Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2021

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

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Page 21 of 39

22 FEBRUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T here is both enormous bal- ance and imbalance on Notre Dame's 2021 scholarship foot- ball roster. The balance comes with 42 scholar- ship players on offense, 42 on defense and four specialists, by our count That total of 88 is inconsequential when applying it to 2021 because the NCAA ruled that 2020 was a "free year" for everybody due to the COVID-19 pandemic that created a lack of uniformity in the number of games played by various schools and conferences. At the same time, teams have to return to the 85 limit in 2022, so the recruiting cycle for that class must be carefully monitored based on how many fifth-year seniors opt to return or are invited back, who transfers, who turns pro early, etc. That's a bridge still under con- struction and one to cross later. As of Jan. 19, the well-balanced Notre Dame roster has exactly three full teams of scholarship players along the offensive line (15 players) and four complete units on the de- fensive line (16 players). There is no shortage of bodies at any position group, but most also are re- plete with a significant amount of inex- perience. About two-thirds of the roster has players with, technically, four years of eligibility remaining — not that they will be all used (or at Notre Dame). And that's where the imbalance comes on the roster, especially with the NCAA granting the extra year of athletic eligibility. FOUR MORE YEARS? A prime example of imbalance in years is the five-man quarterback room. The projected starter in 2021 is Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan — and the other four scholar- ship signal-callers all have four years remaining because of the COVID-19 ruling from the NCAA. That doesn't mean all four will use it or even be around, but it highlights the imbalance with regard to spacing out the eligibility years remaining. Coan's experience at the position was a much-need commodity and a bridge between the three-year Ian Book era from 2018-20 and then who- ever takes charge in 2022. There is a similar situation at cor- nerback — eight of the nine scholar- ship players have four years eligibil- ity — and other positions as well. Among the 88 listed scholarship players, by our unofficial count an astounding 60 could have four years of eligibility remaining. Elementary math indicates that such volume will result in the transfer por- tal getting larger than ever in an effort to find playing time after earning a Notre Dame degree, or players exiting earlier for potential NFL careers or just moving on with life in general. RESHAPING THE OFFENSIVE LINE The last time Notre Dame had to replace four starters along the offen- sive line, as it will in 2021, was 2003, the second season under head coach Tyrone Willingham after he debuted with a 10-3 mark in 2002 (the Irish finished 5-7 that next year). The starters lost from that unit were first-team All-American and first- round pick center Jeff Faine, tackles Jordan Black and Brennan Curtin, and guard Sean Mahan. Faine played 10 years in the NFL, Black and Mahan seven apiece, and Curtin two. This year the lone returning starter will be two-year starting center Jar- rett Patterson, although fifth-year se- nior Josh Lugg started the final five games at tackle in 2019 in place of an injured Robert Hainsey, and also had starts this year at right guard (North Carolina) and center (Syracuse) after Tommy Kraemer had appendectomy surgery and Patterson was sidelined with foot surgery following the win at Boston College Nov. 14. Junior Zeke Correll started at center against North Carolina and Alabama in the College Football Playoff, and that's the position he was specifically recruited to in 2019. Meanwhile, Pat- terson began his career at left tackle as a 2018 freshman before getting shifted to center in 2019 to succeed current Chicago Bears starter Sam Mustipher. While rehabilitating from his injury, Patterson is not expected to be avail- able for action during spring drills, which likely will leave Correll as the top center and Lugg perhaps moving to his more natural right tackle slot. If Correll does indeed prove to be one of the five best linemen on the team who must be on the field, Pat- terson then could later shift to his original left tackle position, where a replacement for three-year starter Liam Eichenberg is needed. That's just part of the Rubik's Cube that fourth-year offensive line coach Jeff Quinn will need to sort out up front of first finding his five best play- ers, and then inserting them as start- ers to where they are most needed. ✦ 2021 ROSTER MANAGEMENT Balance at all positions on offense and defense is strong, but class imbalance looms Jarrett Patterson began his career at left tackle before taking over at center the past two seasons. He could potentially slide back to his original posi- tion in 2021 on a reshaped Irish offensive line. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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