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Notre Dame Football: The growing importance of graduate transfers for the Irish

Is this the new normal everyone is talking about?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Notre Dame at Northwestern Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish added an unprecedented number of graduate transfers to its roster this year with the additions of Bennett Skowronek, Trevor Speights, Nick McCloud, and Isaiah Pryor. The Irish have had mixed results with transfers over the years, and most of the graduate transfers never became major contributors to the program.

That may change quite dramatically this year.

Skowronek was a very reliable and productive player with the Northwestern Wildcats. Isaiah Pryor will be battling Houston Griffith for the safety spot opposite Kyle Hamilton — and even then will likely see a fair amount of time in the rotation. Nick McCloud will probably be the starting boundary corner, and Trevor Speights will be given every opportunity from Lance Taylor and Tommy Rees to become one of the main running backs in the rotation.

The fact that these players seemingly figure to be in the mix for such prominent roles could be seen as an even brighter spotlight on Notre Dame’s recruiting deficiencies — and yet — the spotlight should be on the positive side and not on the negative.

We only have to go back 10 years (just throwing a number out) to remember one of the talking points of how Notre Dame has a harder job in front of them to “reload” because they don’t allow junior college transfers. JUCO players have played major roles in helping a team fill whatever voids that they have with experience players. It’s how the Kansas State Wildcats were such a solid program under Bill Snyder, or how the Auburn Tigers were able to go toe to toe with the Alabama Crimson Tide despite significant differences in recruiting.

The graduate transfer is the new JUCO.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - North Carolina State v Texas A&M Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

More and more players are using the graduate transfer rule, and because of the implementation of the transfer portal, it has become easier for teams looking to add talent to the roster to find that talent and recruit them to their school. It’s more than the JUCO route — it’s just an expanded use of recruiting.

It can also be more accurate than high school recruiting in terms of talent evaluation. As Tim Prister has mentioned many times — it’s a lot easier to evaluate talent for the college level that has already played on that level.

The recruiting advantages for Notre Dame that we highlight (academic profile, exposure, networking, etc.) can be even more enticing for graduate transfers that are less likely to be swayed by the typical recruiting tactics by the country’s top recruiters. These are college graduates and look at things much differently than a high school junior that just learned to drive a car.

The results of this year’s graduate transfers at Notre Dame won’t necessarily determine the frequency of this route for the Irish, but it will certainly put the minds of fans at lot more at ease.

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted Notre Dame’s recruiting effort more so than the other national powers. The things that make Notre Dame unique and what determines its power is recruiting on a national level. They HAVE to go coast to coast for top talent as other top tier programs have much more talent in their backyard. This means that the 2021 class for Notre Dame is all but guaranteed to be much lower ranked than we had hoped — possibly even lower than what pessimistic fans would throw out. How will the Irish make up for what could be lack of top tier talent in this class? Well... by properly using the graduate transfer rule to fill in the roster as needed (duh, it’s what this article is all about).

While adding four graduate transfers is unheard of in South Bend, it may very well be the new normal for the next several years or more — and that’s fine. In fact, I think it’s exactly what the Irish should do, and it might also be what helps them get over the hump as far as the college football playoffs are concerned. It’s an optimistic take for sure, but it’s rooted in real possibilities.