Brian Kelly's Top-Recruited Offenses At Notre Dame: No. 1
For the first time since 2013, Notre Dame in the 2021 cycle recruited a full offense that featured 14 players to represent each position.
Since the turn into the 21st century, this is only the third time Notre Dame recruited an entire offense (and then some) in one cycle, with 2013 and 2006 the other two.
That 2013 class was ranked No. 3 in the country, easily the highest in the 12 recruiting campaigns under head coach Brian Kelly, and second only to the No. 2 ranking in 2008, under head coach Charlie Weis, since the turn of the century.
That 2013 haul received the bronze medal, or No. 3 in our countdown of Kelly’s best overall classes recruited on offense so far.
At No. 2 was the 2016 group, and today we feature the strongest all around one even though it was light along the line.
Gold Medal: The 2015 Class
Quarterback: Brandon Wimbush
Yes, he eventually was beaten out by the man recruited the following year, Ian Book, but Wimbush also helped lay the groundwork for Notre Dame’s return to top 10 level following his redshirt campaign in 2016 when the Irish finished 4-8.
He started and excelled in quality wins against several teams that finished in the top 25 — Michigan State, USC and North Carolina State — at the end of the 2017 campaign, and was awarded the game ball for his efforts in the 24-17 win over Michigan in the 2018 opener that helped propel Notre Dame into the College Football Playoff. That was a time when the overall offense was undergoing reconstruction and had to lean heavily on Wimbush.
He finished his career with 2,606 yards passing, 1,156 rushing and 36 total touchdowns.
Running Backs: Josh Adams & Dexter Williams
This duo combined for 4,837 yards rushing at just over an amazing 6.5 yards per carry and 40 touchdowns, plus 63 catches with four more scores.
Most significant was how both had to step in and thrive to make Notre Dame into a playoff contender. In 2015, after starter Tarean Folston suffered a season-ending injury on his third carry, Adams set a school freshman rushing record with 835 yards while the Irish raced to a 10-1 record.
Following a 1,430 rushing output (6.9 yards per carry) as a junior during the turnaround campaign in 2017, Adams turned pro.
That’s when Williams stepped in the following season and, after missing the first four games because of a suspension, added much needed punch at running back and exploded with 995 yards rushing at 6.3 yards per attempt, with Notre Dame advancing to the four-team College Football Playoff.
Both were on NFL rosters this season. The previous time when two running backs from the same Notre Dame recruiting class played in the NFL was 2009 with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, the year before Kelly arrived.
Receivers: Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Finke & C.J. Sanders
St. Brown and Boykin are both playing in the NFL, yet among this quartet walk-on Finke had the most receptions among them in college with 106.
The foursome totaled 301 catches for 4,234 yards and 34 touchdowns — and that was with both St. Brown and Boykin leaving an extra year of college eligibility on the table and Sanders opting to use his graduate transfer season at SMU. Boykin was Game MVP in the 2018 Citrus Bowl win versus LSU (21-17) and parlayed that into a terrific senior season that made him a third-round pick.
Sanders, who caught 24 passes for the Irish as a sophomore, also had 2,326 yards on kickoffs and punts, scoring four times on returns.
Tight End: Alize Mack
Although it was a roller-coaster ride during his career, Mack still was drafted by the NFL after grabbing 68 career passes for 716 yards and four scores. During the playoff year his senior season in 2018, he nabbed 36 passes, three for scores.
Offensive Line: Trevor Ruhland
Ruhland and USA Today first-team All-American Tristen Hoge were the only two players signed in this class — which once again demonstrates how difficult it is to sign a full class on one side of the ball as the 2021 recruiting harvest did.
A valued reserve/utility man, Ruhland made 11 starts during Notre Dame’s 23-3 run in 2018-19.
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