Monday’s Leftovers: Early signing period basics and Notre Dame’s likelihoods

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Aside from a practice injury to Notre Dame’s No. 3 receiver, a dramatic conclusion to the New Mexico Bowl or an upset in the Camellia Bowl, this has always been a mundane week in the college football calendar. The uncreatively-named Frisco Bowl and the coin-flip of a Potato Bowl provide holiday distractions or background noise while wrapping gifts, but other than that, this has traditionally been a week of no consequence.

No longer.

In fact, the week before Christmas may supplant the first week of February as the most-hyped week each year. If not most-hyped, then it will certainly be the most-discussed sequence of events taking place off the gridiron. The three-day early signing period’s unprecedented nature makes it largely unpredictable. That will obviously not be as much the case in years to come, but for the next few days, uncertainty becomes the new norm.

For the Irish, some uneasiness dissipated Sunday evening when recent commit three-star tight end Tommy Tremble (Wesleyan High School; Norcross, Ga.) declared he will sign his national letter of intent the first day of the period, this Wednesday.

Tremble had initially suggested he would still wait until the traditional February date to make his commitment official and binding. It would seem Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s urging convinced Tremble’s mind to change, undoubtedly much to Michigan’s chagrin, the runner-up in Tremble’s recruitment thus far.

“From our perspective, [the early signing period] has allowed us to really identify those that want to be here at Notre Dame and make that decision,” Kelly said Saturday. “All the work that we did leading up to the 20th, those guys that made commitments to Notre Dame are going to follow through with that in December.”

To Kelly, not signing in this Wednesday-to-Friday window is an indication a player is not genuinely committed to the Irish.

“If our players are committed, they’ll sign in December,” he summed it up Dec. 4. “If they’re not committed, they won’t.”

That sets the bar for relative success this week for Notre Dame at 20 commitments, the number currently pledged. It is possible that number ticks upward by another couple. Consensus four-star receiver Braden Lenzy (Tigard H.S.; Portland, Ore.) has said he will make his decision Friday evening. If that name sounds familiar to Irish fans, Lenzy originally committed to Notre Dame only to reopen his recruitment in June, shortly thereafter committing to Oregon. When the Ducks underwent a coaching change in the last few weeks, Lenzy once again took to exploring his options, narrowing them to the Irish, Oregon and UCLA.

Consensus four-star safety Julius Irvin (Servite; Anaheim, Calif.) could possibly announce a commitment this week, as well, with Notre Dame, USC and Washington his frontrunners.

Landing either Lenzy or Irvin would be a coup for the Irish, but securing the signatures of the 20 committed right now is the appropriate priority. Doing so will mark the week as having met the desired standard. Anything less than those 20 will be the equivalent of a recruit de-committing but in a much more dramatic fashion.

“For me to stand here and say [the early signing period] is great, but then 10 guys don’t sign, well then obviously it wouldn’t be great to have that date,” Kelly said. “But I’m very confident with all the work we’ve done, that [Dec. 20] is going to be a really good day for Notre Dame football.”

Kelly will announce the class Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET in similar fashion to the usual February protocol.

— The early signing period has increased the December job requirements on Kelly, his coaching staff and coaches all across the country. Some might not like that. (Cough, Nick Saban, cough.) There will be claims the need to emphasize recruiting even more than usual these last few weeks took away from bowl preparations. Kelly, for example, left campus Friday at 3 p.m. to make a recruiting stop and returned to campus at 3 a.m. That trip likely would not have occurred until January if not for this new calendar.

The bowl claims will be anecdotal and unquantifiable, at best.

The biggest perk Kelly sees evolving from the early signing period ties to the future. Once 20 players sign letters of intent this week, the Irish staff will not need to worry about them in January. Instead, the coaches can prioritize in the new year while looking ahead to next December.

“All the work we did leading up to it to get these guys signed on the 20th and committed to Notre Dame is going to leave us with the opportunity to start looking for just a few players that need to be signed in February,” he said. “Then, moving ahead in the calendar to some [class of 2019 prospects].”

As for those “just a few players” yet to sign in February, snagging about three would fit the usual Irish cycle. Admittedly, comparing previous years is a flawed exercise as this new aspect has sped up some recruitments, but previous years are also the only data available. Recruits secured after this time of year have typically been the highest of profiles or filling holes in the roster.

In signing the heralded class of 2013, Notre Dame had 20 of an eventual 23 prospects committed before Dec. 20, 2012. The three remaining were running back Tarean Folston, safety Max Redfield and tight end Durham Smythe.

The class of 2014 also had 20 of 23 recruits committed at this point in the calendar with linebacker Nyles Morgan coming next. Then, to fill a positional need, new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder scrambled to sign defensive tackles Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah.

Running back Dexter Williams was a late addition to the class of 2015, one of few past recruits who committed to Notre Dame after a theoretical early signing period. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

In building the class of 2015, the Irish snagged tight end Alizé Mack, running back Dexter Williams and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown after Dec. 20, all highly-sought after talents.

In the class of 2016, only cornerback Troy Pride, receiver Javon McKinley and linebacker Jonathan Jones joined this late in the process.

With the overhaul in Kelly’s coaching staff, last year’s class shifted the most with only weeks left in the cycle. Fifteen of the eventual 21 commits were pledged by Dec. 20. The staff finished fast and strong by collecting safety Jordan Genmark-Heath, receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive end Kofi Wardlow, defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah.

— By no means was the early signing period a reason to avoid a coaching change this year if one was necessary, but avoiding such instability holds even more weight this offseason due to the unknown nature of this early signing period. Exhibit A: Lenzy and Oregon.

There is a flip side to that, though, for those schools clearly set on a change, such as UCLA. Again, using Lenzy as the example at hand, the Bruins only actively reentered the running in his recruitment when Chip Kelly was named the head coach. By firing Jim Mora with a week left in the regular season, UCLA got ahead of the usual coaching carousel by that margin, secured Kelly and gave him some additional time to put the full-court press on high school seniors as necessary.

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Notre Dame will face South Carolina in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30


Notre Dame and South Carolina will meet for the first time in nearly 40 years in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Dec. 30 at 3:30 ET (ABC). The Irish and Gamecocks have not played since 1984, a South Carolina win in South Bend. That was part of Notre Dame’s struggles (going 12-11 in 1984 and 1985) that led to Lou Holtz being hired; Holtz, of course, went on to coach the Gamecocks for six seasons after he left the Irish.

Though the No. 21 Irish (8-4) finished the season strongly, including competing gamely at USC a week ago in a 38-27 loss, a driving storyline over the next month will be wondering if head coach Marcus Freeman can handle this bowl game better than the second half of the Fiesta Bowl faceplant last year in his first game as Notre Dame’s leader.

No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) enjoyed an even more impressive finish to the season, knocking both Tennessee and Clemson out of the College Football Playoff in its final two games of the season. Not that gambling spreads mean anything on the football field, but to give an idea how unexpected those two wins were, realize the Gamecocks were expected to lose them by a combined 37.5 points and instead won them by a combined 26 points.

There may be some rough parallels between South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer and Freeman, though Beamer is a year ahead in his head-coaching career.

Beamer was an unexpected hire in Columbia in 2021, never having been a head coach before and most recently the associate head coach and tight ends coach at Oklahoma for three seasons. The Gamecocks went 7-6 in his first year, his head-coaching inexperience perhaps rearing its head as they lost their first three games against Power-Five competition and four of their first five, the exception coming against worse-off Vanderbilt.

Thus, the surge to end the 2022 season stands out, particularly since it again took until October to notch a win against a Power-Five opponent, losing to both Arkansas and, more understandably, Georgia in September.

South Carolina found its most success this season through the air, led by former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. He averaged 230.5 yards per game and 7.9 yards per attempt while completing 66.6 percent of his passes. The Gamecocks managed just 123.3 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per attempt.

Their rushing defense is one of the worst in the country, which could play right into the Irish offensive strength. Opponents gained 0.194 expected points per rush attempt against South Carolina, the No. 123 ranking in the country, per

Notre Dame fell to Ohio State, 21-10, to open Freeman’s genuine tenure, a worthwhile loss though one quickly diminished when the Irish fell to Marshall just a week later. Of course, the Buckeyes’ relied on that season-opening win to successfully burgeon their Playoff résumé today.

The Irish already know they will be without both senior cornerback Cam Hart and junior quarterback Drew Pyne in the bowl game. Hart announced last week he will return for a fifth season at Notre Dame, but a shoulder injury will sideline him this month, while Pyne announced Friday he intends to enter the transfer portal, presumably when it officially opens tomorrow.

Star tight end Michael Mayer will almost certainly opt out of the bowl game, his top-20 draft stock assured, and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey could logically, as well.

Notre Dame nearly ended up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28, per reports. The ACC could place the Irish in any of three bowls, the top tier of ACC-affiliated bowls below the Orange Bowl, with some input from the bowls and from the University. That give-and-take seemingly delayed the announcement for a stretch of Sunday.

Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility


Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

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Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need


Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
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CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
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Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter