College Football has transformed the past several seasons. With the extra Covid year, NIL, and transfer portal, coaches must adapt quickly. The Fighting Irish had a successful transfer portal class and need to build off their recruiting momentum. Marcus Freeman has tackled every challenge head on since he took over in South Bend and he is the right man to lead the Fighting Irish into the new era of college football.
2023 Transfer Portal Success
Sam Hartman was one of the top transfer portal commits of the 2023 class. He was the #1 Transfer Portal quarterback and #5 player overall (247 Sports). Without a doubt, Hartman is the biggest transfer the Fighting Irish have got in the history of the program. If you want to read more about Sam Hartman’s potential, you can check out my previous article “Notre Dame Football: Irish have Heisman candidate with Sam Hartman.”
In addition to Hartman, Marcus Freeman was able to bolster the roster with Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Thomas Harper, Spencer Shrader, and Kaleb Smith. The Irish were able to add depth on offense, defense, and special teams. Unfortunately, Smith recently announced he will be retiring from football and his experience at wide receiver will certainly be a loss for the receiver room.
Although the Irish had a successful transfer class, retention will be a key for success moving forward. Notre Dame has lost several players to the portal this Spring including Caleb Johnson, Logan Diggs, Lorenzo Styles Jr., Prince Kollie, and Tyler Buchner. Players transfer for all sorts of reasons, but playing time is usually the underlying factor. Retaining starters in South Bend is not an issue, but the players who are anticipated to see backup roles will be a major point of concern with the new transfer rules.
This may lead to more underclassmen stepping up on the roster, since they are typically not expecting playing time immediately and less prone to entering the portal early in their college football careers.
More transfers coming to South Bend?
Notre Dame Football did not add many transfers during the Brian Kelly era. In fact, the Irish were lucky to add more than a handful each recruiting cycle. However, the transfer portal and one time transfer rule did not exist until a few years ago. Now, Coach Freeman put together perhaps the best transfer class in Notre Dame history to go bolster a solid 2023 recruiting class.
But for perspective, Notre Dame had the #12 recruiting class in the country and only the #44 transfer class ranking. Yes, Marcus Freeman added more transfers than the Irish norm, but it still does not compete with the other top schools. With that being said, many of the top transfer teams are programs like Colorado this year and USC a season ago (schools with a new head coach).
Yes, it is unfortunate Notre Dame lost out on some top recruits, but they were close to landing several five-star prospects that slipped away due to NIL and other reasons. Coach Freeman still signed 19 four-star prospects and 4 five-star prospects. It is not ideal to be without a five-star recruit, but most of the schools ahead of the Irish were filled with three-star players and Brian Kelly’s recruiting classes almost never had that “Blue-Chip” ratio.
Recruiting overall has improved under Marcus Freeman, but the Irish head coach is still dealing with limitations. Academics will always make it difficult to recruit certain players whether they want to attend Notre Dame out of high school or via the transfer portal.
From my knowledge, Notre Dame Football does not recruit junior college players. For better or worse, this does limit the players that other schools have access to in the portal. For instance the last two quarterbacks who took Auburn to the national title games in 2010 (Cam Newton) and 2013 (Nick Marshall), were both junior college transfers not available to Notre Dame.
Even with all the NIL deals going out, Coach Freeman was able to secure a top-12 recruiting class in his first recruiting cycle. The Irish were heavily involved in the recruitment of Dante Moore, Keon Keeley, and Peyton Bowen, to name a few 5-Star players. Moore almost committed, Keeley was committed until Alabama got heavily involved, and Bowen was a hard commitment until NIL likely got him to flip to Oregon then Oklahoma.
With the uncertainty of verbal commitments, the transfer portal is more important than ever. For example, USC went 4-8 in 2021, then landed 20 players in the transfer portal and went 11-3 the following season and were one win away from the playoffs.
Heading into the regular season showdown with the Trojans last year, I knew Caleb Williams was phenomenal, but I thought that USC would not be able to compete with the Irish upfront and I was wrong. Albeit with dozens of missed holding penalties on the USC offensive line (they don’t call holding in college football), Lincoln Riley was able to beat the Irish in his first season with a roster of transfers.
Overall, the transfer portal favors the blue-bloods like Notre Dame. It can be utilized as a minor league for players overlooked out of high school which helps the top programs. For Marcus Freeman to have long term success, he must continue to find the right mixture of high school athletes and players through the transfer portal.