Notre Dame’s Rare Full 2021 Recruiting Class On Offense
For the first time since 2013, Notre Dame 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.
Current NFL starters Will Fuller (wide receiver), Durham Smythe (tight end) and Mike McGlinchey (offensive tackle) became the standouts from that 2013 haul.
It would seem appropriate that in 2021 Notre Dame would achieve the rare distinction of signing a full offense — because this year also marks the 100- and 50-year anniversaries of maybe the two most complete classes on offense ever signed by the Fighting Irish.
One-hundred years ago in 1921, head coach Knute Rockne signed a group that would feature six individuals who would be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame: The Four Horsemen, and two of the Seven Mules.
As seniors in 1924 when they captured the first “consensus” national title for Notre Dame, the entire starting 11 (on offense and defense) was comprised of seniors from the 1921 recruiting class.
Just imagine if six of the current 2021 recruits would someday be in the College Football Hall of Fame as well.
Fifty years later in 1971, head coach Ara Parseghian and his staff also signed the most complete offense for every position on offense — and the overall complete standard from the past 50 years — which would help capture the 1973 national title as juniors.
It also was the final class not allowed to play as freshmen, with the NCAA passing the freshman eligibility rule the following season.
Quarterback: Tom Clements was fourth in Heisman balloting as a senior after helping lead the Irish to the 1973 national title as a junior.
Running Backs: Wayne “The Train” Bullock and Eric Penick formed the ideal balance of power and speed. Bullock bulldozed his way for 1,892 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns while the game-breaker Penick had 1,418 yards and 13 scores (despite barely playing as a senior because of a major injury). Backups Al Samuel and Ron Goodman also saw extensive action by their senior years as runners and pass catchers.
Wide Receiver: Pete Demmerle, an All-American target as a senior, also was a Rhodes Scholar. As a junior, he paced the 1973 national champs in catches.
Tight End: Two of them became offensive line starters (1975 captain Ed Bauer and Steve Quehl), and a third (Tom Fine) was drafted by the NFL even though he seldom played with the Irish.
Offensive Line: Tackles Steve Sylvester and Steve Neece and All-American guard Gerry DiNardo all started for the 1973 national champs, and then Quehl and Bauer would start later.
Overall, this was not a great NFL group at all, with 10th-round pick Sylvester having by far the best career while winning three Super Bowl rings. However, it was a fantastic college group and the closest thing to a full starting unit on offense you will find.
The Brian Kelly Era
Through 11 seasons at Notre Dame, what would be considered head coach Brian Kelly’s best all-around class of recruits on offense at Notre Dame?
• The best offensive line would be from 2014 that would feature multiple year starters and current pros — Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars — and it also featured the top pro prospect at quarterback, second-round pick DeShone Kizer.
However, that same class did not sign a running back, and the two wide receiver prospects in the class, Justin Brent and Corey Holmes, caught only 11 passes for 96 yards (all by Holmes) before both became graduate transfers.
That demonstrates just how difficult it is to sign a complete offense in just one recruiting cycle.
• The best running back group would have to be from 2015 with Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, both of whom are currently in the NFL.
• The best receiver haul might be 2013 with Fuller, Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr. and James Onwualu, who played extensively as a freshman on offense before shifting to linebacker and becoming a team captain.
However, a strong case can be made for 2015 again with current pros Miles Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown, plus walk-on Chris Finke.
• The best tight end tandem was from 2011 with second-round pick Troy Niklas and seventh-round selection Ben Koyack, both of whom lasted at least five years in the NFL.
We suspect that the 2020 freshman tandem of Michael Mayer, whose 42 receptions last season tied for the team lead and was a school record by an Irish freshman tight end, and Kevin Bauman will become the new standard.
Over the next three days, we will count down the three best offenses recruited under Kelly, and whether the current 2021 haul (or even 2020) could match up.
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