Leftovers & Links: The difference between Notre Dame and Georgia? It widened since 2017, but maybe has finally started to close again

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Notre Dame and Georgia have met twice during the five-year Irish resurgence, a stretch that rather closely parallels the Dawgs’ ascension, as well. Both games came down to one possession, Notre Dame unable to mount a last-minute drive either time to pull off a comeback victory

Yet the differences between the two seem greater than that, with Georgia appearing in its second national title game of the last five years tonight while the Irish have been only embarrassed in two College Football Playoff appearances. At the risk of sounding reductive, the difference between the two is clear …

But it is not as simple as recruiting rankings, though those cover the separation in broad strokes. Individual years’ rankings can be too drastically affected by signing a smaller class due to a roster crunch or even signing a long snapper, a need on any roster but one that recruiting rankings penalize. Rather, the disparity in defensive recruiting is clear and obviously applicable, given the dominance of the Dawgs defense this season, perhaps the best defense in the last decade, if not much longer.

In the four recruiting classes before Georgia slipped past Notre Dame in South Bend, the Dawgs signed 26 four-star defenders, per rivals.com, and 1 five-star defender. The Irish, meanwhile, signed 17 four-stars and 1 five-star, defensive end Daelin Hayes.

Those differences were not as significant as what would come once Dawgs head coach Kirby Smart spent more than one recruiting cycle in Athens.

In the past four recruiting classes, Georgia has signed 30 four-star defenders and 5 five-stars. Notre Dame has signed 21 four-stars. Again, this is only discussing defensive players signed.

Now the twist in this quick thought … The signing class of 2022.

The Irish did not catch the Dawgs in the one year of Marcus Freeman’s recruiting as a defensive coordinator, but suddenly the gap did close. Notre Dame signed 8 four-star defenders in December, while Georgia signed 6 four-stars and 4 five-stars.

There is still a margin there, a notable one, but it was drastically less than compared to the previous two years of recruiting.

Now it should be acknowledged, this Georgia defense was recognized as one of the most talented in a long time before the season. That is why so many people will sweat tonight’s result while holding gambling tickets that pay 8-to-1 if the Dawgs win. Comparing the Irish roster to the best in the country is not going to be a good look for Notre Dame.

That is not the intention here.

The intention is simply to point out how the Irish went from one Chase Claypool leap in 2019 away from beating Georgia to now sitting at home recovering from a Fiesta Bowl faceplant while the Dawgs chase an elusive national title, and how those trends may have begun to reverse last month.

Avery Davis TO RETURN
After a torn ACL ended the fifth-year receiver’s season in November, it was always unlikely he would head to the NFL this spring. Davis would not be able to work out at any point for NFL teams, and his professional chances are on the fringe to start with.

Davis made that likelihood official on Sunday, declaring he will return for a sixth season in South Bend, a needed boost to the Irish receiver depth. With Davis official, Notre Dame will have at least two veterans in him and Braden Lenzy, three sophomores in Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas, and one incoming freshman in Tobias Merriweather. To date, that’s it.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame receivers room in midst of change: Lenzy will return, Austin will not, and neither will Del Alexander, per reports

Joe Wilkins likely will return, as well, coming off his own injury, but that has not been confirmed yet.

Defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa made official what has been expected all year. He will not take his added year of eligibility granted by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.

KAHANU KIA TAKES TWO-YEAR MISSION
As has been expected since his recruitment, freshman linebacker Kahanu Kia will take a two-year mission as an active member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. He confirmed that plan Monday afternoon.

“I would like to express my gratitude to Coach Freeman and the University of Notre Dame for allowing me to pursue my religious goals,” Kia wrote on Twitter. “In just 6 months I truly consider Notre Dame my home and I can’t wait to come back to play for the Irish.”

Kia played in two games in 2021, and he will spend the next two years in Raleigh, N.C. He would then be expected to rejoin the Irish for the 2024 season, presumably in time for that year’s spring fotball.

NFL-bound with eligibility remaining: Safety Kyle Hamilton, running back Kyren Williams, receiver Kevin Austin, linebacker Isaiah Pryor, defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa.
Returning after pondering the NFL: Receiver Braden Lenzy, safety Houston Griffith, offensive lineman Josh Lugg, defensive end Justin Ademilola, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, safety DJ Brown, defensive end Isaiah Foskey, center Jarrett Patterson, receiver Avery Davis.
Expected to transfer out: Safety Khari Gee, linebacker Shayne Simon, punter Jay Bramblett, linebacker Paul Moala, offensive lineman Quinn Carroll, cornerback Caleb Offord.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Things We Learned: ‘Bitter’ lessons mark Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl faceplant, but pieces of encouragement can carry into 2022
Lugg brings experience back to Notre Dame offensive line in 2022, but further OL questions remain up in the air
Reports: Marcus Freeman taps Cincinnati pipeline for new Notre Dame special teams coordinator
Reports: Notre Dame to hire offensive line coach Harry Hiestand for a second stint
Notre Dame adds Northwestern transfer, All-American safety Brandon Joseph to suddenly deep secondary

OUTSIDE READING
Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman might change game as we know it – by being himself. Is it enough to lift the Irish?
A look at the contracts for Brian Kelly’s LSU staff
2022 NFL Mock Draft
Alabama vs Georgia same-game parlays for the CFP Championship: Whose Tide will turn?
Alabama vs Georgia odds, picks, predictions for the CFP National Championship Game
College football bowl season is a time to celebrate the wild, wacky and wonderful
Why there still aren’t too many college football bowl games: Mayo baths, TV ratings and celebrations show their value
Matt Corral’s injury is why players who skip bowls don’t deserve to be judged
Titans waive Chris Jones, Joe Jones; release Golden Tate from practice squad