Analysis: Florida State has outrecruited Notre Dame but has been star-crossed on the field
SOUTH BEND — For the recruiting fatalists, who believe college football is all about the star system, Florida State presents a reluctant rebuttal.
In the last five completed recruiting cycles, making up almost the entirety of both rosters in No. 5 Notre Dame’s Saturday night Athletic Coast Conference matchup with Florida State (7:30 p.m. EDT; NBC-TV), it’s the Seminoles who have finished with the higher-ranked classes four out of five times, and with seven Rivals.com five-star prospects to ND’s two.
And if you extend that two more years, to the cycles that immediately followed Florida State’s 2013 national championship, FSU’s advantage swells to six out of seven classes.
Yet on the field, Notre Dame is 35-6 since 2017, while the Seminoles are 19-23. Even if you throw in ND coach Brian Kelly’s 2016 clunker (4-8), the Irish still have a commanding edge in bottom lines: 39-12 vs. 29-26.
“Florida State is a place where you should always be great in the win column and on the recruiting trail, because it’s a state with so much talent,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “And a lot of kids grow up to be Gator or Seminole fans. There’s no excuse. Florida State should always be there.
“So that’s the big question: What happened? You’ve got to put it on coaching. Players are still there, but it didn’t seem like the cohesiveness and maybe the development of the players were.
“Obviously, if you get five-star players, they still have to be developed.”
That the Seminoles (1-2, 0-2 ACC) are on their third head coach in four years — Mike Norvell — also helps explain the incongruence between recruiting success and the fact FSU comes to Notre Dame Stadium as a three-touchdown underdog and without a win over an FBS team since last Nov. 9.
The Irish (2-0, 1-0 ACC) have their own challenges in returning to game action for the first time since a 52-0 dismantling of South Florida on Sept. 19. The 21 days between games is the longest in-season gap since 1918, when the Spanish Flu pandemic contributed to a 35-day surprise hiatus in that season.
COVID-19 concerns and an outbreak that billowed to 39 players sidelined in isolation (because of a positive test) or quarantine (due to contact tracing) coaxed the Irish to halt practicing for nine days as well.
They resumed Thursday and Friday, did weight training Saturday and had a rare in-season scrimmage on Sunday. By Monday, the number of players out of action were down to 11 — seven in isolation and four in quarantine.
“We wanted to get the speed you can’t duplicate in just a scout team preparation,” Kelly said during his weekly Monday Zoom conference call with the media. “And certainly being off for a couple of weeks, you’ve got to try to bring that speed. And our defense is a good group to go against.
“I think that was a big day for us (Sunday), where we were able to get in a lot of individual work, technique, get some of the rust off from that perspective, special teams, situational work and then finish up with situationally moving the chains.”
Off the field, Notre Dame is still busy trying to fill the final slots in its 2021 recruiting class, with the early signing period a little over two months away. The Irish currently rank 10th nationally per Rivals, while Florida State is 28th.
“These are two teams that used to go head to head a lot on the recruiting trail, but not much anymore,” Lemming said. “Notre Dame doesn’t go into Florida much any more, except for a few select kids, but nothing like they used to.
“They’ve found just as good players in Georgia, particularly the Atlanta area, and they tend to have better luck with them in terms of attrition.”
Florida remains the state that has produced the most Kelly Era Notre Dame recruits, with 29. Through the end of the 2020 cycle, the next-closest were Ohio and California, with 22 reach.
But Notre Dame hasn’t signed any Florida players since the 2018 cycle, when it pulled out four — George Takacs, Joe Wilkins, Kevin Austin Jr. and Houston Griffith, the latter a Florida State decommit.
Nor are there any Florida players in the 19-man 2021 class or three-member ‘22 class who are currently committed. Valrico (Fla.) cornerback Philip Riley, a one-time ‘21 Irish commitment, has since flipped to USC.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame took three players from Georgia in 2018, three more in 2019, and have three committed for 2021 and one committed in the 2022 class.
“I actually think that’s been a good move for Notre Dame, emphasizing Georgia over Florida,” Lemming said. “There’s not that many Catholic schools in Florida for the population, and Notre Dame could always cherry-pick those kids.
“But they’ve found success in Georgia. (Defensive backs coach) Terry Joseph is doing a great job down there. And they’ve been developing their players consistently. That’s why they’re winning.”
After 131 years of being a football independent, some new habits are in order as a temporary member of the ACC.
Like scoreboard watching.
Slotted in the same 7:30 primetime window, but on ABC, is No.1 Clemson (3-0, 2-0 ACC) vs, No. 7 Miami (3-0, 2-0). Because Miami and Notre Dame don’t play each other this season, getting to the Dec. 19 ACC Championship Game isn’t as simple as the Irish winning all their other games besides the Nov. 7 matchup with the top-ranked Tigers.
If Miami only loses to Clemson and ND does the same, it could set up some weird/complicated tiebreakers between the Hurricanes and the Irish. And if Miami beats Clemson, the Irish-Tigers matchup could become an elimination game.
The league’s other two ranked teams — No. 8 North Carolina (2-0, 2-0) and No. 19 Virginia Tech (2-0, 2-0) may have something to say about that league title game picture as well. They face off against each other Saturday at Chapel Hill (noon, ABC).
Virginia Tech features the nation’s leading rusher in Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert (156 yards per game). He also is No. 1 nationally in all-purpose yards at 276.5 yards per game.
Notre Dame notably doesn’t play Virginia Tech either, while North Carolina and Clemson won’t meet as each ACC has four teams it misses in the 10-conference game format for this season.
The Irish may have received the best draw in that regard among the conference contenders, also skipping Virginia and NC State.
The Wolfpack (2-1, 2-1) are the only ACC team that doesn’t play either ND or Clemson.
Bowden tests positive
Former Florida State coaching icon Bobby Bowden tested positive for COVID-19 Saturday, according to a story in the Tallahassee Democrat.
He still managed to take in FSU’s come-from-behind 41-24 victory over FCS school Jacksonville State on TV.
“I am glad to see them get that win,” Bowden told the Democrat.
According to the report, Bowden had been hospitalized for nearly two weeks with a leg infection following the removal of cancer spots but is quarantining at home now. He had not reported having any serious symptoms so far with the virus.