The good, the bad, the ugly: Bye week

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There is no football game this weekend. For a Notre Dame football team that just played three-straight tight games, that’s a good thing. (For Irish fans, it’s a victory as well. Go buy a pumpkin and get outside in the fall weather.)

As promised, let’s look back at the first eight weeks of the season. Notre Dame sits at 6-1, with a place in the College Football Playoff still very much in play.

 

THE GOOD

Everett Golson. For all the grumbling about Golson’s turnovers the past few weeks, it might help to take a step or two back and evaluate what Notre Dame’s quarterback is doing from distance.

He’s thrown for nearly 2,000 yards. He’s tossed 19 touchdown passes against six* interceptions. He leads Notre Dame in rushing touchdowns. And he’s doing it with a receiving corps led by two true sophomores, an entire pass-catching unit that had exactly one total catch from Golson before this season.

While nobody wants to see Golson cough up another football while running with it, he displayed a really solid grasp of how best to run in this offense against Florida State, squirting away from pressure, moving the chains and getting down on the ground before he needed to get hit, understanding the best play is the one where you’re not crunched by a 250-pounder.

One more thing to consider: Golson is CLUTCH. (All-Caps Necessary.)

It’s shown itself in two-minute drills, with the Irish deadly on their final drive heading into halftime. And obviously, it’s made plays like Ben Koyack on 4th down for the win against Stanford possible. And Corey Robinson on 4th-and-18 possible. And Corey Robinson on 4th-and-3 for the win against Florida State possible.

In his second full season as a starter, Golson is playing at the level of an All-American candidate. While he hasn’t been perfect, let’s not forget that he’s the engine of this offense.

 

The Kids on the Defense. Looking over the two-deep depth chart in August, there were a lot of people scratching their heads. Who is this kid? We’re gonna do what with that kid? 

But credit Brian Kelly for knowing exactly what he had. And while most of us probably thought he was being optimistic about a situation that didn’t have a solution, the head coach’s comments from August sound pretty spot-on:

“I’m watching them every day. I’m going against them every day. I’m liking it. I know when you have holes. I’ve been around long enough. I know when you look at them and go, ‘That’s not very good.’ Now they’re young. We might cut a gap loose. We may be in the wrong gap. But it’s not because we’re not ripping and roaring up the field. It’ll be fun but they’re gonna cause a few moments of coach VanGorder throwing his hat on the ground. I’m sure of that. But the thing is, it’s a physical group. It’s a physical group.”

That Notre Dame’s defense is getting key contributions from true freshmen Andrew Trumbetti, Daniel Cage, Kolin Hill and Grant Blankenship up front is pretty amazing. That Drue Tranquill, a recruit some Irish fans didn’t even want as part of this class (or only wanted if he was willing to play linebacker), is playing major snaps as a key piece of the secondary is incredible.

Down to a man, this defense is performing at a really impressive level. But the fact that kids who were playing last season on Friday nights are now such a critical part of the defense is one of the great surprises of the season.

 

Dealing with adversity. If there’s anything that should have you feeling optimistic about this Irish team putting their difficult loss to Florida State behind them, it’s the fact that this group has ignored the noise surrounding them since August, when news of an academic scandal exploded.

With five teammates hanging in limbo for two months as the university dug into a thorough investigation, it would’ve been easy for a young team missing some key leaders to be distracted. But that didn’t happen.

And with KeiVarae Russell pledging to return to Notre Dame in the summer and Ishaq Williams likely right behind him, the players who made their mistakes have moved on, even if they disagree with their punishment. That allows the team to do the same thing.

 

Joe Schmidt, Linebacker. I’m making the clarification here because Joe Schmidt, the underdog story, has already been beaten to a pulp. Yes, we all love the story. And it’s been told wonderfully multiple times. But I’m more interested in the middle linebacker that won a starting job and is the unquestionable leader of the defense.

After Jarrett Grace suffered a devastating leg injury that still threatens his career, many hoped blue-chip freshman Nyles Morgan would be able to step in and contribute early. But Schmidt has quieted any and all doubters, putting together a tremendous season that has him on pace for triple-digit tackles to go along with multiple interceptions and forced fumbles.

At this point, Schmidt’s a lock not just to return for a fifth year, but to have a ‘C’ on his jersey. He’s the type of player that’s so incredibly valuable not just because he’s the nerve center asked to relay Brian VanGorder’s signals to the defense, but also because he’s a walking testimonial to hard work and achievement every step he takes inside the Gug.

If you’re a scholarship player feeling buried on the depth chart, just take a look at Schmidt. It took until his senior season, but he’s the guy getting his opportunity on the field, leading the team and playing at a high level. Schmidt did that through hard work, and his example will no doubt be used every time the Irish coaching staff is pursuing a preferred walk-on or a five-star recruit.

The best player will play. And that’s why Schmidt is on the field, recruiting ranking be damned.

 

Will Fuller & Corey Robinson, future stars: It’s hard to talk about one sophomore wide receiver without the other. But with a depth chart with little in front of them, both Fuller and Robinson have shown themselves to be stars-in-the-making, with Fuller nearly there and Robinson making his bid last Saturday.

The duo are unlikely game-breakers. Nobody wanted Robinson on their roster until Notre Dame became the first program to offer the raw San Antonio athlete with good very good bloodlines. Fuller was an anonymous three-star prospect who had an offer from Penn State, but came to Notre Dame after a sneaky senior season in the Philadelphia Catholic League helped his profile rise.

Fuller is third in the NCAA with eight touchdown catches this season. After serving as a deep threat specialist last year, Fuller has shown himself to be electric with the football in his hands. His work on screen passes has turned three yard gains into 30, making the quick game a crucial component of the offense. He’s also drawn his share of pass interference penalties, earning 15 yards by beating defensive backs and forcing a penalty.

Robinson’s breakout against Florida State was a long time coming. We’ve seen his skills since spring practice videos after his early enrollment, helping Irish fans understand the term “catch radius” after looking at his gumby arms stretch and stick to just about every football thrown his way.

Even with a fractured thumb, Robinson has been an efficient pass catcher. He’s gotten his high-point opportunities lately, posterizing a Florida State defensive back and rendering a Syracuse defender helpless in one-on-one coverage on a fade route for a touchdown.

For as good as these two have been, a look into the near future should have Irish fans salivating. The juniors will likely pair with Golson again in 2015 in an offense that should be even better.

 

Brian Kelly, Program Builder. Another year, another data point that shows Jack Swarbrick hired the right guy to take over the Notre Dame football program in 2010. While two consecutive eight-win seasons weren’t the type of immediate success people hoped for, that Kelly has won 27 of his last 33 games — and is doing it now with an insanely young team — has the Irish on the verge of another golden era.

When you look at a head coach, wins and losses are important. But so are the decisions that go into building a program. As Kelly has had to adjust his coaching staff, we’ve seen those decisions play out wonderfully. After two seasons, Kelly had to replace Charley Molnar, Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton. He did that by making the unorthodox decision to move Chuck Martin to offensive coordinator, shifting Mike Denbrock and Tony Alford to allow the promotion of Scott Booker, and bringing in Harry Hiestand from Tennessee. All three of those moves have paid large dividends.

Having to replace both Martin and Bob Diaco after last season, Kelly once again hit a home run. The decision to bring Brian VanGorder in from the NFL has been an immediate program-changer. And the move to turn the offense over the Mike Denbrock while going back to calling plays has been an incredibly smooth transition, with Kelly still in control of the football game as a head coach while also scripting the offensive game plan beautifully.

Adding to his prowess as a football coach, Kelly was forced to serve as the voice of the university during the academic investigation, while six-figure administrators sat quietly to let the head coach do their work. We’ve seen how that’s gone at other programs.

For as long as he’s at Notre Dame, Kelly’s name will always be in the conversation when NFL job openings arise. But with an elite team set to take the field in 2015 and a foundation for beyond them already soundly in place, there’s nothing but good times ahead inside Notre Dame Stadium.

 

Quick Hits:

* Comeback player of the year candidates: Offensively, it’s easily Golson. But on defense, look closely at Matthias Farley. The move to cornerback during spring practice had many thinking it meant Farley was going to be buried on the depth chart. Instead, he’s been one of the key playmakers on the defense.

* Not many coaching staffs would take an off week and reshuffle their offensive line, moving four starters into new jobs. But credit goes to Kelly, Denbrock and Harry Hiestand for knowing they had a problem and addressing it immediately.

* There isn’t free agency in college football, but how important has Cody Riggs been to Notre Dame? While the Gators go down the toilet, the Florida transfer is at Notre Dame playing major snaps at cornerback, building his NFL resume and getting a graduate degree that’ll help him with life after football. That sure sounds like a win-win scenario to me.

* Nobody likes a three-man platoon at running back. Thank god Tarean Folston did his best to end it last weekend. Expect the sophomore to get the lions share of opportunities, though Greg Bryant will have his chances against a Navy defense that’s giving up over 180 rushing yards a game.

* Brian VanGorder. From anonymous NFL assistant to social media hero to Broyles Award front-runner.

 

THE BAD

Attrition in the secondary. A position group that looked to be one of the strongest on the roster all of a sudden is nearing red-line, emergency status. Captain Austin Collinsworth’s career at Notre Dame might be over, a fifth-year all but washed away after a knee injury and shoulder dislocation crushed his final season. While many wanted to see what a pairing of Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate looked like, nobody wanted to see it happen this way.

Backup safety Nicky Baratti might have to call it a career after his shoulder gave out again, this time on a relatively mild collision on his first play into the game against Purdue. Without Eilar Hardy because of the academic probe, the Irish are down to Drue Tranquill at safety, a position group that went from overflowing to vacant in a matter of months.

Cornerback is not much better. Losing No. 1 coverman KeiVarae Russell hurt the Irish, but Cole Luke and Cody Riggs have done a great job filling in. But behind them, Matthias Farley has been forced into a somewhat difficult fit at nickelback, as we saw Florida State take advantage of a few athletic mismatches for the converted safety.

Behind them is sophomore Devin Butler and freshman Nick Watkins. While it hasn’t been announced, the absence of seniors Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown likely is a courtesy to allow the duo a chance to play out their eligibility at another program next season. That means if anything happens to Luke or Riggs, this secondary is only getting younger.

 

The Academic Investigation. Nothing about this was good. That the Irish would have another season self-sabotaged because of academic issues was painful enough. But to lose three key starters among the five players? That’s attrition that at the time looked like a season-changer.

While the particulars of the investigation are still confidential, the timeline that it took to come to a conclusion put a very bright light on an Honor Code process that’s supposed to both protect the students involved and also be transparent. The length of the process turned five football players into Scarlet Letter wearing members of the Notre Dame community, harm that this administration seemed obtuse about until it was too late.

While the revelations at North Carolina serve as a reminder that these type of problems — and the investigations that follow them — are critical to get right (even if it does take a lot of time), there are lessons to be learned here for all parties involved.

 

Quick Hits:

* It’s hard to put the offensive line or the running game in the bad category, but without last week’s game in Tallahassee, they were in there.

* For as good as Kyle Brindza has been this year, he’s had a habit of snap-hooking a few kickoffs out of bounds. That’s a mistake that’s put opponents on the 35-yard line three times this year. This is pretty nit-picky, but for a game trying to earn the nickname of “Unreturnable,” the standards go up.

* The offensive line play continues to get better. But the big, ugly, hide-your-head misses that we’ve seen the past few weeks have to be eliminated.

* The defense against North Carolina’s tempo attack. Get ready for Arizona State to try the exact same thing.

* Yes, we can put Everett Golson’s fumble issues here. That’s probably appropriate.

 

THE UGLY

Pick Plays and Conference Clarifications. While most “objective” observers continue to stress that the correct call was made on Notre Dame’s 4th-and-3 touchdown against Florida State, it’s still slightly comical for me to take those people seriously.

Would you have been happy with Michael Jordan getting called for a push-off against Byron Russell and the Utah Jazz? Or how about an umpire ending a classic playoff baseball game on a balk call? Or you must still a big fan of the ref that threw the controversial pass interference call that gifted Ohio State a title against Miami. After all, the letter of the rulebook states very clearly that…

Regardless, the play is over with. But that doesn’t make someone a conspiracy theorist for digging into the play, breaking down the situation and wondering aloud about the controversial call. Epic football games shouldn’t be decided by ticky-tack calls, especially when it wasn’t as clear-cut of a judgment call after watching multiple angles and understanding what Florida State’s defensive backs were doing. And that’s what this looks like. Especially now that the ACC has flip-flopped on the actual offender and acknowledged missing another clear-cut, letter of the law unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that should have kept Notre Dame’s offense on the field with a fresh set of downs.

Don’t expect Brian Kelly to send ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads a Christmas card, especially after his clarification video. Nor should we expect to see crew chief David Epperley or back judge Pat Ryan on the field for a Notre Dame game again this season. (Not unless you really want to see BK turn purple.)

 

 

 

Reports: Tommy Rees heads to Alabama after 10 total years at Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Tommy Rees will leave Notre Dame to do just that, heading to be the offensive coordinator at Alabama, according to reports Friday afternoon. Nick Saban and the Tide denied Rees a national championship as a player in 2012 and a title game appearance as an offensive coordinator in 2020.

The South Bend Tribune‘s Mike Berardino first reported Rees’s decision, coming a day after reports initially surfaced that Rees was Alabama’s preferred choice for the gig, and he had flown to Tuscaloosa to consider the position.

Those unbeaten regular seasons, along with one in 2018 as the Irish quarterbacks coach, were the high points of Rees’ total of a decade with the Notre Dame football program. Like his former head coach, he will now head to the SEC chasing a higher peak.

Of course, Rees spurned Brian Kelly’s invite to join him at LSU last winter, instead memorably telling the Irish offensive players, “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” setting the tone for the first week of Marcus Freeman‘s tenure as Notre dame head coach.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

Alabama made an offer Rees could not refuse, even if a year ago he said, “I love this place (Notre Dame). I believe that we can win a national championship here, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to get to that point.”

Going to Tuscaloosa does not render those words empty. Rees is going to work for the greatest college football coach in history in a role that has repeatedly springboarded coaches to better opportunities. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, his offensive coordinators have gone on to be, in chronological order, the assistant head coach at Texas (Major Applewhite), head coach at Colorado State (Jim McElwain), offensive coordinator at Michigan (Doug Nussmeier), head coach at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin), head coach at Texas (Steve Sarkisian) and offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots (Bill O’Brien).

Thus, Rees is bettering both his chances at a national title in the short term and his presumed path to whatever gig he wants next in the long term.

He leaves Notre Dame after three seasons as the Irish offensive coordinator, which came after three years as the quarterbacks coach. The Irish have ranked No. 41, No. 19 and No. 30 in scoring offense the last three seasons, peaking with 35.2 points per game in 2021, the second-highest total in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

But perhaps Rees’s finest moment as a Notre Dame assistant came when he finessed a mid-season quarterback switch to Ian Book from Brandon Wimbush despite the Irish remaining unbeaten throughout 2018. In some respects, Rees threaded a similar needle in 2021, incorporating Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, then-freshman Tyler Buchner and spot-reliever Drew Pyne; each quarterback could be credited as responsible for at least one win as the Irish made a Playoff push.

Then this past season, Rees responded to Buchner’s shoulder sprain that cost him 10 games by working with Pyne to piecemeal an offense.

From December of 2021:

Rees has considered leaving his alma mater before, reportedly interviewing to be Miami’s offensive coordinator in recent years, not to mention weighing Kelly’s offer from LSU 14 months ago, as well as a previous brief dalliance with Alabama a few years ago.

After leading Notre Dame’s offense in one way or another for 10 of the last 13 years, Rees has finally opted to do so elsewhere. It just so happens to be as part of the team that twice turned back the Irish and now faces Kelly every fall.

Opportunities abound for Tommy Rees, earned recognition after a decade at Notre Dame

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A lot of people go to college for seven years. For Tommy Rees, it has been 10 years at Notre Dame, so to speak.

Whether or not Rees leaves his alma mater this week, as multiple Thursday reports indicated Rees is the frontrunner to be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator, there is no bad choice in front of him. Either Rees returns as the Irish offensive coordinator for a fourth season, continues his pursuit of winning a national championship at Notre Dame after three postseason trips already in his career, or he learns under the best college football coach in history in a position that has springboarded coaches to greener pastures for about a decade now.

Irish fans may spend most of their falls criticizing Rees’s play calls, but he is clearly someone well-respected in the coaching community. Seen as a future coach when he was a player and then navigating multiple delicate quarterback situations at Notre Dame, this is not the first time Nick Saban has chased Rees. He reportedly did so following the 2019 season, when Rees had not even spent a day as an offensive coordinator.

Instead, Rees took over that gig in South Bend, losing to Alabama in the 2020 College Football Playoff, albeit a more competitive showing than when Rees and the Irish fell to the Tide in the 2012 title game. Miami sought Rees in recent years, and whispers of vague NFL interest have popped up more offseasons than not.

If most of those people who go to college for seven years are called doctors, then Rees has put together a doctorate-level intellect evidenced by who wants to hire him. Alabama publicly sending a branded plane to South Bend to ferry Rees for a visit on Thursday underscored that reputation.

Set aside the forced references to “Tommy Boy” — though the similarities do go past the first name and to a Catholic university in the Midwest — and realize Rees will leave Notre Dame at some point, probably sooner than later.

Maybe he joins Saban this weekend. Alabama needs to navigate a first-year starter at quarterback next year in a conference that quickly seemed to catch up to the Tide last season, with both LSU and Tennessee staking claims as competitors with Georgia already clearly out in front and Mississippi in the mix. Competing with former Irish head coach Brian Kelly every year would make for juicy headlines, but what speaks louder to Rees’s credit is that this is the time Saban wants to snag him, when Alabama’s footing may be less secure than at any point since the ‘00s.

Maybe Rees returns to Notre Dame, teams with Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman to ready for three top-10 matchups in 2023, and gets the Irish into the College Football Playoff for a third time in six years with the only constant quite literally being Rees.

Oh, and both scenarios should come with plenty of money.

Rees has no bad choice in front of him. That is a credit to him, even if fans would rather lampoon him than step back and acknowledge the intricacies of playcalling.

If he heads to Alabama, the annual matchups with LSU will become delightful fodder from afar. His Notre Dame legacy will include “Call duo until you can’t speak,” his emphatic play call when he left the coaches’ booth early as the Irish upset Clemson this past November, and “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” Rees’s declaration to the offensive players last December amid a week of tumult.

If he stays in South Bend, the next matchup with anyone in the SEC, most likely a 2023 bowl game, will drip with an on-field chance at validation. That legacy will include spurning college football’s best not once, but twice.

For a quarterback who lost his starting job at Notre Dame not once (2011 preseason), but twice (2012 preseason), some pride has been earned. Saban’s stamp of approval carries all the weight needed in college football to assure someone of their professional standing.

It may have taken a decade, but Rees can now know he belongs with the best, no matter what decision he makes this weekend.

The lull of National Signing Day underscores need to move the early signing period

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The early-morning chaos of today’s National Signing Day did not disappear with the implementation of the December “early” signing period in the 2018 recruiting cycle. It just moved six weeks earlier.

In 2014, waking up at 6:45 a.m. ET to be logged on and publishing at 7 a.m. led to noticing one expected recruit had not yet signed with Notre Dame by 8 a.m. Pointing that out and reminding the world Michigan State was making a late push led to an Irish media relations staffer reaching out to quietly say something to the extent of, “Just letting the young man have his moment at school.”

In 2017, less than two weeks after taking over this gig, waking up at 3 a.m. CT to churn through 2,000 words before signings could begin becoming official eventually led to napping through Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference.

Nothing changed 10 months later. That December, the afternoon of Dec. 22, the Friday before Christmas, was spent waiting for receiver Braden Lenzy to officially choose Notre Dame over Oregon. Sitting at your parents’ kitchen table not helping your niece make a gingerbread house because recruiting-obsessed fans harassed a player through two de-commitments is not a strong way to conjure up holiday spirit.

Coaches across the country advocated for the earlier signing period, claiming it would allow high-school seniors to make their collegiate decisions official earlier on in their senior years, particularly when the prospects had already made up their minds on where to play football at the next level. That was all optics, if even that.

These high schoolers now make their decision official just six weeks earlier. In the preps football calendar, those six weeks are meaningless. Both the December signing period and today, the traditional National Signing Day, come well after the high-school seasons have ended.

The truth was, coaches across the country did not want to tend to their solid commitments over Christmas and New Year’s, particularly not amid bowl prep. It was self-serving at best and short-sighted at worst.

First of all, when the December signing period became reality in 2017, one-time transfers were not yet allowed without losing eligibility the following season. Secondly, no one predicted the early signing period would lead to the coaching carousel beginning earlier and earlier in the season. September firings used to be the result of only off-field scandals, not outright expected from half a dozen programs each fall. Athletic directors now want that headstart on hiring a new coach so he can have time before the December signing period commences.

Exhibit A: Notre Dame may have ended up with Marcus Freeman as its head coach after Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure following the 2021 season, but if the primary signing date had not been lingering just a few weeks away, Kelly likely would not have jumped to LSU before the College Football Playoff field was set, and Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick would have taken more time in choosing his next head coach, more than the 48 hours he used last December. After all, Swarbrick took 10 days in hiring Kelly in 2009.

Lastly, with a 12-team Playoff coming in 2025, December will become only more hectic.

Those head coaches who wanted a little less stress over the holidays will then have to deal with, in chronological order:

— Keeping their own jobs.
— Securing their recruiting classes in the days immediately preceding Christmas.
— Preparing their teams for bowl games.
— Preparing their teams for up to four games if in the Playoff.
— Re-recruiting any players considering entering the transfer portal before the winter window closes.
— Winning a bowl game.
— Retaining their coaching staffs.
— Oh, and celebrate the holidays with their families, as was their want when they hollered for the early signing period.

Most of those tasks are immutable and inherent to the sport.

But one can move. It already has once.

The logic is too clear. Nothing was gained in moving up the primary signing date by six weeks. And sanity was lost.

This is, of course, a sport that prefers to ignore logic, but usually that is charming. A mustard bottle on the field is quirky; lacking a worthwhile voice of authority is stubbornly stupid.

So the early signing period may not move as soon as it should (now), but it will move. There are no anti-trust worries tied to it, fortunately.

And aside from the logic, cramming more content into December costs the media, too. Spreading out that context through the vacuum of mid-January to mid-March will be much appreciated.

Leftovers & Links: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr

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The traditional National Signing Day is this Wednesday, and for yet another year, Notre Dame has no intentions of inking any high-school recruits on the first Wednesday of February. The recruiting calendar has so changed that the Irish have not signed a recruit in February since 2021, when running back Logan Diggs pondered a late LSU push before doubling down on his Notre Dame commitment. Before that, not since 2019, when defensive end Isaiah Foskey publicly did so in order to be a part of his high school’s ceremonies.

Notre Dame turned its focus entirely onto the class of 2024 following December’s early signing period, when it inked a class of 24 players that ranks No. 9 in the country, per rivals.com.

Now with nearly 10 months to go before the next decision day to influence the narrative around Irish head coach Marcus Freeman’s recruiting focus, he already has pledges from seven players in the class of 2024. Class rankings this early in the cycle are rather meaningless, but for the sake of thoroughness, the Notre Dame class of 2024 is currently ranked No. 2 in the country, behind only Georgia with nine recruits pledged to date.

One player stands out among the early Irish seven. He stands out to such a degree this space broke from usual form when he committed in early June. To pull from that opening,

“This space has a general rule to not report on recruiting developments classes ahead of time. Worrying about the thoughts of high school seniors is enough of an oddity; focusing on juniors and underclassmen is outright absurd.

“But exceptions exist to prove rules, and Notre Dame landing the commitment of the No. 3 quarterback in the class of 2024 — prospects entering their junior years of high school — is such an exception.”

Consensus four-star quarterback CJ Carr is now only the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the class and the No. 14 recruit overall, but he is the kind of key piece to a recruiting class that the Irish lacked in 2023, despite Freeman’s continued excellence hauling in defensive prospects. Carr has been an active and vocal recruiter on his own for Notre Dame, not an unusual occurrence from an early commit but a habit the Irish have not garnered out of a quarterback in quite some time. Even Tyler Buchner, due to both the pandemic and his own soft-spoken nature, was not the loudest campaigner among his peers.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame beats out Michigan for Lloyd Carr’s grandson, QB CJ Carr

At 6-foot-3, Carr looks the part of a prototypical quarterback, and his arm strength fits in line with that thought. He has downfield touch that would open up Notre Dame’s playbook in a way entirely unseen in 2022.

The other six early commitments to the Irish in the class of 2024 …

Consensus four-star running back Aneyas Williams (Hannibal High School; Mo.), ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose running back and No. 106 recruit in the class, per rivals.com: There will be many comparisons to former Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams when Aneyas Williams arrives on campus, and though they are from the same state, there is no relation. The younger Williams can do a bit of everything while his 5-foot-10 frame carries plenty of punch. He lacks truly elite speed, as Kyren did, but obviously that did not kept the elder Williams from cracking 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Consensus four-star receiver Cam Williams (Glenbard South H.S.; Glen Ellyn, Ill.), ranked as the No. 11 receiver and No. 102 recruit in the class: The Chicagoland product visited Iowa a handful of times and took looks at Michigan and Wisconsin, seemingly intent on staying in the Midwest. Williams has all the fundamentals wanted of a receiver, 6-foot-2 size combined with a comfort catching the ball. Time will reveal what part of his game, if any, develops into his specialty.

Consensus four-star tight end Jack Larsen (Charlotte Catholic; N.C.), ranked as the No. 7 tight end and No. 187 recruit in the class: Whether Larsen will be the next piece of “Tight End U” or not is a premature thought, but at 6-foot-3 and an ability to snag passes downfield over defenders, Larsen already looks the part. Credit a basketball background for that aerial ability.

Four-star offensive guard Peter Jones (Malvern Prep; Penn.), ranked as the No. 4 offensive guard and No. 99 recruit in the class: Jones plays tackle in high school, nearly an absolute requirement for any offensive line prospect chased by Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, but his playing style suggests a future on the inside of the line.

Consensus four-star defensive tackle Owen Wafle (Hun School; Princeton, N.J.), ranked as the No. 10 defensive tackle in the class: Pronounced like playful, not waffle, Wafle should add weight to his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame as he grows from a high-school junior into a college player. That may seem obvious, but the quality of that weight he adds in the next 20 months will be what most determines how quickly he can contribute in South Bend.

Consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati): Anyone committed right now has made a decision relatively early in the recruiting cycle, yet Hobbs was committed to South Carolina for three months before he flipped to Notre Dame in early November. Seeking out a committed three-star more than a year before he can officially sign may strike one as foolish, but Irish cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens has earned some leeway in his evaluations, given the early impacts of Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey in 2022.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Ohio State, Clemson & Pittsburgh hurt most by early NFL draft entrants among Notre Dame’s opponents
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: Notre Dame’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
Part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach
Part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment
Part IV: Notre Dame’s 2022 ended where it was always expected to

OUTSIDE READING
How QB Sam Hartman found trouble with turnovers in 2022
College QB Austin Reed got transfer portal offers comparable to late-round NFL draft picks
I requested my Notre Dame admissions file
Boston College, offensive coordinator John McNulty parting ways after 2022 struggles
Hamlin’s injury highlights precarious position of many young N.F.L. players
On the Broncos’ head-coaching finalists
Bally Sports RSNs headed for bankruptcy
Auditor: LSU overpaid Brian Kelly by more than $1M in 2022