Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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46 FEBRUARY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED "Since I've been here, if you look at the average [recruiting] rankings, we're anywhere from [No.] 5 to 15. We're going to fall somewhere in that range because there's a line there we can't get over based upon what are distinctions are here. "That line is going to keep us between [No.] 5 and 15. We know where we're going to fall. We're going to continue to recruit the right kind of kids here." — Brian Kelly on 2017 National Signing Day O f all the hundreds of meetings Kelly has had with the media through his 10 years as Notre Dame's head coach, few comments struck the chord — and ire — of Fight- ing Irish faithful more than that one. Psychologists probably would re- fer to the defeatist tone as "learned helplessness." Given that Notre Dame was coming off a 4-8 season just two months ear- lier when Kelly made the statement, it poured fuel on the raging inferno that had become the football office. If you are what you think you are, then Notre Dame's recruiting became a self-fulfilling prophecy over the past seven cycles. From 2014 (the start of the College Football Playoff era) through 2020, Rivals ranked the Fighting Irish re- cruiting hauls, chronologically, No. 11, No. 11, No. 13, No. 13, No. 11, No. 14 and No. 15 this year. That's remarkable consistency while confined to that "No. 5 to No. 15" shopping aisle in recruiting — an area where about 90 percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision would deem as prosperity. Problem is the "5" part has been absent. For Notre Dame to have a chance to be among the tier one instead of the solid top-eight to top-15 tier-two operations, it needs to be in the re- cruiting top five at least a couple of times over a five-year cycle — and the top 10 probably two other times. Here's a chronological review of the first tier since 2014 with regard to recruiting rankings by Rivals: Clemson: No. 13, No. 4, No. 6, No. 22, No. 8, No. 9 — and No. 1 this year, featuring six five-star figures (Notre Dame has signed three over the past seven years). The No. 22 effort in 2017 is an out- lier because the Tigers could sign only 14 that year, yet three of them were five-star players. Alabama: No. 1, No. 2, No. 1, No. 1, No. 7, No. 2 and No. 2 this year. Ohio State: No. 3, No. 9, No. 3, No. 2, No. 2, No. 21 and No. 3 this year. The Buckeyes' No. 21 ranking in 2019 stands out, but when sur- rounded by four top-three hauls, one can compensate. The "knocking on the first-tier door" group for now is comprised of Georgia, Oklahoma and LSU. The Bulldogs have ranked in the top 10 of recruiting every year since 2014, notably No. 3, No. 1, No. 1 and No. 5 the past four. The Sooners have gone from tier- two recruiting from 2014-16 when it was No. 15, No. 14 and No. 16, to placements of No. 7, No. 8, No. 5 and No. 12 the past four cycles, not including landing a game-changing transfer in quarterback Kyler Murray. Recruiting has not been an issue at LSU most of this decade. It's been more about leadership and develop- ment, especially at quarterback — until transfer Joe Burrow this year. In 2019 it fell into place for LSU after landing classes the past seven years ranked No. 2, No. 8, No. 5, No. 8, No. 14, No. 3 and No. 4. But nothing changes a program's trajec- tory more than a premier talent at signal-caller. Be that as it may, one does not need to engage in advanced mathematics or logic to grasp that remaining in the No. 10 to No. 15 range will keep Notre Dame as a quality No. 8 to No. 15 type of program, but not realistically vying for a national title, unless the regular- season schedule falls as favorably as 2018 when it was favored in each con- test prior to the postseason. So here we are three years later after Kelly's relatively controversial comment, and his tone has altered. About 48 hours before the Camping World Bowl kickoff versus Iowa State, Kelly was ready to "cross the line." "We want to break out of the 15th ranked or the 10th ranked, and we want to get into that next echelon," he said. "Philosophically we have to do some things to get to that level … break through that recruiting thresh- old, that I publicly talked about that we couldn't, but we need to. "I think we have some things that we're going to implement that will allow us to do that." The specifics might be delved into later by him, but when asked if he believes it is realistic for Notre Dame to finish in the top five in recruiting again, Kelly replied, "I do now." "I've changed," he continued. "We're going to change the way we do some things that I think will allow us to do that." The seven verbal commits for 2021, led by quarterback Tyler Buchner, had Notre Dame No. 2 in this cycle as of Dec. 31, although it is still ex- tremely early. Back in 2013, the Irish had a No. 3 haul, and in 2008 under Charlie Weis it was No. 2, so it shouldn't be a pipe dream, no matter how much the col- lege football landscape has changed. After a certain time span of not achieving a desired result, acceptance and maybe even complacency can subtly infiltrate the infrastructure. Maybe, just maybe, it no longer might. ✦ Drawing A New Line On The Recruiting Front THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at The Fighting Irish are off to a great start in their 2021 recruiting, with a seven-man group led by La Jolla (Calif.) The Bishop's School quarter- back Tyler Buchner that was ranked No. 2 in the nation as of Dec. 31. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM

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