Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting class, which will be entering its senior season in 2017, will have no skill/speed position players remaining on offense entering spring practice.
In February 2014, the Fighting Irish signed one quarterback (DeShone Kizer), no running back and two wide receivers (Corey Holmes and Justin Brent) — not to mention only one cornerback (Nick Watkins), who was medically redshirted in 2016.
Kizer is turning pro, while Holmes and Brent — who was shifted to running back in 2015 — have both decided that while they will graduate from Notre Dame later this year (Brent was an early enrollee at Notre Dame in January 2014), they will use their final two years of collegiate eligibility at other schools still to be determined.
Holmes made his intentions known in December after falling behind several underclassmen on the receiving chart and finishing eighth on the team in receiving yardage (96 on 11 catches).
Brent arrived in 2014 as Notre Dame’s third-highest ranked player on the Rivals.com board at No. 84, behind guard Quenton Nelson (No. 29), a third-team Associated Press All-American in 2016, and linebacker Nyles Morgan, who led the Irish in tackles (94) and sacks (four) this past season.
All of Brent’s game action occurred during his freshman season in 2014 when he played primarily on special teams (nine games), but did not catch a pass. In 2015, he redshirted with classmates Holmes, offensive linemen Jimmy Byrne and defensive lineman Jay Hayes, and in 2016 Brent was sidelined with a Lisfranc injury.
With Brent not returning for the 2017 Notre Dame season and 15 verbal commitments in this year’s recruiting cycle, a popular inquiry is “how many more scholarships do the Irish have to give?”
Here’s a breakdown of getting to the NCAA limit of 85
• Two fifth-year seniors have been confirmed by their own words: left tackle Mike McGlinchey and tight end Durham Smythe, both starters.
• 17 fourth-year seniors now that Brent has joined Kizer and Holmes on the list of those not coming back.
• 22 juniors, including wide receiver/return man Chris Finke, who was awarded a scholarship last August and finished this season by scoring touchdowns against Virginia Tech and USC.
• 23 sophomores, with 14 having played this season as freshmen, the most in head coach Brian Kelly’s seven seasons with the Irish.
• 15 verbal commitments so far in the class of 2017.
That takes our count to 79, meaning there are at least six more scholarships to give out either to recruits or fifth-year seniors.
The three remaining fifth-year senior candidates are tight end Jacob Matuska, and offensive linemen Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin.
However, Matuska took only 10 snaps at tight end last year, and that position remains well stocked with Smythe, seniors-to-be Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua, early enrollee Brock Wright — maybe the top prospect in this year’s Irish freshman class — plus Alizé Jones self-reportedly eligible to play this season after academics sidelined him in 2016 (but he still practiced with the scout team). Jones led the tight ends in receiving as a 2015 freshman with 13 catches for 190 yards.
McGovern started eight games in 2016, but lost his spot at the end of the year to fifth-year senior Mark Harrell. He has twice injured his knee and suffered multiple concussions. That injury history and a likely battle with either sophomore center Tristen Hoge (who also has worked at guard) or freshman Tommy Kraemer — both prominent recruits — might prompt McGovern to not return for a fifth season, similar to Conor Hanratty in 2015 (also had multiple concussions).
Bivin has no path to a starting position, but could have a Harrell-like role in 2017 if he wants to return.
At the end of National Signing Day last year, Notre Dame had potentially 90 players on its roster, which needed to be cut to 85 by August.
By the end of August, it was less than 85. So from that perspective, the Irish could still return all three remaining fifth-year prospects plus land eight more recruits to be at 90 like last February. Or if none of the three aforementioned fifth-year players return, it still would have 10 more scholarships to give in this recruiting cycle if it so desired to be where it was last year at this time.
Attrition can always be counted on in college football.
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