Could a Michigan legacy change the dynamic at Notre Dame?
C.J. Carr, a five-star quarterback in the Class of 2024, is scheduled to announce his college choice Thursday in his hometown of Saline, Michigan.
Almost all the prognosticators who prognosticate such things say he will choose Notre Dame.
This would be notable on multiple levels. The most obvious is that Carr is the grandson of Lloyd Carr, who was the head coach of the University of Michigan from 1995-2007 and led the Wolverines to its only national championship since the 1940s. C.J.’s father, Jason, also played for Michigan, and Saline is essentially a suburb of Ann Arbor.
Carr would hardly be the first recruit to want to blaze his own trail away from the family legacy. Notre Dame would certainly be a proud and understandable choice. Still, the idea of a “Carr” leading the Irish (and not the Wolverines) will take a little time to process.
More significant, however, such a decision would represent the latest in a growing wave of top prospects who selected Notre Dame since last December when Marcus Freeman was elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach.
Since taking over for Brian Kelly, who unexpectedly left for LSU after 13 seasons in South Bend, Freeman has secured commitments from 17 recruits, each of them ranked at least a four star by Rivals.com. Carr would be No. 18.
Carr would be the sixth recent Notre Dame recruit who ranks among the top-100 prospects in its class, per 247 recruiting — a loose cut-off for truly high-end talent.
The success has come with commitments from the Classes of 2023 and 2024 still in its infancy. The Irish are seriously involved with at least nine other top-100 prospects from the Class of 2023 alone. It’s a reason they are currently No. 1 overall with all the recruiting sites and almost assuredly headed for a top three or four finish for 2023. ND has finished that high just once this century.
And Carr, who could still reclassify to the Class of 2023, has stated he wants to start recruiting fellow high school stars to whatever program he picks.
Notre Dame has almost always had good rosters. Kelly, in particular, elevated recruiting to a level where Notre Dame consistently put together 10-win seasons and reached two College Football Playoffs and one BCS championship game.
Yet once there, the Irish got steamrolled by teams with far superior talent — Alabama twice, Clemson once. The gap between good and great was as clear as it was enormous.
In the Classes of 2015-2021, Alabama signed 31 five-star Rivals recruits. Georgia landed 25. Clemson had 24.
Notre Dame signed three.
What has occurred in the past six months, however, is the start of an elevation of the Irish recruiting fortunes into that elite level. While recruiting, like the NFL draft, is imperfect, the more high-end picks you get, the better your chances. If Freeman can string multiple classes like this together, the next time Notre Dame is in the playoffs, it will have a chance to actually compete.
At least on paper.
Freeman, the charismatic, 36-year-old former Ohio State linebacker, is proving to be an incredible recruiter. For decades the rub on Notre Dame has been that its size, religious affiliation, academic rigor, culture and location made such success impossible. He’s apparently eliminating that.
No one knows if he can duplicate that in actually coaching a team, developing talent or managing a program. Time will tell.
He follows a recent trend, however, of force-of-nature young assistants excelling at high-profile, high-pressure jobs despite a lack of previous head coaching experience. That includes Clemson (Dabo Swinney), Georgia (Kirby Smart), Ohio State (Ryan Day), Oregon (Mario Cristobal before leaving for Miami) and Oklahoma (Lincoln Riley before he left for USC), among others.
That may have played a role in the decision by athletic director Jack Swarbrick to quickly promote Freeman last December rather than search for an established coach. The Irish program was humming along and in need of a pop of recruiting success, not some cultural or schematic overhaul.
C.J. Carr would certainly represent a sign that the plan is working. He is not only a top-25 player nationally at the game’s most important position. He is also one of multiple equally hyped quarterback prospects Notre Dame is involved with.
That includes Dante Moore, a top-10 national recruit in the Class of 2023 from Detroit King High School, and Julian Sayin of the Class of 2024 from Carlsbad, California. Both have been heavily linked with Notre Dame.
Even if Carr commits, one or both may still decide to come and compete. Or both could decide to cool on the Irish and head elsewhere (including Michigan).
That’s recruiting. The power schools such as Alabama and Georgia enjoy such an embarrassment of riches. They get involved with so many great prospects that they aren’t desperate to get one elite commitment.
They can tell a pool of talent that the first to commit gets the spot. There is no Plan B because everything is a Plan A.
Notre Dame, as much as it has won, hasn’t been in that position in a long, long time.
Marcus Freeman has already changed that, and a Michigan legacy may be the best proof of all.