Notre Dame recruiting rewind: 15 thoughts on an Irish hot streak (2022)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Marcus Freeman talked a good recruiting game when Notre Dame introduced him as Brian Kelly’s successor, volunteering himself as the lead recruiter on every top prospect the Irish would chase. And Notre Dame’s first-year head coach has recruited a great game over the ensuing seven months, taking the optimism he created last December and building on it.

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Consider Freeman’s first full class — now at 20 verbal commitments following the pledge of four-star receiver Jaden Greathouse last week — proof of concept. Instead of explaining the reasons why recruiting at Notre Dame can be difficult, Freeman and the Irish staff have kicked those hurdles over. He has not talked about distinctions or Notre Dame’s natural level just outside the top 10 and shopping down an aisle. He hasn’t just aspired to recruit in the top five.

Instead, Freeman’s goal from the start was the No. 1 class in the country. And although the math says Notre Dame won’t hit that mark in 2023, its 285.35 points in the 247Composite team rankings surpass the high-water mark of the Kelly era from 10 years ago, when the Irish signed Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller and Mike McGlinchey.

How did Notre Dame get here, and where will the Irish go during the next five months until national signing day? Here are 15 thoughts on Notre Dame recruiting with training camp almost two weeks away.

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1. If you follow recruiting, you’re familiar with the Blue-Chip Ratio, a measure of the talent threshold necessary to compete for a national championship. It comes down to a team’s percentage of four-star and five-star prospects relative to the overall roster. If you sign significantly more five-star and four-star prospects than not, you have a chance to win it all. If you don’t, you don’t. In the last decade, only four teams with a Blue-Chip Ratio under 68 percent (i.e., 68 percent of the roster was five-star or four-star prospects) have won national titles. Those four teams all had eventual first-round picks at quarterback, too.

During the 2018 cycle, Notre Dame’s BCR for the incoming class was 52 percent. One cycle later, that jumped to 73 percent, before dropping back down to 53 percent for the 2020 class. In Kelly’s final full recruiting campaign, Notre Dame’s BCR dropped to 44 percent, with 12 four-star prospects and 15 three-star prospects in a 27-player haul.

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With Freeman as defensive coordinator, Notre Dame’s single-class BCR jumped to 82% for the 2021 cycle with one five-star, 17 four-stars and just four three-stars.

With Freeman as head coach, the BCR for the 2023 class now stands at 90 percent (one five-star, 17 four-stars, two three-stars).

In other words, the longer Freeman recruits for Notre Dame, the more talented Notre Dame’s roster gets. The BCR of this class will likely drop in the next five months by a few percentage points if there’s a new three-star commit. But consider the top three overall BCRs across college football per Bud Elliott: Alabama (89%), Ohio State (80%) and Georgia (77%). Notre Dame is ninth at 62%. That figure will jump a year from now.

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2. Ah, about the first-round pick at quarterback. Does Notre Dame have one already? Hard to say. But it helps explain why the Irish bent so much for five-star Dante Moore before ultimately moving away from the Oregon commit late in the process. If you have an elite quarterback, you have a chance. If you don’t, the roster needs to look like Georgia’s last season. And logic says it’s easier to recruit/develop one first-round pick at quarterback than to recruit/develop five first-round picks on defense.

3. After all the Moore drama, Notre Dame may still get a quarterback this cycle. And not because CJ Carr reclassifies. Look for Baylor commit Austin Novosad to visit Notre Dame next weekend after the Irish made a late offer. The product of Dripping Springs, Texas, is focused on Notre Dame, Baylor, Texas A&M and Ohio State. Both of his parents went to Texas A&M. He committed to Baylor last December. He’s also a 4.0 student. And Notre Dame badly needs a quarterback in this class, whether it’s Carr or somebody else.

4. How’s this for context? Novosad is the No. 11 quarterback nationally in the 247Sports Composite. Tyler Buchner was the No. 11 quarterback nationally in the 247Sports Composite. And Carr is the No. 4 quarterback in the 247Sports Composite next year. This would all work out fine for offensive coordinator Tommy Rees if he can deliver Novosad, even if the road the Irish took feels out of order, passing on Jackson Arnold and Christopher Vizzina to chase a quarterback whose recruitment took a turn toward NIL influences late.

5. How does Notre Dame finish this class? Novosad would work. But four-star linebacker Jaiden Ausberry will probably be next. Notre Dame leads for the Baton Rouge prospect, whose father is a long-time administrator at LSU. But sources indicate the Tigers believe they’re not getting Ausberry, even if they have to recruit him. Older brother Austin Ausberry signed with Auburn last cycle.

The scouting report with the younger Ausberry resembles a potential Marist Liufau or Jaylen Sneed, a newer-age linebacker with skills in space more than an inside-the-box linebacker like four-star commit Drayk Bowen or freshman Junior Tuihalamaka.

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Ausberry will announce his commitment on Aug. 4. He should round out Notre Dame’s linebacker class.

6. The Irish could be close to penciling three-star safety Ben Minich into the class, too, after offering the West Chester, Ohio, product this week. At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Minich won’t blow anybody away with his height/weight, although he has verified track speed, with a 10.47 in the 100 meters. He was good enough to get summer offers from Oklahoma and Stanford. And Notre Dame needs a fifth defensive back to go in this class, preferably a third safety. A player who was getting interest from Harvard, Yale and Princeton always works, too.

7. The fourth realistic “Who’s next?” prospect remains four-star running back Jeremiyah Love from St. Louis, although the schools in play may give the Irish pause. Texas A&M, Oregon and Alabama all got official visits, along with Notre Dame and Michigan. Love is a good academic prospect, which helps. The final decision of Richard Young may eliminate Oregon or Alabama. Texas A&M doesn’t have a running back committed and only signed one last cycle. While sources around Notre Dame remain optimistic, this recruitment may have a couple more laps before the finish line. There’s no set commitment date.

That leaves receiver Ronan Hanafin, whose recruitment appears down to Notre Dame and Clemson. The Irish have a few more local connections around the Northeast. Clemson has its quarterback commit Vizzina working on its behalf. Hanafin likely knows everything he needs to know to make a decision on Notre Dame after multiple visits.

8. If Notre Dame finished with Ausberry, Minich, Novosad, Love and Hanafin, that would total out to 298.18 points in the 247Sports team rankings. In the previous five recruiting cycles, that total would have finished fifth, third, fifth, third and fourth. It’s a class good enough to win a game in the College Football Playoff.

9. This all assumes Notre Dame hangs on to the 20 verbal commitments on board, with five-star defensive end Keon Keeley and four-star safety Peyton Bowen the flashpoints. Keeley appears to have shut his recruitment down, with his high school on board with Notre Dame. Bowen, though, has Oklahoma and Texas A&M on him. His high school quarterback is five-star Jackson Arnold, who’s committed to the Sooners. Bowen was a star at the Future 50 last weekend, jumping to a five-star rating at On3.

10. Freeman’s micro-involvement in recruiting has been the story of Notre Dame’s class, but how he’s inserting himself into the process also matters. Four-star receiver Cam Williams called Freeman “like a high school coach,” and he’s not the only prospect to describe Notre Dame’s head coach that way. There’s a connection Freeman makes with prospects on a personal level that Kelly never did. It’s making a difference.

11. For the criticism Tommy Rees sometimes takes in recruiting, the decision to go with Chansi Stuckey as receivers coach may rate among his best calls of 2022. Rico Flores Jr., Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James give Notre Dame three receiver commits rated in the top 200 for the first time in the Rivals/247 era. And the Irish absolutely had to have them with how poorly the position had been recruited under Del Alexander. Stuckey’s recruiting work won’t pay dividends for another year, but the Irish can soon stop playing shorthanded on the perimeter.

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12. Remember when sections of the Notre Dame fan base wondered if Harry Hiestand was too old to be an effective recruiter? Me neither.

13. For all the success at offensive line, receiver and defensive line this cycle, the progress that resonates most is at cornerback. Notre Dame is coming off a strong class of Jaden Mickey and Benjamin Morrison. Mickey was the star mid-year enrollee last spring. Morrison, per program sources, has been very good this summer and will be a hit. Following two top cornerbacks with another pair in Micah Bell and Christian Gray is what top programs do. In a two-year span, Mike Mickens has helped take a position of weakness and turn it into a future strength.

14. If you’re a listener of The Shamrock, you know how I feel about Notre Dame’s assistant coaches flying commercial in recruiting unless they’re travelling with the head coach. But that changed during the spring evaluation period, when position coaches and coordinators got the occasional private flight to increase how many prospects they could visit in a day.

The joke in college coaching is that you never see assistants from Alabama, Georgia and Clemson in the airport. They’re flying private. Notre Dame has needed to invest more in that part of recruiting for years. Now it seems like it is.

15. I asked Freeman about the investment in private air for assistants this summer.

“Obviously, it’s more efficient for the coaches to be able to travel, just for time efficiency,” he said. “But it’s also a cost. We have to be intelligent in terms of how we spend. Money isn’t endless, I don’t care what anybody says. I think Notre Dame has made the commitment to helping us be more efficient on travel. We have to continue to find ways to enhance that. It all comes down to efficiency. But also understanding there is a budget, too.”

Then I followed up, wondering if when Freeman talks to Jack Swarbrick he can say, “Hey, look where our class is. And that is in part due to things like this investment you’re making in travel with efficiency. We need this.”

Freeman: “On the front end, it’s to be able to say here’s why we need it. This is why it could help. Here’s why flying privately could help us in terms of recruiting, and to be able to show him how much time you save and the amount of schools you could hit across different areas. But I don’t want to come back and I don’t want to brag about (recruiting success). But I just want to show him, hey, these are different things that can help us. He’s got to make the decision, whether they say OK or not, he’s still the boss.”

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When Freeman was hired, I asked a source if the hiring process came with any assurances about recruiting investment. I was told that it did not, but there was a thought/hope that if Notre Dame’s head coach was going to be more aggressive in recruiting, that Notre Dame’s athletic department would be more aggressive in budgeting for it. It would be a waste for Notre Dame not to back Freeman this way. To not do it would be like having Michael Mayer and getting him just two touches per game. Notre Dame has a unique recruiting asset in Marcus Freeman as the head coach. It needs to leverage that. It is.

(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

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