Brian Kelly already set recruiting expectations for next cycle. And Notre Dame’s head coach has the numbers to back up his forecast, including some he didn’t even use on National Signing Day.
Because despite having his new coaching staff in place for a full year and what could be a strong season at his back, how the Irish finish in the team rankings next February probably won’t look that different than it did last week.
“Since I've been here, if you look at the average rankings, we're anywhere from 5 to 15,” Kelly said. “We're going to fall somewhere in that range because there's a line there we can't get over based upon what our distinctions are here. That line is going to keep us between 5 and 15.
“We know where we're going to fall.”
When it comes to the Scout.com rankings, Kelly is right. His best class – it included Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, Max Redfield, Isaac Rochell and Greg Bryant – topped out at No. 5. His worst class was his transitional one. It ranked No. 19 back on signing day in 2010. Kelly’s middle ground classes ranked No. 6 (’14 and ’15), No. 8 (’11), No. 13 (’17), No. 14 (’16) and No. 16 (’12).
And while it might sound strange, mirroring the haul that preceded the BCS National Championship Game season might offer a blueprint. While that was Kelly’s lowest-rated class it was also his smallest at 17 signees, a group that included Ronnie Stanley, KeiVarae Russell and Sheldon Day.
Quantity was an issue that year. Quality was not.
That needs to be the case again.
The Irish already have six commitments in the junior class in quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running back Markese Stepp, linebackers Bo Bauer and Ovie Oghoufo, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola and defensive end Justin Ademilola. That fills Notre Dame’s needs at quarterback, linebacker and potentially running back.
However, the Irish still need three receivers, four defensive backs and four offensive linemen to go with a couple more defensive linemen, a tight end and potentially another running back. If Notre Dame got everything it wanted, that would put the Irish at a 21-man class. And it’s hard to see how Notre Dame can make room for all that based on Irish Illustrated’s first Scholarship Chart for 2018 (see below).
Notre Dame could easily have eight fifth-year seniors for 2018 in Nic Weishar, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, Jonathan Bonner, Jay Hayes, Drue Tranquill, Nick Watkins and Tyler Newsome. The number would swell to nine if Quenton Nelson made a shock decision to return.
The Irish had just three fifth-year seniors last season in Jarron Jones, Avery Sebastian and Mark Harrell (Sebastian was actually a sixth-year senior). While none of the eight listed above would be at Jones’ level, they’d all be more critical components than Sebastian or Harrell. It’s hard to see the Irish staff turning that kind of experience away.
In other words, if Notre Dame’s six commitments stick, those eight fifth-year seniors return and the Irish go a year without a transfer, medical or expulsion (an unlikely trifecta), just five slots remain in next year’s recruiting class.
So could the Irish really sign an 11-man class? Of course not. That’s not how college football roster turnover works. There will be some unexpected roster departures in the coming year. Still, there’s no question Notre Dame will feel the 85-man scholarship limit next cycle in a different way.
Here’s a look at the Scholarship Chart for 2018. It’s clear the Irish need help at offensive line and cornerback, but the status of safety, linebacker, defensive line, quarterback and running back might be better than you think.
Scholarship Chart 2018
|Ian Book*||Brandon Wimbush*|
|RB||Markese Stepp||C.J. Holmes
Tony Jones Jr.*
|Deon McIntosh*||Miles Boykin*
Equanimeous St. Brown
|TE||Cole Kmet*||Brock Wright||Alize Jones*||Nic Weishar*|
|Parker Boudreaux*||Trevor Ruhland*|
|C||Tristen Hoge*||Sam Mustipher*|
|Ade Ogundeji*||Daelin Hayes
|Darnell Ewell||Micah Dew-Treadway*
|Jonathan Jones*||Josh Barajas*
|Spencer Perry*||Drue Tranquill#|
|CB||Shaun Crawford##||Julian Love
Troy Pride Jr.
|S||Jordan Genmark-Heath*||D.J. Morgan*
*Took a red-shirt season to preserve a season of eligibility
# Took a medical red-shirt season
## Took two medical red-shirt seasons.