On Wednesday, Notre Dame might exceed 25 scholarships in one recruiting class for the first time since 2006. Undoubtedly, the Irish coaches have thought about the ramifications such a large single-year group would have on recruiting in the next 12 months.
As is, Notre Dame has 21 signees in the class of 2018, one additional commitment already in hand and the possibility of multiple more by National Signing Day.
That is not to say the Irish will assuredly exceed 25 scholarships. Recruiting changes just like milkshakes melt. Yet, when considering prospects who were committed to schools before December’s early signing period but did not sign on the proverbial dotted line (consensus three-star running back C’Bo Flemister [Pike County High School; Zebulon, Ga.] and consensus three-star defensive lineman Derrick Eason [Norview H.S.; Norfolk, Va.], pictured above, as pertinent examples), they very clearly are on the market and considering current suitors.
One does not even need to read between those lines with consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown (St. John’s College; Washington, D.C.), who de-committed from Virginia to weigh other options in Notre Dame, Cal and Northwestern.
Those three possibilities would bring the Irish to 25 players in the class, with distinct chances at consensus five-star offensive tackle Nick Petit-Frere (Berkeley Prep; Tampa, Fla.) and consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys (McDonogh 35; New Orleans), among others, still afloat.
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For a thought exercise, let’s say Notre Dame enjoys a banner close to the recruiting cycle, pulling in four of those five, bringing the class to 26 total. (That still falls two short of the class of 2006, retroactively led by a trio of offensive linemen in Sam Young, Chris Stewart and Eric Olsen.)
Suddenly, the Irish could be looking at a class of 18 or 19 recruits next year. It would effectually be an inversion of the cycle seen in 2012 and 2013. Notre Dame signed only 17 prospects in 2012, including names such as KeiVarae Russell, Ronnie Stanley, CJ Prosise … and Gunner Kiel. That slim class allowed for 24 recruits in 2013, the nation’s No. 3 haul per rivals.com, highlighted by Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller and Mike McGlinchey.
Quick, rough math explains the crunch without spending much time. Currently, the Irish roster has 84 players slotted for 2018, including consensus three-star offensive tackle commit Luke Jones (Pulaski Academy; Little Rock, Ark.). Add the aforementioned four yet-to-commit hypothetical surprises and that count jumps to 88.
The first piece of practicality here: The attrition of three more players before August has long-been expected and became a near-certainty when Notre Dame signed 21 commitments in December.
“It is a reality,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said then. “Our situation here at Notre Dame is we have not been at that 85, so we’ve been more aggressive this year with that. I never feel really comfortable with it, to be quite honest with you, but I’ve had to get over that.”
When he says “aggressive,” Kelly means he and his staff have needed to be more up-front with certain players about their futures within the program. Presumably, someone had a frank conversation with junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor, indicating he had been passed by multiple freshmen in the depth chart and would not likely see much playing time moving forward. Taylor then made the decision to transfer to find a better chance at contributing elsewhere.
There is nothing amoral or bothersome about that, as long as all parties are honest, but it is still an awkward and uncomfortable conversation.
To get from 88 to 85 by August, this thought exercise will presume an injury, a transfer and a suspension each occurs in the next six months.
Looking forward another whole year, the nine fifth-year players will all depart, obviously. Nine current juniors will, as well. Perhaps current sophomore cornerback Julian Love opts to turn a likely third excellent collegiate season into an NFL draft entry. Maybe one of those juniors, offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland, for example, is offered another season by the Irish coaching staff. An incoming transfer or two could arise, though an outgoing transfer or two inevitably will develop.
Those ebbs and flows would then create the opportunity to sign only 18 or 19 players in the class of 2019. If presuming another year of “aggressive” attrition, that could conceivably rise to 21 without much stress.
That may not seem to be a steep drop from the usual 24 or so, but it will alter recruiting strategies knowing there are that many fewer spots to hold open for the late-deciding, like Petit-Frere.
If possible, Notre Dame should absolutely find a way to make space for Petit-Frere on the roster. Not only is he a top-line offensive lineman to build around for a few years, but there is some credence to the thought of One in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Logic knows that is a decision being made already. It is made every year crucial class move past 22 commitments, though every signee more than 22 increases the magnitude of the effect in the years to come.
The roughest of math to settle on that figure of 22: It’s algebra, and it changes each and every year, but …
— If an average of one player leaves each year before his sophomore season,
— And another two leave before their junior years,
— And then two departs, be it for the NFL or transfer elsewhere, between their junior and senior seasons,
— And about a quarter of each class is invited to return for a fifth year, meaning 5-6 annually,
— And two transfers coming to Notre Dame every four years,
Then the average roster distribution is … [class size as freshmen] + [sophomores: class size as freshmen – 1] + [juniors: class size as freshmen – 3] + [seniors: class size as freshmen – 5] + [fifth-years: class size as freshmen / 4] + two incoming transfers = 85.
(4 x class size + class size / 4) minus seven = 85.
Average class size = 21.6, rounded up to 22.
That math is intentionally and admittedly conservative, so as to draw an inherent and hopefully-illustrative contrast to the “aggressive” tendencies needed to recruit these larger classes.