hit all its biggest needs, including a banner receiver haul despite the 2022 passing offense hardly serving as an effective billboard for the position. The Irish will have just one 5-star prospect on the roster next season. Alabama will have more than a dozen. Freeman has signed back-to-back top-10 classes, something Kelly basically conceded was impossible.
Notre Dame signed an excellent class that can return to the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame had an all-time class slip through its fingers, a potentially title-contending haul that once may have included Keon Keeley, Peyton Bowen and Dante Moore.
Hey, college football is a complicated and conflicted sport to follow. College football recruiting is, too.
3. Before getting into what Notre Dame is doing in NIL and what it’s not, take a moment to acknowledge Freeman and his staff are recruiting into gale-force headwinds in that realm. There are no six-figure deals for Notre Dame prospects, although there can be six-figure deals for Notre Dame players once they’re on campus. That has forced Freeman to walk a public tightrope on which he both leans into NIL and pushes back against it.
Freeman: “If you’re coming here because of NIL, it’s probably not going to be the best place for you, and it’s not going to be the place you choose.”
Also Freeman: “We continue to let the recruits know that you’re going to be able to capitalize off name, image and likeness at Notre Dame as good or better than anywhere else you’re looking at. And we believe that and we’ll continue to sell that. And if that’s important to you, and that’s what attracts you to ND, then this is a place you choose.”
Neither quote is wrong. It’s that Freeman has to make both right at the same time.
4. Until Notre Dame changes its stance on NIL as a university, the best move for Freeman is to do a different kind of recruiting evaluation, figuring out which prospects will be most swayed by NIL and adjust accordingly. When Notre Dame hosted 4-star receiver Jaden Greathouse on a visit, the Texas product told the staff he didn’t need to hear more NIL pitches because that wasn’t why he liked the program. Other prospects Notre Dame recruited led with NIL questions on recruiting visits. Which type of player do you think is more likely to sign with Notre Dame?
This is a new level of scouting, and it’s a tough ask for Notre Dame to nail this in the first cycle where NIL led the recruiting discourse. The good news for ND is that Freeman acknowledged the staff has to scout a little differently moving forward. It’s not that they need to avoid all prospects interested in NIL, but they have to be prepared to have recruitments like those of Bowen, Moore and Keeley go sideways.
“I think every kid you’ve got to look at and say, ‘OK, why did we get him?’ Or, ‘Why didn’t we get them?’” Freeman said. “And that’s something we’ll do as a staff is say, ‘OK, every recruit that signed here, why did we get them? What was important? OK, the kids we didn’t get, why didn’t we get them? What was important? What could we have done differently? The ones that de-committed? Why did they de-commit? What can we have done differently?’ And some of them, we might have to say, ‘It wasn’t the right fit. It’s OK.’ And some, we’ve got to look and say, ‘We’ve got to evaluate the way we’re recruiting, what we’re selling, how we got to the point where they didn’t want to come here then de-committed.’”
5. Will Notre Dame change its stance on NIL as a university after the past week? Jack Swarbrick went on a podcast with the Golics and called Notre Dame a “champion” of NIL. That’s partially true. Notre Dame may be a proponent of NIL as a theory, but it hasn’t fully embraced NIL as a practice. That’s not saying ND needs to get into the same sandbox as Oregon, Miami and Texas A&M. But it would be a mistake for the school not to reevaluate its overall stance on NIL. It’s not going away.
Swarbrick has lobbied the federal government for a fix. That feels like the right approach to the legal issue facing the NCAA under new leadership. But it’s also on the wrong timeline, considering NIL will affect next year’s recruiting class even more than it altered this one.
6. As for the class ND did sign, it’s hard to remember a haul with this much balance that also hit the program’s biggest needs. Rees navigated a thorny QB recruiting landscape and found a four-star solution in Kenny Minchey, a player who might prove to be the best QB Notre Dame signs over a 4-year window. Chansi Stuckey took a WR room and overhauled it in one cycle, with four high school prospects, one graduate transfer and two guys named Kaleb Smith. Deland McCullough signed the highest-rated RB the Irish have landed in more than 10 years, despite a room that doesn’t offer automatic playing time. Overall, it’s the kind of class at the offensive skill positions that should let the Irish go into games against the likes of Ohio St. and USC without thinking about ball control and time of possession quite so much.
7. Credit Mike Mickens for keeping Notre Dame’s cornerback recruiting rolling, too. It’s a position where previous staffs had believed the Irish could not sign top-100 talent regularly. Instead, after getting Ben Morrison and Jaden Mickey last cycle, the Irish got Christian Gray and Micah Bell in this one. And that’s after losing Jayden Rhett to Georgia early in the process. Gray is the highest-rated corner to commit to Notre Dame in more than a decade. There was no settling at the position, just a push to maximize the talent on hand. If that leads to a few transfers because older players have been beaten out by younger ones, that would now be seen as healthy.
8. The most interesting prospect Notre Dame signed? 4-star athlete Brandyn Hillman, who was more of a 3-star recruit until the Irish got involved. Then again, he started his senior year with an offer from Norfolk St. The 6'1", 191-lb high school QB feels like more of a college safety, the kind of transition DC Al Golden welcomes.
Hillman isn’t Bowen. But like Rees landing Minchey at QB after missing on Moore, taking Hillman when Bowen waffled is good board management by Notre Dame’s recruiting staff. The Irish didn’t just fill a hole with Minchey and Hillman — they got athletes the staff believes can be potential starters.
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Schadenfreude of the Week
1) USC. Just because the game occurred three weeks ago, doesn't make the Trojan's blowing their BCS Playoff chances - and getting crushed doing so - any less delicious.
So many instruments. So varied. All so singularly committed to making our lives a little cheerier as we celebrate
surviving another year, with friends, family, loved ones.
Unfortunately, that's not what this section's all about. Thus, I give you a different kind of holiday tool