Mar 28, 2013, 11:24 AM EST
You can hardly blame some Irish fans. Yesterday’s news that Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson were leaving school was the first sign of the apocalypse. After all, things seemed to be going almost too well for Notre Dame football, a group that at this point should expect a maelstrom every 60 days or so.
Most could understand Gunner Kiel’s departure. A promising quarterback recruit isn’t expected to wait his turn, especially with the program so securely in Everett Golson’s hands after an impressive debut season. Neal’s departure has a sense of nobility, a young father heading home to be closer to his girlfriend and six-week old child. Yet Ferguson’s decision to leave came out of the blue. There was a place for him on the depth chart, or so it seemed to those of us that watch the program from afar.
The totality of the moves, especially when you consider Tee Shepard’s pit-stop in South Bend last spring, puts a real dent in the 2012 recruiting class. Kiel, Shepard and Neal were three blue-chips at the top of the class, with Ferguson also rating well depending on the recruiting service. A 17 man class is now down to 13, a Willingham-like number that some worry could put a crater in the Irish’s momentum.
You’ll have to forgive Brian Kelly for not sweating it.
“The roster is gonna shift and move. We’re going to have additions, we’re going to have some deletions,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “But when it’s time to kick off against Temple, we’ll have the football team that we need to go out and play for a championship.”
Those final words should tell you everything you need to know. Kelly and his staff believe that they’ve got a roster that can play for a championship, and the loss of three back-up sophomores isn’t likely to change anything.
Roster shifts like this happen in every major college football program. And they’ll continue to happen at Notre Dame, where the competition for playing time is only going to get more fierce. With 83 scholarship players set for the 2013 roster, the Irish are still in better shape than just about every major program that’s not in the SEC, where stashing contingency bodies is still somehow acceptable.
Losing talented players certainly hurts. But Ferguson’s appraisal of the roster — specifically the depth chart in front of him — is something that only reiterates the perspective that there’s nothing to worry about. This is a roster with talented personnel. This is a group of players that’s won a lot of football games. (The Irish are 20-4 in their last two dozen games. That number is only bettered by two programs: Alabama and Oregon.)
The adjustments Kelly and his staff make to fill any roster deficiencies will be well chronicled. We’ve already seen one of them, with CJ Prosise moving to wide receiver, a decision made well before either Neal or Ferguson alerted the staff to their intentions. And while Chase Hounshell’s shoulder injury puts some more pressure on the defensive line, the Irish will fill his shoes by cross-training Ishaq Williams, a five-star prospect who is more than capable of sliding down.
The optimist looks at the three spring departures as another chance to reload. The weakest recruiting class in Kelly’s tenure trades three scholarships with a group that’ll likely be Kelly’s strongest. Any coach will take three extra bodies in a class coming off a twelve-win season.
A star-rating only matters until a recruit steps foot on campus. Any fear that the ’12 recruiting class will put a hole in the roster should be mitigated by the fact that the group has already unearthed its share of top-level players, with KeiVarae Russell, Sheldon Day, Elijah Shumate and Chris Brown leading the way. So as yesterday’s news scrolls along the ticker and raises more than a few skeptical eyebrows around the world of college football, the beat goes on in South Bend.
“Our guys are going to go out and compete,” Kelly said. “They know. They’re prepared for the next man in. They didn’t blink, nor did I, or the staff.”
Jan 25, 2015, 11:16 AM EST
Safety Eilar Hardy will finish his college football career elsewhere. After four seasons in South Bend, Hardy will earn his Notre Dame degree and be free to play out his eligibility in another program.
Jan 23, 2015, 1:04 PM EST
With less than two weeks to go before Signing Day, recruiting is the focus for the Irish coaching staff. But as we crack open the mailbag, we cover a bit more ground than the usual will-he or won’t-he that comes along with the first Wednesday in February.
Jan 22, 2015, 11:32 AM EST
One of Notre Dame’s long-time verbal commitments is no longer planning on joining the Irish’s 2015 recruiting class. Texas safety Prentice McKinney took an official visit to North Carolina last weekend and flipped his commitment to Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels on Wednesday, dropping Notre Dame’s recruiting class down to 22 players and just two safeties.
Jan 21, 2015, 9:51 PM EST
Can we follow up last week’s excellence with another solid week of questions? Drop them below or @KeithArnold.
Jan 21, 2015, 1:43 PM EST
While the Irish coaching staff traverses the country taking in-home visits, Notre Dame’s staff is close to putting the finishing touches on a stellar recruiting class. The additional of Aliz’e Jones pushes the Irish into a consensus Top 10 class — quite an accomplishment considering this was supposed to be a smaller group.
Jan 20, 2015, 12:29 AM EST
Star-crossed Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels’ career with the Irish is over. After two seasons and two significant suspensions, Daniels decided to forgo any additional eligibility he has at the college level and turn professional.
Jan 19, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
Say this for Brian Kelly. He learns from his mistakes.
And after losing Stephon Tuitt and Troy Niklas after just three seasons in South Bend, Notre Dame’s head coach made sure he had a final say before Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day made their stay-or-go decision.
Jan 19, 2015, 1:44 PM EST
KeiVarae Russell gives a promising update on his future in South Bend via (where else?) social media.
Jan 16, 2015, 1:04 PM EST
Lots to discuss in our Friday mailbag. Position changes, 85 scholarships, Reggie Ho and more.
(Collective thumbs up to all of you.)
Jan 15, 2015, 2:51 PM EST
After being committed to UCLA for months, Las Vegas tight end Alize Jones has flipped his pledge to Notre Dame. The bluechip recruit is widely acknowledged to be the best tight end in the country and plays high school football with current Irish commit Nicco Fertitta at Bishop Gorman.
Jan 15, 2015, 2:19 PM EST
The first College Football Playoff is over. And with less than three weeks to go before National Signing Day, the dead period has ended and the home stretch in recruiting has begun.
Jan 14, 2015, 10:45 AM EST
There’s plenty to talk about. Have a question? Drop it below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.
Jan 13, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Notre Dame junior Ronnie Stanley announced Tuesday that he will return for his senior season, giving the Irish one of the best left tackles in college football for another season. After being projected by some as a first round pick, Stanley made the decision to return for 2015.
Jan 13, 2015, 2:36 PM EST
It can happen. The right head coach can survive adversity and win a national championship. We saw that Monday night when Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes manhandled Oregon on their way to a 42-20 victory.
Jan 12, 2015, 6:55 PM EST
The first four members of the 2015 recruiting class begin their time at Notre Dame on Tuesday, with classes starting for early-enrollee freshmen Tevon Coney, Micah Dew-Treadway, Tristen Hoge and Jerry Tillery. All four freshmen will take part in winter workouts and spring practice, set to start in early March.
Jan 12, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
Over the weekend, Sheldon Day announced he would be returning for his senior season at Notre Dame. The returning captain and the Irish’s best defensive lineman sought a draft grade from the NFL’s advisory board before making the decision.
Jan 9, 2015, 1:50 PM EST
Brian Kelly is all in. For as many times as you’ll hear his name mentioned for an NFL coaching position, the Irish head coach isn’t going anywhere.
Jan 8, 2015, 7:54 PM EST
Senior Conor Hanratty has a final year of eligibility remaining. But before he explores whether to continue his football career, he’ll undergo medical testing after suffering three concussions in the last calendar year.
Jan 8, 2015, 2:33 PM EST
As Malik Zaire helped the Irish pull off a critical win in the Music City Bowl, all eyes turned to the quarterback who wasn’t playing. After starting the season’s first 12 games, Everett Golson played a complementary role in the Irish victory, completed some clutch passes down the stretch during Notre Dame’s 31-28 victory.
Jan 7, 2015, 1:56 PM EST
With less than a month to go before National Signing Day, Notre Dame’s coaching staff has its entire focus on improving the team’s roster between now and the first Wednesday in February. After two-years of work on the current class — the roots of this group were seeded long, long ago — the next month turns into a high stakes, pressure game where college coaches build the foundation of their programs around the whims of (sometimes) coddled teenagers.