Why can’t Notre Dame sign more 5-stars? What does Boise mean for scheduling? Irish mailbag

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame is in full-on recruiting mode with Irish Invasion complete and a round of official visits incoming. The Irish still have the nation’s top-ranked class on two major recruiting networks. Notre Dame keeps showing up in most preseason top 10s, too. It’s all set up for Marcus Freeman to take the Irish into the College Football Playoff, potentially hosting a game at Notre Dame in December.

Basically, Notre Dame enters the summer months in prime position on all fronts.

You’ve got questions about all that, from Irish chances to sign five-star talent to future schedules to Notre Dame’s position in this new NIL/revenue sharing era. Let’s get started.

Despite Marcus Freeman’s strong efforts, Notre Dame is not piling up any more five-star kids than they used to (but they do seem to be improving at the top-100 or top-200 level, along with blue-chip ratio). What specifically is different about the five-star recruits that makes them different than four-star recruits? Namely, what is different that leads to them not signing with Notre Dame? — David C.

There are plenty of reasons behind Notre Dame’s struggle to land five-star prospects, but the biggest issue may simply be scarcity.

During the past four recruiting cycles, the 247Sports Composite included 145 five-star prospects. Notre Dame signed one (Jaylen Sneed) and was seriously involved with a dozen more: Keon Keeley, Peyton Bowen, Justin Scott, Dante Moore, Nicholas Singleton, Sonny Styles, etc. That’s it. The Irish weren’t seriously involved with any of the 28 five-star prospects in the 247Sports Composite this past cycle.

If anything, people overstate how many five-star prospects are out there. Yes, people realize there are roughly 30 per class. But a big chunk of them are annually ticketed to Alabama, Georgia or Ohio State. Those three schools signed 55 (37.9 percent) of the five-star prospects in the past four cycles. Typically, prospects looking at the Tide, Bulldogs or Buckeyes aren’t looking for the same things the Irish push in recruiting. Then there’s the NIL-focused schools like Ole Miss, Colorado, Texas A&M, Oregon, Miami and Tennessee. That group signed 25 five-star prospects in the previous four cycles (17.2 percent of the total). Again, those schools recruit from a different starting point than Notre Dame. When the Irish get involved in a recruiting against those programs, Notre Dame knows the fight doesn’t have much to do with academics or player development.



Marcus Freeman knows what Year 3 means at Notre Dame

Combined, those two groups of programs — the NFL factories plus the NIL schools — are removing more than half the five-star prospects from the field before Notre Dame can really get involved. That doesn’t even get to admissions or location, with the majority of five-star prospects choosing to either stay in-state or in-region. Again, that creates a problem for Notre Dame when Indiana produced one five-star prospect in the previous four cycles: receiver Mylan Graham, who signed with Ohio State and Notre Dame could not recruit.

During that same four-year window, Illinois produced three five-star prospects: Scott (Miami), Marquise Lightfoot (Miami) and Luther Burden III (Missouri). Only Scott was a serious recruit for the Irish before he committed to Ohio State and then flipped to Miami at the end. Michigan produced three five-star prospects: Moore (UCLA), Will Johnson (Michigan) and Damon Payne (Alabama). Moore was trending to Notre Dame until he wasn’t, then transferred to Oregon after his freshman year.

For the most part, five-star prospects are making football decisions when it comes to commitments. Notre Dame hasn’t produced first-round picks like some of the other schools in play. It hasn’t won games like those schools either. And while “Choose Hard” attracts plenty of talent, it also repels some, too. If you’re viewed as a future first-round pick (i.e. a three-and-out talent), the idea of coming to Notre Dame and grinding through three years in the classroom might not be the most appealing. For those prospects interested enough to take that on, Notre Dame has to land them. Or at least keep trying.

There will be more Michael Mayer, Kyle Hamilton, Michael Floyd and Jimmy Clausen types of prospects. There just are fewer out there than it may seem.

Any background of how the Boise State game came to be? It’s a very unique and interesting matchup against one of the top-level Group of 5 teams that is in stark contrast to much of the “meh” of this year’s home schedule. The Boise State fan base has a history of traveling well to these sorts of big games and the Boise media was championing the pending announcement as the “biggest scheduling announcement in program history.” Does this game get scheduled without a 12-team playoff? Is this the start of a change in ND’s scheduling philosophy to provide more fun games (with more risks for losses) for the fans? Or was this just an easy path to fill a hole in the ’25 schedule? – Matt P.

I haven’t had a chance to sit down with Pete Bevacqua to ask him how he sees future schedules, what works for Notre Dame in the 12-team College Football Playoff era and what doesn’t. But he is a former television executive who understands how much Notre Dame needs NBC, and vice versa, and the idea of adding quality to the Irish schedule is easy to grasp. Notre Dame needs to deliver ratings to NBC, which Central Michigan and Northern Illinois do not. Boise State may not be your older brother’s Broncos, but its brand is big enough to interest both television and ticket buyers. Boise State may be one of the easiest one-off tickets to sell for Notre Dame’s athletic department.

I don’t think Bevacqua would presume to know how scheduling will impact selection in the 12-team (or potential 14-team) CFP world because nobody has lived it quite yet. Because more teams are being evaluated, does the middle of the schedule count more? Does the bottom? During the four-team era the focus was on the top, meaning games like Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan, etc., carried the conversation. Opening up the field to 12 teams will require splitting a different kind of hair, which maybe Boise State helps for Notre Dame.

I wouldn’t point to Boise State as a trend for future schedules, but I’d welcome it. It’s a more interesting matchup than most of Notre Dame’s ACC games.

What should we make of Marcus Freeman’s recent bullish comments on Charles Jagusah? Standard coach speak to present an optimistic outlook, a real deal that the coaching staff is highly confident Jagusah will be a quality player from what they’ve seen or the always popular “a little of both”? — James R.

It’s always both, but I’m similarly bullish on Jagusah heading into his sophomore year. He’s more than a year removed from the leg/knee injury that put him behind for basically his entire freshman season. A former Notre Dame coach told me that when Jagusah enrolled, he didn’t look close to the player the Irish thought they were getting in recruiting. But he did by the end of last season. I keep going back to when I saw Jagusah at the El Paso airport the morning after the Sun Bowl. There were probably a dozen players by the gate area. Most were sleeping after a night of partying. Jagusah was already watching film of the game and critiquing his performance out loud. That’s got to be worth something.

As for Freeman’s commentary, how he said it stuck with me as much as what he said. He dismissed the idea Jagusah would be a question at all. When somebody suggested Jagusah could move to right tackle and Aamil Wagner could play left, Freeman almost looked offended by the suggestion. There are questions about this team, but left tackle appears to be one more on the outside of the Gug than within the building.

None of this is to say Jagusah will pick up where Joe Alt left off. Just that the coaching staff believes (with good reason) left tackle isn’t in any better or worse shape than the guard positions or center. Notre Dame’s offensive line will still need time to develop in-season this fall. There may be games where it looks disjointed and developmental. But Jagusah should be more part of the solution to that than a problem.

Notre Dame administrators have previously said that if universities are required to treat college athletes as employees, Notre Dame will follow a different path a la University of Chicago in the early 20th century. After the NCAA-House settlement, that line in the sand appears closer to becoming reality than ever. Are any of your administration sources worried about spending all of this money on a new facility when that building may ultimately house a team that isn’t even competing in the top tier of college football? — Jack L.

Freeman believes Notre Dame will pay its players as well as any program in the country. Bevacqua said Notre Dame desperately needs to win a national championship in football. A $100 million facility is going up. Two coordinators got unprecedented four-year contracts pushing $18 million total. The Irish got a top graduate transfer quarterback from the portal in back-to-back years and it’s understood that a quarterback costs in the ballpark of $1 million.

I know what former Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins wrote in The New York Times nine years ago. And all that was fine. But Notre Dame isn’t operating in any way, shape or form like a school thinking about taking its ball and going home if more and more money goes to athletes.

Notre Dame may not like how the game has changed when it comes to competing in big-time college football. But it’s going to play it. And pay it.



Sampson: For Notre Dame football, Shields Hall investment can be a game-changer

It’s January 2025. Notre Dame made the CFP and won two games. Several schools have also fired their head coach. Aside from Ohio State, what other schools would you guess could court reasonable interest from Freeman? How far would Bevacqua and Fr. Bob Dowd go to give Freeman support in terms of money, transfers and admissions and staffing to keep him at Notre Dame? — Stephen O.

Notre Dame is already supporting Freeman plenty in terms of staffing and facilities. See above. If he wins two games in the College Football Playoff (or even one), I would expect Notre Dame to draw up a contract extension that puts Freeman among the highest-paid head coaches in the sport. And that would have been earned after a season like the one you’re describing. Admissions is harder to read. Like every Notre Dame football coach since the dawn of time, Freeman wants more prospects admitted than Notre Dame’s admissions department deems admissible. Maybe that pendulum swings a bit more toward football. It’s already in a football-friendly place.

With everything coming online with Notre Dame football in the next two years, it’s hard to believe Freeman would look around outside of Ohio State. Or put it another way, Brian Kelly might still be Notre Dame’s head coach if Shields Hall and Notre Dame’s NIL stance were today’s version back in 2021.

Any chance Tyler Buchner returns to QB room instead of receiver? Personally don’t feel or think it’s far-fetched since he was battling out Sam Hartman for starter last spring, although the writing was on the wall Hartman was QB1. Also feel like this is a good question to ask someone with insider knowledge to answer to the public. — Alec B.

I’ve asked.

Zero chance.

Freeman didn’t want to reintroduce him to that group, which has evolved incredibly since Buchner was Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. If Buchner insisted on playing quarterback full-time again, I’m not sure this comeback story would have had another football chapter.



Tyler Buchner returning to Notre Dame football team as walk-on WR

(Top photo of Marcus Freeman: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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