And In That Corner … A deep dive into former Wake Forest, new Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 North Carolina at Wake Forest
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Sam Hartman will not just be another transfer quarterback at Notre Dame. Though he was the first of them, Jack Coan was effectively just another transfer quarterback for the Irish. He arrived in South Bend after missing a season at Wisconsin to injury, nominally being beaten out by a young quarterback who himself would never quite pan out.

Coan needed to transfer, and he arrived to a Notre Dame roster lacking an established starter. Those circumstances, more than anything about Coan himself, made the former Badger a typical transfer.

Hartman is a multi-time All-ACC quarterback with both school and conference records abound. Any need to transfer came from within, not from Wake Forest. And he joins an Irish quarterback room with a three-game starter in Tyler Buchner, a number deflated by, yet bookending, a shoulder injury.

Nonetheless, Hartman will be Notre Dame’s starter in Dublin at the end of August. To get a better idea of who the Irish have gotten at the sport’s most important position, let’s dial up the Wake Forest beat writer who has been dialed into every moment of Hartman’s career, Conor O’Neill of Deacons Illustrated.

DF: Appreciate this, Conor. I know it’s the time of year when helping out a Notre Dame space is low on your priority list, especially given your basketball responsibilities in the state of North Carolina. That isn’t as much of a concern around here. The next few months may be entirely focused on Hartman and the ceiling he raises. Then again, that has kind of been the Wake Forest ethos the last few seasons. Let’s start broad with that: How much of the Deacons’ 19-8 record the last two seasons traces to the former three-star recruit from North Carolina?

CO: Well, I am answering these as Notre Dame wraps up a basketball game against Georgia Tech. I pride myself on objectivity … but as I think Mike Brey is one of the truly great guys in college basketball, I find myself hoping he gets things turned around.

But, alas (hey, a win!).

To jump in, Wake Forest isn’t the program that it is without Sam Hartman. He was a three-year captain, which is worth noting because Dave Clawson isn’t the type of coach to make his quarterback a captain by default. Hartman is leaving with his name etched atop Wake’s record book in yards, touchdowns and a plethora of other passing and general offense categories.

In those 19 wins, though, I find myself thinking about how many were high-scoring games in which Wake’s offense had little room for error. By the eye test, I’ve got six wins (two this season, four in 2021) that are losses if not for Hartman’s conduction of Wake’s offense.

RELATED READING: QB Sam Hartman transfers to Notre Dame, giving Irish their most experienced passer in more than a decade

Some of that is intangible, of course. Hartman exudes confidence on the field. On occasion, that might even be costly. What impression did you get from Hartman’s teammates of him in the huddle, in practice, in the locker room?

If you find a Wake Forest player who’s going to speak ill of Hartman, on or off the record, I’d be surprised. It’s been explained to me that he was universally respected in Wake’s locker room by the end of this season. It’s been that way for at least two seasons.

In discussing Hartman, Clawson has spoken with affinity and almost admiration of how Hartman reassessed the type of leader he was after the 2020 season. That was such a mess of a season, with a calamity of a Duke’s Mayo Bowl (four second-half interceptions), that Hartman reevaluated himself as a leader after that season.

He came back in 2021 with a better voice and better understanding of how to reach his teammates on a personal level. Hartman talked to us about maturing and learning that, as a leader, he could take a certain tone with certain players but would have to change that tone for others.

The brashness and cockiness was there as a freshman — smack-talking Boston College defensive end Zach Allen, a third-round pick a few months later, in his third game has always stood out — but that mostly dissipated in his first two seasons.

On the field, Hartman is not as accurate as I roughly assumed, and it is not as if I did not watch most Wake Forest games in the Notre Dame press box before kickoff the last two seasons. (That is not a joke. It became well-known in that box that I would be glad if the Deacons’ game was on in front of my seat, and we both know they had plenty of noon kicks.)

At only 60.22 percent across the last three seasons, Hartman is borderline average in this regard, if not worse. Of qualifying passers, that percentage would have ranked No. 75 in the country, out of 100, in 2022.

How much of that can be chalked up to Wake Forest’s offense / general game state, needing to keep up at all costs with opponents thanks to a not-always-stingy defense?

Some of it is attributable to the offense and general game state.

As noted, Wake Forest hasn’t blown out too many teams. So it’s not like Hartman has logged a bunch of snaps where he’s throwing check-downs to convert third-and-shorts and keep possession when the Deacons are up three scores in the second half.

Some of it’s attributable to some erratic tendencies, though.

Hartman is a rhythm passer. When he’s on the money, you get stretches like the third quarter against Clemson this past season, when it felt like any play that didn’t involve the ball coming out of his right hand was a reprieve for Clemson’s defense. But there’s a yin to the yang, and when Hartman isn’t in rhythm, he’ll miss some throws.

Same question, but about Hartman’s 26 interceptions the last two seasons. He threw one pick for every 36 pass attempts, so it was not actually that bothersome a frequency, but still more than Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees will be happy with. Feel free to use this answer to delve into the three games of biggest note; I believe they are Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Louisville.

That’s the thing: Some of Wake’s biggest games have seen Hartman have some of his biggest failures.

Clawson was adamant that the Louisville catastrophe was unlike the others. I’m not here to say he’s full of it; four of those six third-quarter turnovers, blame can be firmly placed on somebody not named Hartman. Each of those six turnovers ultimately wind up on Hartman’s ledger, though.

As a freshman, it seemed like Hartman always had 2-3 plays each game when he tried to do too much and it exacerbated mistakes. Rushes with nowhere to go became 3-yard losses, sacks became sack-fumbles, etc.

It’s seemed like all of those mistakes get bundled into one or two games a season for the past three years.

Those assuredly are not the reasons Hartman transferred. Wake Forest would have gladly welcomed him back, right? In your mind, what is the reasoning for this move?

I mean … I guess Wake Forest would’ve welcomed him back. It honestly feels like the decision was never in their hands because a few days after the 2021 season ended, Hartman started posting on social media about “one more year.” That led to confirming with him in the spring that even though he had two more seasons of eligibility, this was going to be his last season.

We just all thought it’d be in pursuit of the NFL.

I think things changed in the last month or 45 days of the season. If Hartman is an NFL prospect, he’s a Day 3 or priority free agent at best. The NIL figure has been bandied about in Wake’s corners and I’m at the point where I’ll only believe a dollar figure if it comes from someone with the surname Hartman or someone who’s cutting a check. I do think it’s somewhere along the lines of what he’d make if he were on a practice squad or such.

And hey, if your NFL future is uncertain and you’ve got a chance to make guaranteed money at age 24, do it.

Wake Forest — Clawson in particular — hates the perception that its offense is a hindrance to NFL dreams. Whether or not the spread-option/slow-mesh/RPO does or doesn’t prepare Wake’s players for the NFL almost feels irrelevant; it’s the perception that winds up mattering, planting doubt in players’ and families’ minds.

So I think part of the motivation here is to find more of a pro-style system, which — correct me if I’m wrong — he’ll have with Rees.

DF: And I ask this with an eye toward late October next year when the Deacons visit South Bend: How do those in Winston-Salem feel about this move?

It’s a bit mixed, honestly.

There’s a pretty wide understanding that he’s doing what’s best for his future, and only the truly unhinged seem to take issue with that.

He’s leaving Wake Forest with a degree and gave the program five years. It’s not like he’s a developmental marvel who’s bolting at the first opportunity to trade up; if that was the case, he’d have left after last season.

There’s also a degree of being ready to move on. Clawson has basically had three starting quarterbacks at Wake Forest — four if you include Kendall Hinton’s few games before his position change — and each of them was thrown into the fire. That’s not going to be the case with Mitch Griffis, who has been the heir apparent since last spring. As a fourth-year player this season, he’ll have more seasons in the program than John Wolford, Jamie Newman and Hartman had under their collective belts combined when they took over as starters.

Wake Forest got a taste of Griffis in the opener this year while Hartman recovered from the blood clot. There’s an eagerness to see more, while also being appreciative of Hartman’s five seasons.

It helps that since last spring, Deacons fans have known this would be it. It also helped that Clawson planted a few seeds in the buildup to the Gasparilla Bowl about this option being out there for Hartman; because Clawson wasn’t blindsided, I think the fanbase was prepared.

The biggest problem Wake Forest fans have is that Hartman is going to a team on Wake’s schedule next season.

I mean … I get it. Oct. 28 is going to be awkward on a few levels. It’d be worse if the game was in Winston-Salem. But it’s not like Hartman is seeking a revenge game (at least, as far as I know). Notre Dame feels like the best fit of any team that was in the market to add a quarterback this cycle.

DF: I miss anything in a quick but vaguely-comprehensive Hartman education?

Well, we’ve covered Hartman’s *college* career. He lived an entire life before he even got to Wake Forest — his last season of high school football was documented by the Netflix show “QB1.”

I’ll leave you with this, a story I always wanted to work into a feature I never got the chance to write:

Hartman’s last game of his freshman season was a loss to Syracuse (the year it won 10 games, 2018), and it dropped Wake Forest to 4-5. Things looked bleak with news that Hartman, who played well against the Orange, broke a bone in his foot and would miss the rest of the season. It seemed grimmer with a short week and a trip to N.C. State for a Thursday night game on tap.

Wake Forest turned over the reins to Jamie Newman, who stepped in and led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter that night in Raleigh. I’ll try to thread a needle here … Newman did a lot of things that night that Hartman couldn’t do as a 175-pound freshman. It culminated in the game-winning touchdown pass with 30-some seconds left.

It’s about 2-2½ hours of a drive from Raleigh to Winston-Salem, so I’d estimate Wake’s busses rolled onto campus around 2:30-3 a.m.

Sam Hartman was waiting when they returned to congratulate his teammates. 

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

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part IV: Notre Dame’s 2022 ended where it was always expected to

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Notre Dame v South Carolina
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Notre Dame did not get there in any way expected, but the Irish season ended about where anticipated in the preseason. Psychological studies could spend hours disagreeing if it would have been better for Notre Dame to go 10-3 with its three losses coming to three top-10 teams or if a 9-4 season with a top-10 upset is better for Marcus Freeman’s program in the long-term.

But either scenario was going to end with the Irish in the Gator Bowl, a likelihood as far back as August.

To finish this recap of 40 preseason predictions

32) “A freshman defensive back will intercept a pass this season, becoming just the second freshman to do so” since 2017. Notre Dame’s defensive backfields have been far from liabilities during this resurgence since the 2016 faceplant, but they have lacked young playmakers, Kyle Hamilton aside.

Enter Benjamin Morrison and not one, not two, not three … but six interceptions in his freshman season. Unfortunately for your prognosticator, that does not equal six correct predictions. (15.5/32)

33) “The spread when the Irish visit the Trojans will be more than a field goal but less than a touchdown.” And indeed, USC was favored by four when Notre Dame visited the weekend after Thanksgiving, in what may have been the last visit the weekend after Thanksgiving. Logic says the Irish and Trojans will continue playing regularly, but USC’s joining the Big Ten in 2024 could change the timing of the meetings, and NCAA rule changes have removed Notre Dame’s want to be on the West Coast that particular week.

The Irish used to disperse their coaches from Washington to Arizona to recruit the Pacific time zone immediately after the season-ending game in California. In a literal sense, it saved those coaches 12-24 hours to not have to travel to Seattle or Phoenix from South Bend, particularly vital in a crucial recruiting window.

But now, the days after Thanksgiving are a dead period, so the coaches cannot make those visits. They flew back with the team this year.

Combine that with the Big Ten flux and perhaps Notre Dame starts heading to USC at a different point in the calendar in 2024. (16.5/33)

34) “USC will not make the College Football Playoff.”

Between this, suggesting Ohio State would make the Playoff and mistakenly thinking Clemson would, as well, these preseason predictions accurately predicted the season conclusions for two of the three biggest Irish opponents in 2022. Already suspect the 2023 version will include none of the three making the Playoff. (17.5/34)

35) Sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles’ disappointing 2022 — 30 catches for 340 yards and one touchdown — cost him any semblance of NFL draft buzz a year before he is eligible for the draft. A breakout 2023 would obviously change that, but that was not the prediction. (17.5/35)

36) Blake Grupe fell two makes short of the predicted 80 percent field-goal rate, finishing at 73.7 percent on 14-of-19. A career 74.4 percent kicker before he arrived at Notre Dame, the Arkansas State graduate transfer’s 2022 fell in line with his career. (17.5/36)

37) Arguing Notre Dame would score fewer than 32.8 points per game in 2022 was based on the lack of depth at receiver, subsequently underscored by Styles’ struggles. Expecting the Irish to slow things down made a lower-scoring season a strong thought, though perhaps not as low as the 31.4 scored per game in 2018, the low of the last six years.

Notre Dame threaded that needle with 31.8 points per game, a number buoyed, though not shockingly, by the punt-block unit and Morrison’s contributions. (18.5/37)

38) The Irish had gone 54-10 in Brian Kelly’s final five years in South Bend, winning at least 10 games each year. Predicting a sixth season of double-digit wins was a mistake largely thanks to Audric Estimé’s fumble in the fourth quarter against Stanford. (18.5/38)

39) This final stretch of predictions focused on hitting a few tight windows. The spread against USC, the exact scoring average and … where Notre Dame would play in a bowl game.

“Notre Dame will play in Florida before New Year’s.”

As complicated as bowl scenarios get during the season and then even the week of selections with the Holiday Bowl in San Diego reportedly campaigning hard for the Irish, sticking with initial expectations would have been a smart travel-planning strategy. (19.5/39)

40) 

(20.5/40)

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

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment

Clemson v Notre Dame
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Recapping these preseason predictions bit by bit has emphasized how much of a see-saw Notre Dame’s 2022 was. They expected decent Irish success at Ohio State to open the season, which was realized. They then plainly assumed Notre Dame would continue to wallop overmatched opponents as Brian Kelly made the default.

Instead, Marcus Freeman stubbed his toe twice as first-year head coaches are wont to do, rendering that stretch of predictions largely flawed.

Now, the predictions tilt into early November, expecting little from the Irish. Of course, that was exactly when Freeman delivered the defining moment of his debut campaign.

21) “Notre Dame will top last year’s 41 sacks, which was a Kelly Era high. The Ademilola twins, junior defensive end Rylie Mills and at least one linebacker will each make at least three sacks.”

The first part of that fell inarguably short, 38 clearly less than 41. But the next sentence held more merit. Defensive end Justin Ademiloa and twin brother tackle Jayson Ademilola each had three sacks while Mills added 3.5. No linebacker reached three unless willing to still count Jordan Botelho as a linebacker with his 4.5 sacks. Given two of those came in the Gator Bowl when Botelho was clearly a defensive end, that would be generous grading. Instead, this entire prediction should be considered wrong, alas. (12/21)

22) Did this space continue publishing as planned after the Minnesota Timberwolves home opener? The running content calendar says a “Leftovers & Links” column ran on Oct. 20, the day after. Take the wins where you can find them, especially as a Timberwolves fan. (13/22)

23) The Irish had won 25 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents entering the season. Predicting that would reach 27 meant predicting Notre Dame would beat North Carolina and Syracuse. Check and check. (14/23)

24) That did not push the Irish into the top 10 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, as predicted, thanks to the mishaps against Marshall and Stanford. (14/24)

25) And here comes a stretch of predictions predicated in pessimism, focused on how Notre Dame would fare against Clemson. The Irish had won 16 straight games in November entering the 2022 season. Suggesting that would end at 16 was suggesting Notre Dame would lose to Clemson on the first weekend of November.

Rather, that was the win in Freeman’s first season that will be long remembered. (14/25)

26) That expected loss was based on Clemson’s defensive front holding Notre Dame’s ground game in check. There was no expectation the Irish would dominate there with 264 rushing yards on 46 carries after adjusting for a single one-yard sack. Logan Diggs ran for 114 yards on 17 carries while Audric Estimé took 18 rushes for 104 yards. (14/26)

27) That loss did not knock Clemson out of the College Football Playoff. The Tigers messing around and finding out against South Carolina did that. But regardless, predicting Clemson would return to the Playoff was ill-fated. (14/27)

28) Notre Dame was 30-1 in its last 31 home games entering the season. Predicting that would reach 35-2 in step with suggesting the Irish would lose to the Tigers was wrong in all sorts of ways, most notably in that the stretch is now 34-3 after Notre Dame went just 4-2 at home last season. Again, Marshall and Stanford. (14/28)

29) Boston College receiver Zay Flowers did not have the predicted 40-yard catch on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. He had a long of 39 yards on a snow-covered field playing with a backup quarterback.

The spirit of the prognostication was valid, but alas. (14/29)

30) Former Irish tight end George Takacs did not catch a touchdown in his return with the Eagles. No one did. (14/30)

31) And former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec did not have a “perfectly adequate day in his return to South Bend, not dramatic enough in any regard to confirm or deny anyone’s expectations for him that day.”

Jurkovec did not play at all, so let’s call this wager a push. He did, however, make some headlines from the sideline.

There is a strong chance this prediction is rerun in its entirety in 2023 with Jurkovec and Pittsburgh heading to South Bend on Oct. 28. (14.5/31)

Leftovers & Links: Ohio State, Clemson & Pittsburgh hurt most by early NFL draft entrants among Notre Dame’s opponents

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Notre Dame at Ohio State
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The first two notable dates of college football’s offseason passed last week, the deadline for players to enter the transfer portal before the spring semester and the deadline to enter the NFL draft. The former hardly warranted much notice at Notre Dame, only three players entering the portal after the 2022 season. While plenty did transfer from other programs, a mid-May look at that movement may better serve Irish purposes, as plenty of names will eventually leave Notre Dame.

The NFL deadline has no second passing. Players are either headed toward the NFL draft by now or they are not.

The Irish lost five players to early entry to the NFL, though two of those instances were offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson and defensive end Justin Ademilola, both of whom would have been returning for sixth collegiate seasons in 2023. So in a more genuine sense, Notre Dame lost only three players early to the NFL draft: tight end Michael Mayer, defensive end Isaiah Foskey and safety Brandon Joseph.

All five would have started for the Irish next season, obviously. But at most, Ademilola’s and Joseph’s declarations were surprises, and even those were only mild at most.

College football will slowly churn back toward college careers following “normal” timelines and more tenable roster management the further it gets from the universal pandemic eligibility waiver from 2020. That will not take all the way until the 2025 season. Coaches are already leaning toward it.

While Notre Dame would have gladly welcomed back Patterson and/or Ademilola, it also knew two realities.

1) Patterson should be a second- or third-round draft pick who could have gone to the NFL a year ago. His time is now.
2) A year of Ademilola’s production would come at the expense of the development of younger players that may already be on the verge, somewhat deflating the value of his return.

In a parallel way, coaching staffs fall into two categories.

1) Either they are doing well and trust they can recruit better players than any draft debaters now. Leaning into continued successful recruiting lengthens the timeline these coaches expect to continue to succeed.
2) Or they are failing and soon fired. A new coach would rather bring in new players, “his players,” to reboot the program.

In both scenarios, fewer and fewer sixth-year players will be seen around college football long before the 2025 season rules them out entirely.

All of that is to say, when discussing entrants into the NFL draft, it is more and more accurate to focus on the juniors (like Mayer) and the seniors (Foskey, Joseph) rather than the half-decade veterans. Those losses from Notre Dame’s 2023 opponents, in order of most severe to least …

Ohio State: Losing quarterback C.J. Stroud would top this list no matter who else was on it. Stroud alone would have made the Buckeyes the title favorites next season. Receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba also jumped to the NFL, though his final collegiate season was effectively nullified when a Joseph tackle in the season opener injured Smith-Njigba’s hamstring to an extent he never genuinely returned in 2022.

Center Luke Wypler and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. headed to the next level, as well, along with defensive tackle Dawand Jones and defensive back Ronnie Hickman.

But those latter losses are anticipated at elite programs. Ohio State has recruited to replace most of these players. The Buckeyes barely missed Smith-Njigba in 2022, and he may be the best receiver in the draft. Stroud, however, is a loss that will throw the early part of Ohio State’s 2023 into some question.

Clemson: Similarly, the Tigers losing three defensive linemen in Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and K.J. Henry along with linebacker Trenton Simpson may be too much to overcome in stride. As Clemson has so terribly struggled — throw some sarcasm on that phrasing — to just 10 and 11 wins the last two season, it has leaned on its defensive front.

The Tigers gave up only 102.7 rushing yards per game in 2022, No. 13 in the country, and 20.9 points per game, No. 22 in the country. A year ago, Clemson ranked No. 7 and No. 2 in the respective categories.

Replacing 29.5 tackles for loss from the 2022 season including 16 sacks will be a difficult task. Perhaps “terribly struggled” will no longer warrant sarcasm.

Pittsburgh: Not many programs saw two All-Americans jump to the NFL, but the Panthers did in running back Israel Abanikanda (1,431 yards on 5.99 yards per carry with 20 rushing touchdowns) and defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (14 tackles for loss with 7 sacks in 11 games). Safety Brandon Hill also provided Pittsburgh’s defense some versatility.

USC: The Trojans also lost two All-Americans to the NFL — which, come to think of it, Notre Dame did, as well, in Mayer and Foskey — in receiver Jordan Addison and defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. To be more clear, Addison was not a 2022 All-American, but one at Pittsburgh back in 2021. Injuries slowed him a touch in 2022, but overall, his talent is All-American in caliber.

Stanford: The Cardinal’s talent drain this offseason will warrant a deep dive. It is one to behold. The first line on it is quarterback Tanner McKee heading to the NFL with some draftniks thinking he should be an early-round pick.

When Stanford upset Notre Dame in October, McKee led the way with 288 yards on an impressive 26-of-38 completion rate. Losing him will drastically change the Cardinal ceiling in 2023, which is saying something considering how low that ceiling already was.

Central Michigan: Running back Lew Nicholls III did not have the statistical profile of someone who should head to the NFL already, with all of 616 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2022, but look back to 2021 and his choice makes more sense. He ran for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns with another 338 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Navy, Tennessee State, North Carolina State, Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest did not lose players to any early NFL decisions.

If this list seems abbreviated, that’s because it is throughout college football. Name, image and likeness rights have made it more enticing for players to return to school Reportedly, fewer players entered this draft early than at any time in the last decade.

To think, so many people insisted NIL rights would ruin college football. Here is hard evidence it has upgraded the talent in the sport.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Trio of early-enrolling Notre Dame receivers most likely of dozen arrivals to impact 2023
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: ND’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part II: Upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach

OUTSIDE READING
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