Is Notre Dame recruiting well enough to win a national title? Probably not.
Are the Irish recruiting well enough to make the College Football Playoff? Absolutely yes.
Figuring out how much talent Notre Dame owns is a constant conversation point during the off-season that usually isn’t accompanied by much data. But looking over the numbers from the past decade of title winners and the first two College Football Playoff fields shows how far the Irish are from winning a championship but also how close they are to playing for one.
Looking at the Scout team rankings from the past four years, which includes Notre Dame’s incoming freshman class, the Irish roster will feature three Top 10 classes next season. The freshman class ranked No. 13 on National Signing Day and ultimately hopes for a five-star Demetris Robertson bump.
Without Robertson, that’s an average class ranking of 7.5.
How does that stack up against the last 10 national title winners?
On the surface, that talent on hand puts Notre Dame in relatively good company with the past decade of champions. It’s close to Florida State in ’13 (9.0), Auburn in ’10 (10.5), Alabama in ’09 (10.8) and LSU in ’07 (8.3). All but LSU had that year’s Heisman Trophy winner on the roster.
The issue beneath the surface is the lack of a truly elite recruiting class on the roster.
Notre Dame finished in the top four nationally just once in the past 14 years. Alabama has signed a top four class in five straight cycles. Ohio State has done it in four straight.
Of the past 10 national champions, all but Auburn in ’10 had finished first or second in Scout’s team rankings at least once in the four cycles before winning it all. In other words, it either takes signing a No. 1 or No. 2 class to win a championship or it takes Cam Newton.
However, the data is much kinder to Notre Dame when it comes to making the College Football Playoff.
Clemson went undefeated during the regular season without signing a single Top 10 class during the previous four years. Oklahoma had cracked the Top 10 just once (finishing No. 10 in ’12). Michigan State wasn’t even close and its junior class last season was an absurdly ranked No. 47 nationally.
The year prior told a similar story. While Alabama and Ohio State recruit on a different plane, Notre Dame is very much in the hunt with Oregon and Florida State. The Seminoles cracked the Top 10 twice with the four classes used to build that team. The Ducks didn’t make the Top 10 once in constructing a team that lost to Ohio State in the title game.
Of course, Oregon and Florida State both had Heisman Trophy winners.
So what’s the takeaway for Notre Dame as it waits on Robertson and looks to replace Robert Beal after the four-star defensive end de-committed?
For starters, Notre Dame already has the material to contend for the College Football Playoff, even with Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller gone. It’s not like other playoff contenders aren’t also losing juniors to the NFL. In Jarron Jones, Torii Hunter Jr., Tarean Folston, Cole Luke, Nyles Morgan and Mike McGlinchey, the Irish have more than enough talent to hit double-digit wins.
However, there’s no debating the national title data, either. When it comes to winning it all, the Irish haven’t recruited well enough to stand with most of the championship teams of the past decade. And they’re not close to the Crimson Tide or Buckeyes in that department now, either.
Consider that Notre Dame has signed just three five-star prospects during the past four cycles (Jaylon Smith, Nyles Morgan and Alize Jones). Ohio State has signed seven. Alabama has signed 21.
In other words, Notre Dame is signing contending talent but not title talent based on the Scout team rankings. How Brian Kelly can bridge gap will be a major part of the next recruiting cycle.