ORLANDO, Fla. — Brian Kelly didn’t offer specifics, but he wants Notre Dame’s football program to recruit at a higher level consistently.
The Irish head coach doesn’t want to settle for classes that typically end up ranked somewhere between 10 and 15 nationally by recruiting services. He seems to have a plan in mind for pushing Notre Dame into the top 10 annually.
“We have some things in the works that we want to establish from a recruiting standpoint that changes our view as it relates to national recruiting,” Kelly said a couple of days before his 14th-ranked Irish pummeled Iowa State, 33-9, Saturday in the Camping World Bowl. “We want to break out of the 15th-ranked or the 10th-ranked. We want to get into that next echelon. Philosophically, we have to do some things to get to that level.”
In the past, Kelly accepted a recruiting class in the 10-15 range as part of Notre Dame’s reality. Given the results during his tenure, he’s been correct. In the 11 classes to sign with the Irish under Kelly, including the 18-man class that inked during the early signing period earlier this month, only two have finished ranked in the top 10 nationally by both Rivals and 247Sports: 2011 and 2013.
Only once has either recruiting site pegged Notre Dame’s class within the top five. Rivals ranked the 2013 class third in the country. The average class ranking from 247Sports is 12.8. The average on Rivals is 12.3.
Notre Dame’s 2020 class may have had a chance to finish among the top 10 if the Irish had enough scholarships available. But with limited room on the roster, Notre Dame’s 18-man class is stuck at No. 15 on both Rivals and 247Sports.
Notre Dame’s 2021 class of seven verbal commits ranks No. 1 nationally at the moment, according to both Rivals and 247Sports. Perhaps that’s why Kelly is confident in higher class rankings coming down the line. He’s sees it as a legitimate possibility.
“I do now. I’ve changed,” Kelly said. “We’re going to change the way we do some things that will allow us to do that.”
Those changes remain to be seen. Whatever they are, 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong said, they should start at the top with Kelly.
“For them to take the next step in recruiting — because they’ve already been recruiting well — it’s Brian Kelly being the difference in landing some of those elite, high-academic kids who have offers from everybody,” Wiltfong said.
Wiltfong suggested that Kelly could be the difference in securing players such as Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo, who left the Irish 2017 class to sign with the Cardinal, and Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller, who included Notre Dame in his top three before signing with the Buckeyes in 2016.
Notre Dame signing classes consistently in the top 10 seems feasible to Wiltfong.
“I’ve always thought there are enough good players out there for Notre Dame to recruit,” he said. “What Notre Dame offers on and off the field, it’s an attractive destination for a lot of promising prospects. If Notre Dame is going to recruit and go from the level of 10-15 to 5-10 annually, the head coach has a lot to do with it.”
Khalid Kareem hobbled off the field more than once in Saturday’s bowl victory. But he always seemed to find his way back into the lineup.
At one point, Kareem jogged off the field favoring his left arm. Later, Notre Dame’s training staff helped him off the field after tweaking his right ankle. His fellow senior defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara had their seasons cut short by injuries.
Kareem didn’t want his to end.
“I haven’t had fun like this since high school,” Kareem said. “This is what it felt like: just out there playing on Friday nights. That’s legit what it felt like, so that’s what I’m taking away from (my last game).”
Kareem recorded only one tackle, but he registered two quarterback hurries in the Irish victory.
Both Notre Dame and Iowa State attempted two fourth-down conversions on Saturday.
The Irish converted successfully both times. The Cyclones failed twice.
Quarterback Ian Book picked up both Notre Dame fourth-down conversions. He rushed for 10 yards on fourth-and-5, and gained one yard on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak in the first quarter.
The two drives in which Book converted on fourth down resulted in 10 points.
“Yippee,” Kelly said dryly and succinctly when asked to talk about the fourth-down success.
Both of Iowa State’s fourth-down failures came on fourth-and-1. Running back Breece Hall was stopped for no gain on an attempt in the second quarter. Quarterback Brock Purdy was sacked for a loss of 15 yards by Notre Dame rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on a failed attempt in the fourth quarter.
“We needed an inch,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “We secured both edges. And whether it was push or whatever that was, we didn’t get it. And so you talk about two fourth-and-1s, you talk about two lost fumbles, man, it’s really hard to beat a really good football team not executing in those critical situations.”
• Notre Dame’s 33 wins in the last three seasons tied the program record set from 1988-90.
• Iowa State left tackle Julian Good-Jones missed the game with an injury, according to an Iowa State spokesperson. The first-team All-Big 12 left tackle made 49 consecutive starts before sitting out the Camping World Bowl.
• By scoring on all four trips to the red zone Saturday, Notre Dame finished the season 51-of-55 in red-zone scoring.
• Notre Dame’s defense registered its seventh scoreless first quarter of 2019. The Irish allowed only 3.38 points per first quarter this season.