As the calendar flips to October, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will spend the weekend competing… against themselves in a Sunday scrimmage. In a normal year, a scrimmage would be unheard of. However, Brian Kelly feels it necessary to do following 2 bye weeks of football (1 scheduled and 1 due to COVID-19) for his team. Due to the long layoff, people may already be forgetting about several trends that were beginning to emerge with the 2020 team. Today, I want to highlight the remarkable depth that Brian Kelly has built within his program.
During the majority of my lifetime, Notre Dame has had very talented individuals on both sides of the ball. However, they have typically lacked talented position groups. In past seasons, one injury to the right person had the potential to derail the entire season. More often than not, the backups at many positions simply were not anywhere close to the starters in terms of talent.
What has become obvious, especially within the past year, is the amount of talent up and down the Irish depth chart. Brian Kelly even made the remark, “We have a lot of good players that, when given the opportunity, will ‘Wally Pipp’ you.” I’m not sure any Irish fan can say they have been this comfortable with the roster from top to bottom since the days of Lou Holtz. Now, I am certainly not saying that the Irish are in the same category as Alabama or Ohio State in terms of having multiple 5-star players stockpiled at each position. Due to a variety of factors, I would argue Notre Dame will probably never be able to make such a claim. Based on the 247 Sports recruiting rankings, over the past 5 years Notre Dame has averaged the 13th best class in America. While Alabama holds the top spot with an average ranking of 2nd, Clemson came in at 9th and Oklahoma came in at 11th. While it is clear the coaching staff needs to bring in more elite talent at the skill positions, Notre Dame is still recruiting around other annual College Football Playoff contenders over the past several years.
Through 2 games, the offense has relied on 4 different running backs and leaned on 3 different tight ends. On defense, the line has consistently rotated 6 players, reliably used 8 different players in the secondary, and seen 3rd-string linebacker Jack Kiser make his first career start against USF on short notice and thrive. There are several reasons these things are happening. First and foremost, the players clearly buying into the process the coaches are preaching and dedicating the necessary time to their craft. Additionally, the coaching staff deserves kudos for their continued ability to identify the type of players that can succeed both athletically and academically at Notre Dame. Once the players get on campus, the current staff has shown a proficiency for developing them and providing younger guys the right amount of work to have them ready when their number is called upon.
When you consider where Notre Dame was just a few short years ago, it is remarkable to consider the transformation that has taken place. Brian Kelly and his staff have Notre Dame Football as close to “program” status as they have been in almost 30 years. Although the team’s depth will certainly be put to the test the remaining 9 games of this season, I am extremely confident that the current roster will be ready for anything that this crazy season throws their way.