And in that corner… The Northwestern Wildcats

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Coming off a difficult and frustrating loss to Arizona State, Notre Dame welcomes Northwestern to town, a second opportunity at an eighth victory. For as difficult as last Saturday was for Irish fans, it’s been wash, rinse and repeat for those following the Wildcats this year.

Last weekend’s failed two-point conversion against Michigan was just the latest gut punch to Pat Fitzgerald’s squad, falling to 3-6 on the season and in real danger of missing a bowl game for the second consecutive season. After building Northwestern into a program that was seemingly in contention to win at least eight games a season, it’s been a deep dive since Northwestern let victory against Ohio State slip out of their hands early last season.

Taking us through the misery is the always wonderful Lake the Posts. The editor and founder of Northwestern’s friendly sports outpost (serving a daily dose of Wildcataganda since 2007) he hit this one out of the park.

This might be my favorite Q&A of the year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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You okay? As a fanbase, it feels like Year 2 of the slide hurts a lot more than last season’s collapse. Leaving the fandom’s pain aside, can you give us a look into a program that’s now lost 13 of its last 17 football games? (Yikes.)

Short answer – “no”. We are not OK. We’re somewhere between full blown panic mode or worse – resignation. Despondent, frustrated, furious, cursed…you get the gist. One of the many beautiful things about being a Northwestern coach is that despite the rhetoric, we hold ourselves to a different standard (“hey look over here, have you seen our APR lately”?!!!). Most Northwestern fans are a forgiving lot. However, in part because Pat Fitzgerald’s five year run from ’08-’12 had conditioned fans to “a bowl game” as the floor, this two year skid, in years eight and nine of his tenure are particularly tough to swallow.

Heading in to this season on the heels of the union debate-filled off-season, most fans were willing to write off 2013 as an outlier. Now, it’s hard not to look at the past five seasons and point to the 10-win 2012 season as the outlier. The win totals have followed a disturbing trend in the past seven seasons – 9,8,7,6,10,5,3 (so far). Therein lies the issue.

There are so, so many issues it’s hard to know where to start. When you start looking back game by game over the past several years, the program that had become synonymous with pulling out close games has flipped the script. Starting in 2012, we became an increasingly conservative team. We’d sprint out to leads and try to hang on for dear life. All 3 losses that year involved significant 4th quarter leads that we lost. 2013 started a really disturbing trend of injuries that I’m blaming on Iowa, just because, but this off-season it became almost laughable. We couldn’t hold full scrimmages because we had so many people out for spring practice. Then, on the same day, our most explosive player – All-American Venric Mark transferred and our best WR Christian Jones blew his knee out and was gone for the year. The injuries have racked up to epic proportions (three defensive players including a captain have had to retire from football due to injuries). But, every team has injuries. The injuries have exposed some depth issues. The real issues run much deeper.

Here are my top three:

1) The offense has been anemic – 5th year QB Trevor Siemian is actually a decent passer, but he’s been wildly inconsistent. Our wide receivers have been bottled up for two straight seasons now, in part, b/c when we don’t have a mobile QB threat, it makes it much easier for opponents to defend us. We’ve got no one who can beat man coverage downfield (who isn’t injured and we’ve got 4-5 WRs out with injury consistently), Trevor holds on to the ball too long and the play calling has been beyond puzzling. It’s a perfect storm of a mess.

2) Special teams – This is the most overlooked issue by outsiders. We’ve been a train wreck. Fitz is the special teams coach and it has been awful. Last week’s Michigan 1-point loss is a perfect example. Michigan’s lone TD came as a result of a fumbled punt at our own 20, we missed a chip shot FG and a platoon of punters averaged less than net 30 yards on the day as they fielded ground ball snaps all day. Our punt coverage team had a gimme to down the ball at the Michigan one and let it bounce of their leg in to the end zone. That in a nutshell has been a weekly occurrence.

3) The team has zero identity – Fitz-coached teams in the past seemed to feed off of his energy. This team has been lifeless at times and it started in the season opener when we got throttled in the first half. The players went to Fitz and asked to be coached harder and held more accountable after the NIU loss and it worked – for a few weeks. We’ve seemed to try and be something we’re not at times and the days of scrappy, smart play have been replaced by massive inconsistency in execution, failures in in-game adapting and an overall lifelessness that has the fan base howling.

 

Staying big picture, is it fair to say the shine is off Pat Fitzgerald? I’m not insinuating he should be on the hot seat in Evanston, but are you viewing Fitzgerald (the coach) differently after this slide? If you were in his shoes, what’s the first thing you change?

Yes. Fans want to love him and want him to succeed. A pervasive thought I’ve heard among fans is that he is the “best coach in America Sunday through Friday”. What’s been disheartening to many fans is Fitz’s defensiveness with the media during the slide. It has been more combative than empathetic. Look, there are a ridiculous amount of injuries and adversity, but Fitz will be the first to tell you that is expected. The back-ups have simply not been prepared. There are only so many post game losing speeches when you can hear “it starts with us the coaches, we have to do a better job” before you start to get numb to it.

Personally, I think Fitz is the right guy for the job, I’m a fan of his and respect the heck out of him personally. I’m not one to call for people’s specific heads during a season, but I can tell you based on the sea of disgruntled comments and emails that fans are not happy with OC Mick McCall and the offensive position coaches in general (with the exception of RB where Justin Jackson has shined).

 

Let’s stay with the not-so-happy stuff. The offensive line. This summer you told me that the NU offensive line is 19th in the FBS in returning career starts, usually a good sign. This group hasn’t been good. Injuries? Bad players? What’s the deal?

ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham was excellent in his assessment of the line during the Michigan game which I believe you can extrapolate over much of the losing skid. He outright called out Mick McCall for putting Trevor Siemian in deep drop backs b/c our line is weakest at pass protection that requires any length of time. It stems from the fact that unlike the spread of NU’s past, we have no threat of mobility and opponents know it. We’re actually pretty good in run blocking schemes and when we go with the quick, up-tempo rapid fire approach. Right tackle has been an eyesore all year and the revolving door approach hasn’t solved for it. It’s been really, really disappointing.

Fans have clamored for 4-star QB dual threat RS freshman Matt Alviti to offer the run threat and he finally made his first appearance of the season last week for all of three snaps. I expect to see him a ton on Saturday. This has been the head-scratcher. The running threat on 3rd and 6-8 was a staple of success for years and without the run threat, we’ve just been crushed.

 

Defensively, this team is pretty solid, especially when you consider how much the offense has put on them. The Wildcats secondary has been really solid, and they’ve got more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. How will Fitz and DC Mike Hankwitz handle the Irish’s talented wide receiving corps and the turnover prone Everett Golson?

The “D” has actually been exceptional other than 8 quarters (2 vs Cal, 2 vs Nebraska, 4 vs Iowa) this season. When you’re season scoring average is under 20 you’re doing something right. When you consider just how bad we’ve been in spotting the opponents ridiculous field position, you get a sense that this unit could be very good. Mike Hankwitz should get credit. We’ve been crushed with injuries and unlike the offense, the young talent has stepped up. We have an NFL-level safety with Ibraheim Campbell who has been sidelined most of the year and his replacement Godwin Igwebuike has been great. We’ve got a ton of freshmen (both true and redshirt) that have been huge. LB Anthony Walker has had to replace senior captain Collin Ellis and he brings the lumber. The future looks very bright for the defense if they can eliminate those 8 quarters of inconsistency. This is where the uptick in recruiting has been most evident.

The pass rush has been inconsistent and Hankwitz is a highly conservative play caller. We’ve yet to face a dual threat QB with Golson’s skill set this season, so I expect him to have his way through the air as we likely won’t go all out on blitzes knowing he can kill us with his feet. We do have guys who are incredible athletes and can make individual plays. The “D” will pick off Golson if he’s careless on his throws and his carelessness with the rock is something you can bet our guys will be aware of and be looking to ballhawk. I really like our “D” with the exception of the team that kidnapped our team in Iowa City.

I fear we’ll overcompensate on “D” and do too much sitting back trying to contain Golson which will lead to deep ball success b/c no team can give you 5-10 seconds and not expect to get burned by your highly talented receiving corps.

 

It sounds like the quarterback position has gotten ugly. Matt Alviti saw a few snaps last week against Michigan with Fitz promising more of the same this Saturday. What’s a realistic split? Is Trevor Siemian on his way out? Is it really his fault?

I feel really bad for Trevor. I will likely get piled on for this statement, but I believe he’s a good QB. The weak offensive line play and the man to man press coverage on our receivers have given him little to work with. Plus, for the first time that I can ever remember, we’ve been terrible at catching passes. There have been countless times that guys have dropped wide open passes. Trevor has been more inconsistent as well, missing open guys from time to time, something he rarely did in years past. The Alviti question is a good one. He was heavily recruited by Notre Dame and NU won out in a head to head, so you know he’ll be gunning to go.

Alviti’s lack of playing time has been one of the most popular topics of the year. Insiders have told me that he wasn’t ready for the field, which has been puzzling since he was one of the most sought after QB recruits we’ve ever landed and he’s had a full redshirt year and now this season to play. The pervasive thought among fans has been “how could it be any worse than the current offense”? I expect to see him about 15-20% on Saturday depending upon how he does early on in the game.

 

How impressive has freshman Justin Jackson been? Is he the key to Saturday for the Wildcat offense? What needs to go right offensively for Northwestern to win?

He’s beyond outstanding. When you consider opposing teams have essentially laughed at our passing game and stacked the box, he’s been brilliant. Up until Michigan shut him down last week (only 35 yards) he had been cranking out 100+ yard games on a weekly basis against Top 20 run defenses all year long – Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota – he’s got that extra something about him that he turns 2-yard plays in to 7-yard gains by just his motor. He’s got the mix of power and grace and with any kind of a consistent passing game and deep threat, he’d be averaging 125 per game (He’s averaging just under 90 ypg). The one thing he hasn’t been able to do is bust big plays. That’s the next level for him – to break that 50-yarder. However, he’s on pace for 1,000 yards this year in a train wreck of an offense and should he stay healthy his arrow is pointing to making a run at the all-time rushing record for NU. He’s just a joy to watch.

 

For as ugly as this season has been, my brother (a Wisconsin grad) continues to talk about Northwestern’s ability to big-game hunt. Notre Dame has either faced the best effort of their opponents or played down to them, depending on how full or empty you view the glass. Should Irish fans be on upset alert?

Not based on what I’ve seen. The irony is not lost on Wildcat fans who’ve been clutching ND bragging rights for 19 years, that we’re returning to the site of the program slingshot game in 1995. Fitzgerald’s then coach, Gary Barnett, had coined the phrase “Belief without Evidence” heading in to that season and that motto holds true now. Any belief in an upset would be not based on any evidence in 2014 other than a 2-week span to open B1G play when we throttled a weak Penn State team in Happy Valley and upset Wisconsin at home.

 

For a variety of reasons, some Notre Dame fans are taking pleasure in seeing Northwestern struggle. In large part, because of comments from Fitzgerald back in 2009.

“Even though we’re similar academically, we’re in a little different boat as Stanford and Notre Dame,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve been consistently winning since 1995. They’re still saying they can do it, but we’re doing it.”

I took issue with both Fitzgerald’s remark — and Mandel’s writeup — back then. Looking at this week’s game notes, it points out something that’s been fairly obvious for a long time: Northwestern is 28-11 in August and September (non-conference time) and just 30-41 from October on. Put harshly, you can argue that Northwestern build their “winner” based on cupcake non-conference victories.

I don’t blame you. If the shoe was on the other foot, I’d be crushing us if I were Notre Dame fans. We’d be regaling in Notre Dame’s misery if you were going through a tough time as well and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’d be disappointed if ND fans didn’t!! We deserve it.

In fairness though, I think context is important. At that point in 2009, ND was entering uncharted waters of bad times as Charlie Weis was rounding out a torch-inducing tenure with consecutive win totals of 7,6 and 3 while NU was arrow up to a 9-win season after and 8-win season. We still had the 3 Big Ten titles to point to, but didn’t want to acknowledge that we were well on our way to tying ND for the mutually notorious bowl losing record (9 straight).

I would imagine that it is easy to love to hate Fitz from an outside perspective. I get it. I don’t mean that in jest.

There are lots of ways to slice the numbers (Fitz has a winning record in November and has gone 1-4 in bowl games), but the most important way to assess the body of work is the Big Ten record which isn’t good – 29-40, to your point. Northwestern fans used to tell you to look under the hood (last 3 Michigan games lost on final play, 2 Nebraska etc…) but that has now become the norm more than the exception. It is what it is.

 

In a Big Ten conference that’s far from its strongest, what does this program need to do to turn things around?

You hit on the double-whammy. We’ve downright stunk the last two seasons and as you’ve seen firsthand, this would’ve been the ideal time for NU to make a Minnesota-like surge to compete for the B1G conference title.

It’s hard to believe just last year we had ESPN Gameday visit when we were #16 in the country and seemed on the verge of knocking off #4 Ohio State. Since then it’s been a cliff dive. Fans are howling for assistant coaching changes and an overhaul in our philosophy. I think fans would love to see a Moneyball approach to NU football with a smart, analytically-driven approach that has us much more aggressive than we’ve been. I’ve talked to many former players who marvel at the current talent level – guys from 2008, 2009 and even 2012 – and they just don’t get it. There doesn’t seem to be that “refuse to lose” attitude and leadership on this team, but overall, we seem like a team that is telling itself a story while the rest of the league has us figured out to a tee.

I genuinely hope NU takes an honest assessment of the program top down and makes the painful and necessary changes at all levels. If there are no changes on the staff it will get as ugly as ugly gets in Northwestern circles, which means “not that ugly, but we think it is”. There is no doubt Fitz is a good leader and he’s going through the toughest stretch he’s faced. I feel bad for him, but I also know he’s the one who has the ability and the authority to do what he needs to do to get the right people in the right place.

 

Last one, I promise: Walk me through the winning formula for a Northwestern upset on Saturday afternoon?

Wow. After the ’95 game I’ll never, ever say “never”, but I feel like I’m in make believe. My colleague, Philip Rossman-Reich posted the three factors that when Northwestern wins at least two of them, NU has gone 3-0, when they fail to win two of them, NU has gone 0-6.

The three factors are 1)turnover battle 2)field position 3)big plays (20+ yards). We’ll need to win the first two to have a shot. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Northwestern isn’t an offense that has the horsepower to score in bunches (primarily because we have no big play ability). Our scoring drives are of the long, methodical 15-play variety. If Notre Dame gets out to a double digit lead early it could be a long day. The Wildcat defense will have to make multiple key takeaways with great field position for us to have a shot. There has yet to be a game where NU has had it click on all three phases so we are back to “Belief without Evidence”.

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Special thanks to LTP for the A+ effort. There is a bunch of great stuff up over there right now looking at common recruiting battles and the long-dormant rivalry.  Follow on Twitter @LakethePosts

Lengthy Texas cornerback joins Notre Dame class of 2024

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Maybe Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey will be anomalies, but if they are precedent-setters, then Notre Dame may have snagged another unheralded but promising cornerback with the Saturday afternoon commitment of consensus three-star Leonard Moore (Round Rock High School; Texas).

Moore also holds scholarship offers from Oregon, TCU and Vanderbilt, to name a few. In total, he has offers from six schools in the Pac-12, three in the Big 12, two in the SEC and one in the ACC, an intriguing widespread array from someone not yet lighting recruiting rankings on fire.

At 6-foot-2, Moore should have the length to become a physical cornerback, one perhaps more in the mold of current Notre Dame fifth-year cornerback Cam Hart than the rising sophomore Morrison.

Moore’s highlight reel starts with a few interceptions, naturally, and a punt return. Pass breakups are not necessarily the most enthralling of film. But then he sheds a block to force a fumble and soon defends a back-shoulder throw with ease. Moore is clearly a playmaker, particularly given no level of Texas football should be scoffed at. He intercepted three passes, forced two fumbles and broke up four passes in 2022 as a junior.

He readily anticipates routes and when needed funnels his man as the defensive design demands.

Moore runs track, as well, with decent 200-meter times in the low 23-second range.

The eighth commitment in the class of 2024, Moore is the second defensive back, joining consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati). While team recruiting rankings are thoroughly premature more than 10 months before anyone can officially sign, thoroughness demands mentioning that Notre Dame’s class is currently ranked No. 2 in the country behind only Georgia with 10 commitments.

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

A cursory look at the depth chart suggests Moore could have an avenue to early playing time in South Bend. Hart likely will move on to the NFL after the 2023 season, a shoulder injury tipping the scales toward returning this offseason. Aside from him, the only cornerbacks with experience on the Irish roster are Morrison and Mickey and rising senior Clarence Lewis. Any of the four young cornerbacks that do make an impression in 2023 will effectively be on equal footing with Moore.

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.