The beautiful thing about college football recruiting is it never stops. For anything. Global pandemic? Fiddlesticks. The show goes on.
The bad thing about college football recruiting is it never stops. For anything. And for some schools, like for instance Notre Dame, some sort of pause button might have been useful. But, that’s not how recruiting works, and there are no free rides for anyone.
Notre Dame football recruiting post-COVID-19 can best be described as a slog. They’ve lost out on a number of their top prospects, their top-rated receiver (Deion Colzie) decommitted, and the outlook at running back that once looked so promising is now as foggy as ever. There is also significant concern they could lose four-star defensive end David Abiara, though his departure from the list of the committed is less certain than it was a month ago.
The Irish currently sit at #13 nationally per 247’s composite rankings with 12 recruits with an average rating of 91.01 (which is actually higher than it has been the last couple of seasons). On paper, recruiting is going pretty well, but the consternation from fans comes from what’s on the horizon. By appearances, Notre Dame only has a good chance to land one more top 100 player–offensive lineman Rocco Spindler–the skill position outlook is unclear at best. If Notre Dame doesn’t land four-star linebacker Prince Kollie, things are remarkably murky at linebacker.
At this point, a top 10 class would be a blessing, top five–Brian Kelly’s stated goal– not even a dream. Naturally, the issue of the COVID restrictions have come up (no one can take visits!) and how much of an impact that has had on the class. If you’re a bottom-line type of person, then you’re more likely to say that the restrictions are no excuse. After all, every school is working in the same environment, like rain at a football game.
And I would agree with that. COVID restrictions can’t be an excuse for a substandard recruiting class. But, it can be a reason for one.
Don’t Pretend The Restrictions Are A Wash For Everyone
You don’t have to be Tom Lemming to understand that an environment where players are willing to commit to schools without taking any visits is not going to be favorable for Notre Dame. The entire Notre Dame recruiting model, long before Brian Kelly agreed to be the head coach, has been centered around the on-campus official visit. That’s the main selling point. Get the players on campus, let them feel the atmosphere and the spirits and all that. Losing that, well, it’s not good.
And I realize other schools have to recruit too, yes, but let’s be honest it’s a lot easier to convince a player who is from North Carolina to play in or near North Carolina, or Atlanta, or Texas than it is to convince them to play in South Bend. I’m not a high profile recruit or anything, but I’m pretty sure Ryan Day doesn’t spend a lot of time overcoming objections to Columbus.
To some extent, for Notre Dame to maximize their ability to attract players to their football program, they need them to be able to visit the campus, preferably during a game week or with other players around. And if you’re a fan of the program, you understand this on some level.
The Show Does Go On
That all being said, the restrictions don’t excuse bad process, and they have exposed it. Perhaps the staff was 100% confident they’d be getting Shipley’s pledge during the huge March 22nd official visit, as the public evidence seems to suggest, but that only highlighted the lack of plan beyond him. Things happen in recruiting, generally not to this scale, but they happen. Leaving all your eggs in one basket, especially when it’s a five-star player who you’re competing with a top school for, is bad process. The same goes for offensive line and linebacker. The virus sucks, and it put them in a bad spot, but they were forced to try and build relationships in April and May, and that’s not a formula for success in the recruiting world.
Good Idea To Be Patient This Cycle
Typically, if things look bleak in July, things will continue to look bleak for the rest of the cycle. Again, the nature of the beast. But that’s in a normal environment. This cycle has not been like any other in recent memory, so I think the preconceived notions we have about commitments and where things stand in July should go out the window. What happens if games start getting shown again? What happens if visits are allowed to take place? Suddenly all those guys who weren’t able to visit now can, or players who were previously committed can get back to campus. Those are variables that could change things rapidly this year. I wouldn’t rule out anyone who Notre Dame has been after, is going after, has committed elsewhere, has decommitted. It’s all in play.
It’s understandable for fans to be frustrated or critical. I’ve gone back and forth on this myself. But, we should let things unfold before declaring X coach is doing a lousy job, or that coach is blowing it. Things looked really good in March for a reason, and there is plenty of time for the program to get back on the right track this cycle, as cloudy as it looks today.