As the Irish prepare to take the field in Las Vegas on Saturday, their primary focus will be earning a much-needed statement win over BYU. However, the annual Shamrock Series game presents a unique opportunity for Notre Dame to showcase their brand to fans and recruits who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to see the Irish play close to home.
“There are certain parts of the country that Notre Dame doesn’t have the opportunity to play,” Kyle Kelly, a Notre Dame recruiting insider with Rivals, said in an interview with The Observer. “With the Shamrock Series, that gives Notre Dame the opportunity to pick certain spots within the country that they don’t really have much of a presence…going there gives them the ability to showcase the program (and) the team.”
Several of Notre Dame’s commits from the west coast will be in attendance this weekend, including four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan, four-star wide receiver Rico Flores, Jr. and four-star running back Jayden Limar, according to Kelly.
While Notre Dame is certainly a national brand, the recent success of west coast schools such as USC and UCLA means that the Irish are facing increased competition in that area of the country.
“USC is the hot team right now, Lincoln Riley a brand new coach,” said Kelly. “UCLA has been doing well this year, and now Notre Dame is like, alright well, we’re going to go out on the west coast and get in front of people to get our own exposure.”
This weekend’s game will be played in the state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Raiders, which also presents an opportunity for the Irish. “Notre Dame can use this as a selling point, that hey, for our Shamrock Series game, we’re going to play in an NFL stadium,” Kelly said. The Irish will play in an NFL stadium at least once more this year when they visit Navy in Baltimore.
While the location and venue certainly do provide unique opportunities for the Irish to showcase their brand, perhaps more importantly, the Irish can prove this weekend that their season is firmly headed in the right direction.
“I think there was a lot of worry and skepticism when Notre Dame lost week two against Marshall,” Kelly said. “That caused us to check in with commits, see what their stances were, and now that some of these guys, these highly rated prospects, that are also getting courted from other schools, now we get to bring them in person, to an NFL stadium, in Las Vegas, in primetime.”
The slow start to the season did not dampen the momentum the Irish had built in recruiting over the summer. The only recruit to de-commit since that Marshall loss is Elijah Paige, a 4-star offensive tackle. While Kelly says that he is uncertain as to why Paige de-committed, a factor could be that he wanted to play closer to home. Paige, who is from Phoenix, committed to USC earlier this week.
Peyton Bowen, a four-star safety per Rivals-several other outlets have listed him as a five-star–headlines Notre Dame’s recruiting class next year. However, he has openly been visiting other schools, particularly Texas A&M and Oklahoma. “Is there a reason to worry that now this is the perfect excuse for him to leave the class?” Kelly said. “It almost seems like sometimes he’s been looking for an excuse to de-commit from Notre Dame.”
There was concern, after Notre Dame’s loss to Marshall, that it would have an effect on recruiting, but it has not panned out that way. Aside from Paige, Bowen and the rest of the class have remained committed to Notre Dame. Rivals currently has Notre Dame’s incoming recruiting class ranked third, behind only Alabama and Ohio State.
“When you’re losing those types of games, then you maybe see those types of recruits that are on the edge of ‘maybe Notre Dame isn’t right for me, okay Notre Dame loses two games. Now’s the time to go,’” Kelly said. “But they really haven’t had that, they’ve kept everything together.”
Kelly described most of the class of 2023 as “locked in” at Notre Dame. “From what we’ve heard, both from Notre Dame, and talking to kids and their coaches and parents, is most of these guys are locked in,” he said. “They are 100 percent, fully committed to Notre Dame and there’s going to be no change in their status.”
Notre Dame does not have a quarterback committed in the class of 2023, although there is a push for highly-touted commit CJ Carr to reclassify from the class of 2024, although Kelly noted that appears unlikely at this stage. “I think Notre Dame is pretty much looking for anything they can get at quarterback right now,” Kelly said. “They need bodies at that position.”
Kelly noted quarterback Avery Johnson, who is currently committed to Kansas State, as a potential target for the Irish. Aside from the quarterback position, He also highlighted running back Jeremiyah Love, wide receiver Taeshaun Lyons and quarterback/safety Brandyn Hillman as uncommitted targets which Irish fans should keep their eyes on.
One thing has been clear to those following Notre Dame recruiting in the last several months: Marcus Freeman approaches recruiting very differently from Brian Kelly.
“I think on the surface Marcus Freeman has been recruiting better, he’s certainly given more effort to recruiting,” Kyle Kelly said. While he has only been covering Notre Dame since March, he has had the opportunity to hear from recruits about the differences in styles between the two coaches.
“From what I’ve heard and what I’ve learned from kids is Marcus Freeman is much more present and he connects better with the kids,” Kelly said.
One of the biggest challenges for Notre Dame in the past has been moving from good recruiting classes to great recruiting classes. “You look at the data, that’s how you win national championships,” Kelly said. “You have to have a certain amount of five-star players and you have to have a certain amount of top 100, top 150 highly rated four-star recruits. That will be the challenge for Marcus Freeman and that’ll be the hurdle he’ll look to overcome that I don’t think Brian Kelly was ever really able to get over.”