Notebook: ACC exposure boosts Notre Dame recruiting

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The recruiting implications have been more subtle than seismic, but Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly can certainly see a difference.

The ninth-ranked Irish (1-0) begin their second run through their Atlantic Coast Conference-scheduling agreement with Saturday’s road game at Virginia (0-1), the first of six opponents from that league on the 12-game 2015 schedule.

“There’s clearly a group of student-athletes now that pay more attention to Notre Dame because of that (ACC) footprint,” Kelly said Thursday after practice.

It’s a massive footprint that stretches from Florida to Massachusetts, with very few non-ACC states in between.

It’s a small sample size, but seven of the 14 committed recruits in the 2016 class come from ACC territory, including Virginian Jalen Elliott, a safety prospect from Chesterfield. In the 2015 class, just five of the 24 signees came from ACC country.

“Now we would have been there anyway, but certainly I think (the increased exposure) it has given us more notoriety in that area, so it’s opened up the recruiting opportunities for us. But I still think it’s (about) national recruiting for us.”

Notre Dame entered into the football scheduling agreement with the ACC as a condition of membership in the league for most of its other sports after the Big East imploded. The Irish agreed to play an average of five ACC football teams per season.

Notre Dame benefits from being part of the ACC bowl lineup in years the Irish fall short of a playoff or one of the New Year’s Six bowls. But the shift also meant loosening ties with longstanding Big Ten rivalries.

This season is the first that no Big Ten teams appear on an Irish football schedule since 1916. Purdue and Michigan State have become intermittent series. Michigan went on indefinite hiatus.

But with former Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, purged last October and now the chairman and CEO of Toys ‘R’ Us, the cold war that punctuated the break in the series after last September’s 31-0 ND victory has thawed quickly.

Last May, in an interview with the South Bend Tribune, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed as much.

“I have no doubt that Notre Dame and Michigan will play in football again in the future,” he said. “It’s good for each institution. It’s good for college football. The complexity of getting it done is not insignificant, but it will get done.

“We’re scheduling so far out. Big Ten teams have fewer (non-league) games to schedule. It’s very complex. We have commitments out to at least 2025 right now. I think we have one in 2027, but at least to ‘25.

“Those are the easy ones to schedule, because I know I’m not going to be here. Again I have no doubt it will happen, but it’s not like it used to be in terms of being able to turn on a dime and get it done.”

Kelly tried to build some momentum for some concrete talks during a recent appearance on the Rich Eisen Show on Fox Sports Radio. But the coach admitted he didn’t believe there had been any formal discussions yet between the two schools.

“Everybody wants to try to get back in front of it,” he said Thursday to the area media. “How quickly we can get it going starts with this kind of comment. Then it gets the ball moving.”

ACC full time?

Over the summer, a handful of ACC football coaches expressed frustration over Notre Dame dipping its toe into conference membership instead of fully immersing itself.

It’s actually a concept Kelly isn’t averse to, especially when it comes to creating a schedule with a better rhythm and the chance to play in a conference championship game.

“But you’re still balancing it with the independent status, which we hold to be very, very important to this university and to the football program and its great and long tradition,” Kelly said.

“You love playing in these great venues all over the country and different teams like Texas and Georgia down the line here and some other storied programs. So it’s one that I’m glad I don’t have to make the call on.”

Unfortunate outtake

A snippet that didn’t make the final cut for the debut episode of “A Season With Notre Dame” on Showtime, involving Notre Dame senior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, found its way into circulation as an internet preview.

The clip shows Kelly telling the entire team that he couldn’t accept the captaincy of ND’s most accomplished offensive linemen. Stanley responded to Kelly and the team, “I want everyone to learn from my mistakes and to grow from them, and just know that I love each and every one of you guys.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that clip got out,” Kelly said Thursday.

The Irish named five captains a couple of weeks ago, and Stanley was a strong candidate to be part of the contingent. Instead, just one of the five, center Nick Martin, turned out to be an offensive player.

“I think that’s something between myself and our team,” Kelly said when asked Thursday what kept Stanley from being a captain. “I can tell you that I have no problem with Ronnie representing our football team.

“His integrity and his character are not in question here. … So he’s still a captain in our minds in the way he handles himself on a day-to-day basis. I think it was big of Ronnie in the way he handled himself. Moving forward, I think that’s only going to help him at the next level.”

Freshman ups and downs

Josh Adams was the picture of calm in the days that preceded his collegiate debut Saturday night, and remained that way when the freshman running back had to carry more responsibility once junior starter Tarean Folston was lost for the season to a knee injury midway through the first quarter.

Adams amassed 49 yards, with two of his five carries going for touchdowns in a 38-3 rout of Texas.

This week, his new No. 2 status began to sink in, and …

“I think he probably sees himself playing more, and because of that he’s maybe thinking a little bit too much this week,” Kelly said. “Kind of worked in the reverse.

“I think he was a little bit better when he didn’t know what he didn’t know. But he’ll be fine. He’s very conscientious.”

Fellow freshman Dexter Williams, originally ticketed for a redshirt season and now in the mix as the No. 3 option, had kind of the opposite type of week.

“He’ll have to be involved in the game plan,” Kelly said of Williams, who got all seven of his carries and 24 yards long after the game had been decided Saturday night. “Certainly not ready to handle everything, but (we) feel confident enough that we’ll get him in the game. And we think he has a chance certainly to help us in the rotation.”

Close to home

Virginia will have at least one fan Saturday back in the South Bend area. Penn High 6-foot-8, 270-pound senior offensive lineman Ben Knutson has been verbally committed to the Cavaliers since May.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Jalen Elliot (left), here attending the Irish Invasion Camp at Notre Dame this past June, is one of seven recruits in ND's current class who hails from ACC territory. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)