Another recruiting campaign is in the books. One can only imagine how Brian Kelly and his staff feel after finally transforming 20 verbal commitments into signed, sealed and delivered players to join the four that officially became a part of the fold when the spring semester commenced.
The work load in pursuing, romancing, verbally securing, and then finally nailing down a recruiting class is every bit as time-consuming and intense as the work that goes into a football season, only spread out over 12 months and off the confined space of the gridiron.
Kelly said Wednesday on National Signing Day that the process actually has become a two-year endeavor for each class with one campaign overlapping the other as evidenced by Jake Brown's “Next: Looking Ahead to ’16” story that appeared on Irish Illustrated shortly after Kelly’s press conference.
So what is the reality of the Class of 2015? There is no definitive reality, at least nothing that can be documented with certainty at the present time as it relates to the success/failure of specific individuals.
Although opinions by Kelly and others can be stated with conviction as to what will happen with the 24-man group heretofore known as the Shamrock Soldiers, it becomes rendered to an educated guess once they begin the process of mixing with their fellow troops and embarking upon a journey into the unknown where the twists and turns of a game that dictate to you more than you dictate to it shape the route you’ll traverse.
What we do know is that this phase of the football calendar year is now over, and it’s on to what promises to be a fascinating 2015, which looks like a crescendo in the roller coaster ride that is college – and more specifically – Notre Dame football.
While you generally can take it to the bank that the Alabamas, Ohio States, Oregons and Florida States will be in the running for the golden egg, it’s a little more difficult and cyclical for the Fighting Irish.
And yet with 19 or 20 starters returning – depending upon how one assesses such numbers in light of the return of suspended players to the already young corps of producers who ended the ’14 season on a crescendo – the 2015 season is hope-filled for the Fighting Irish.
Some years, the realistic goal is eight or nine victories and the shot at a new bowl option afforded by Jack Swarbrick’s brilliant negotiating skills with the ACC.
Sometimes it’s nine or 10 regular-season victories and a chance to play in a bowl game that goes by the name that even the youngest of college football fans would recognize from early childhood.
Sometimes the goal is much greater, somewhere in the 10-to-11-to-the-oh-my-God victory range. We’ll know at some point during the September-to-November exam what is realistic. The expectation for success heading into a season has never been greater in the Kelly regime than it will be this fall – even more so than the year after the national-title run minus the starting quarterback.
DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE
One of the frustrating aspects of a recruiting campaign is the hyperbole spewing from the national analysts who feed the monster by offering nothing but superlatives of every player and coach involved in the process, all under the guise of the media.
It’s all such an incredible game that is intended to suck fans into the process so they’ll pull out their credit cards to hear what they want to hear. When you’ve been listening to it for the better part of three-and-a-half decades, it turns your stomach after awhile…like about 25 years ago or so.
For a coach who rattles off the names and superlatives on signing day, it’s understandable. They are entitled to foster the hype. For those who are supposed to be playing the role of media, it’s distasteful, an out-and-out lie.
Yet each year, the “recruiting media” declares the recently-concluded campaign a success on all fronts, which is the perpetuation of a lie coming from those who have an obligation to avoid such chatter.
Everyone knows that in a class of 24 or so players, one-third will be standouts (perhaps a little more or less on occasion), one-third will be contributors in a more minor capacity, and one-third will offer little in a positive way on the football field during their collegiate stints.
And yet each year, we are asked to assess a two-dozen man class and invariably, some talking heads offer nothing but superlatives about each and every one of them.
What a farce. They are selling you the dream scenario of your favorite team…while reaching into your pocket with the other hand.
Those so inclined are gullible enough to nod their heads in agreement, disregarding the reality of what will happen to these shiny new toys. Many will be stepped on and tossed around, falling behind the rest of the pack when a new batch of sparkling product arrives 12, 24, 36 months later.
Lest it is forgotten in today’s hype-filled recruiting media, it is our job at Irish Illustrated to deal in real terms, even if at the end of the present day, it remains an educated guess at best. But at least it’s an attempt at a realistic guess, one that tries to avoid fleecing you out of your hard-earned dollars with a sales pitch that can’t statistically come true.
STATING A CLAIM
And so before returning to reality, which is that a large majority of these freshmen won’t contribute in 2015 because the Irish are loaded coming out of the program-stamping victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl, we offer a list of 10 players in this class who will eventually emerge as the standouts in the Class of 2015, and then leave it at that until a more relevant time to discuss it rolls around.
We won’t offer a list of those we think have the greatest chance to flop because that would be crass. But when a recruit or two are certain to preserve a year of eligibility, yet on signing day a member of the media talks about his very realistic chance of making a significant contribution in 2015, one has an obligation to use the tried-and-true percentages as a gauge.
We offer this challenge to you, hyperbole-spewing “recruiting media” that declares every player a great catch and a future star while stroking the egos of assistant coaches so they’ll continue to provide inside information. Follow the standard percentages of a class, recognizing that one-third will be standouts, one-third will be contributors and one-third won’t make a mark. Run the risk of offending the mom or dad of a recruit that you’ve been telling is the second coming of Peyton Manning or Lawrence Taylor when, in fact, he is closer to a spot in the stands than the Hall of Fame.
Go on record and declare the one-third-or-so of the class that will be starters in their fourth and/or fifth seasons at Notre Dame.
Best guess based upon film study? Let’s go with these 10: Kicker Justin Yoon, linebacker Josh Barajas, tight end Alize Jones, quarterback Brandon Wimbush, running back Josh Adams, wide receiver Miles Boykin, center Tristen Hoge, cornerbacks Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman, and safety Mykelti Williams.
We could go on and include guys like running back Dexter Williams, who has big-time speed and game-breaking ability, or slot receiver C.J. Sanders, who has all the tools for the Z position, or two-way lineman Jerry Tillery, who has been christened a future dominant player from individuals with a far greater insight into such things, or Jalen Guyton, who could prove to be a “sleeper” despite his four-star status.
What’s not to like about the athleticism – and name – of Equanimeous St. Brown, the physicality of Te’von Coney, the technical soundness of guard Trevor Ruhland, or the athleticism of Bo Wallace and Asmar Bilal? Even the least-touted of the class – undersized safety Nicco Fertitta – virtually has been handed a starting job on special teams out of the chute by Kelly.
But at the end of the day – and a college football career – the numbers stand pretty stout. There are, generally speaking, a finite number of players from a recruiting class that will take the lead and play a starring role. The rest will not because there will be a whole new set of shiny toys ready to unseat them a year from now and the year after that and the year after that.
Don’t believe the used-car salesmen who tell you your previously-owned vehicle is without flaws. Not to put down the young men who have a crystal-clear dream of starring on the football field. They are entitled to and must cling to their dream to reach their potential. But it’s an adult world in which we live, even if the recruiting hyperbole tells you that everything and everybody will come out smelling like a rose.
Which takes us back to present-day reality, which is that the Irish will need a limited number of freshmen to make a significant contribution in 2015 as they embark upon what appears to be one of those seasons that could stand out among Notre Dame’s lore-filled history. The Irish simply won’t need a ton of freshman contributions, and most won’t be in a position to unseat those ahead of them anyway.
What is fact and what is fiction? It’s difficult to tell on signing day. None of us are wise enough to know exactly which will fail and which will succeed. There are simply too many variables involved to know for sure.
But we do know not all will be stars, and certainly not all are capable of making an immediate contribution on a team loaded with competent, established football players returning in 2015.
One thing we do know is that the percentage of success/failure almost always stays true to form, regardless how attractive the snake-oil salesmen try to make the product sound.