Chat Transcript: Pondering the portal, recruiting and Notre Dame's playoff viability

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) loses a shoe as Notre Dame’s Jayson Ademilola (57) and Clarence Lewis (6) take him down during ND's 55-0 romp, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Stanford/Thanksgiving/Black Friday Edition.

Please remember to include your name and hometown with your question. A couple of quick notes … We'll be chatting into December on a regular basis, at least the next two Wednesdays. If you haven't had a chance, please check out this week's Pod of Gold Podcast with Mike McGlinchey, one of my favorite episodes of all time.

Ok, let the actual chatting commence!

Andrew C from Munster, Ind.: How much of the offensive improvement would you attribute to improved offensive line play, and how much would you attribute to changing the play calling to adjust to the offensive line not being as good in the past?

Eric Hansen: Ideally, you'd probably like two percentages that add up to 100% — something like 52.457% O-line improvement and 47.543% play-calling? ... But, I'm not that good at math AND there's more to it than just those two factors. I think the two most contributing factors are the offensive line's improvement and fitting the structure and tempo of the offense around Jack Coan's strengths and weaknesses better. A byproduct of the second would be play-calling. Also, ND is not facing a lot of better-than-average defenses in this stretch. Additionally, players have stepped up at other positions. Kevin Austin has been much more consistent. Lorenzo Styles has surged into the picture, etc.

Travis from Newport, Ky.: Hey Eric. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving and time with your grandchildren. I've noticed Notre Dame offered Devin Brown, USC quarterback commit. It appears their attempt to flip Walker Howard (from LSU) was unsuccessful. Why does it seem they are pushing so hard to get a second commit from a QB in the 2022 class? I understand they lose both Jack Coan and Brendon Clark, but Tyler Buchner, Drew Pyne, Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus seem like a strong, albeit young, room. Do you think they are pushing hard in expectation of another transfer? (Pyne being the most likely) Side note: I really like the potential I've seen from Angeli. In my unprofessional opinion, he is underrated.

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Eric Hansen: Travis, thank you. ... Think back to the Wisconsin game. Coan gets hurt. Buchner was already hurt, so Drew Pyne had to come in. Now what if he too had gotten hurt in that game? What if Pyne gets to the end of spring and decides to transfer? It's not a given that Ron Powlus III is going to be healthy enough to play effectively anytime soon or effective enough ever to move up the depth chart. What if Angeli shows up with a bum shoulder from his team's playoff run? You need those numbers at QB, especially when the stakes are so high these next couple of seasons.

Al from St. Charles, Mo.: There are rumblings that there are not one, but two potential flips possible within our receiving corps. Does the staff have a “break glass in case of emergency'' button if that happens? Do Ohio State, Florida,or some other program have some potential transfers we could pick up? What happens to the perception of this offense and its coaches if we hit catastrophic levels? You can tell I'm super, totally not worried at all, right? Thanks for answering our questions.

Eric Hansen: Al, it's sort of business as usual when you step up recruiting expectations and the consistent caliber of players you're chasing. There's going to be drama, and it's not guaranteed to end poorly. Irish Illustrated's Kevin Sinclair did a nice piece recently reminding fans of some of the anxious moments in recent classes, including Michigan making a run at Lorenzo Styles last cycle and Styles not completely shutting that down until the very end. Logan Diggs and LSU flirted with each other. And there's more. It's going to happen. ND has poached way more recruits in the Kelly Era (59) than it had poached (31) going into this cycle.

In the 2021 class, there were eight flips coming in and two going out. Off the top of my head, there are three flips into this class so far (Niuafe Tuihalamaka, Bryce McFerson and Holden Staes).  So grab some popcorn and enjoy the ride. ... The good news is Brian Kelly doesn't have a conference championship game to prepare for next week, and he can stay out on the road after Stanford and do in-home visits with all the committed recruits — shaky or otherwise.

Kim from Wichita, Kan.: Eric a special THANKSGIVING to you and your family for all that you do for the ND nation!!!!!!!! You are clearly the best of the best! I believe that this team has had the greatest ascension of any team I have witnessed from start to finish. What are your thoughts? Also, how do you feel about Drew Pyne? He hasn’t played in a while. I hope he stays? A SPECIAL THANKS AGAIN! Kim

Eric Hansen: Hi Kim. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family as well. Since 2018 Brian Kelly teams have been pretty good in regular-season games in November/December — 16-0 heading into Saturday night's matchup at Stanford. But you're right about this being a cut above in terms of the level of improvement. I think ND would destroy Toledo and would beat Cincinnati, for instance. And it's come in so many areas, the improvement.... As far as Drew Pyne — and there are a few questions in the queue about him — I think ND has prioritized reps for their improving starting QB of the present (Jack Coan) and their developing starting QB of the future (Tyler Bucnher).

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, Happy Thanksgiving to you, Tyler and your family. Overall, how would you rate this year's team vs teams during the last six years?  Do you feel they have hit their peak and could win the national championship if they are lucky enough to get there? Thanks Mucho - Ken.

Eric Hansen: In terms of sheer talent, 2015 — which predates your timeline — might be the best. In terms of everything considered, including coaching, chemistry, etc. of just the past six years, I'd go in this order with: 2020, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2017, 2016. ... That 2019 team should have never lost at Michigan, let alone get blown out. The 2017 team was establishing a new culture and is a special team. This 2021 team is still ascending. It has a chance to move up the list.

Mike from Chicago: Hi Eric. Can you elaborate on the Jay Bramblett situation? It seems unclear to me why he plans to leave ND after being a three-year starter.

Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. Brian Kelly sort of confirmed on Monday that punter Jay Bramblett is going to graduate early, then take a grad transfer for his fourth year at a school presumably closer to home (he's from Tuscaloosa, Ala.). Once the Irish coaches were told of his plans, they went out and got the No. 1 punter in the 2022 class, in Bryce McFerson, who visited ND and committed to the Irish this past weekend. He had previously been committed to Wake Forest since September.

Denny from Beaverton Ore.: Hi Eric. Last year you said that the pass-efficiency offense of Notre Dame was not high enough to make them competitive enough to advance very far in the College Football Playoff. I believe we have progressed, especially after the break. So, how do we compare to last year and how do we rate among those teams that we are competing with this year?

Eric Hansen: Hey Denny. They're moving in the right direction. After losing to Cincinnati (currently No. 1 nationally in pass-efficiency defense) on Oct. 2, Notre Dame stood 71st out of 130 in team pass efficiency. Heading into Stanford, the Irish are 32nd. That's kind of getting to the cusp of what you need. ND's two playoff teams were both ranked 43rd, and its 2012 runner-up team 73rd — the worst ranking of any team to reach the national title game in the BCS and Playoff Eras. Ideally, you'd like a rating like the top four teams in the current CFP rankings have: Georgia is 7th, OSU 3rd, Alabama 2nd, Cincinnati 12th.

Bruce, from Dayton Ohio: Hello Eric, Hope you and your family will be able to enjoy Thanksgiving together.

Eric Hansen: Thanks Bruce ... and you and your family as well.

Peter from Utica, N.Y.:  When it comes to remembering all the blessings we have tomorrow on T-Day, you along with your reporting and chats are certainly to be included! Question: Does Jack Coan have another year of eligibility due to COVID, and what do you think Drew Pyne is thinking about next year?

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Peter. It's a bit of a complicated back story, but the bottom line is Jack Coan does not have eligibility at ND in 2022. ... I think what Drew Pyne is thinking about at this point is how hard he's going to work to get ready to compete in the spring for the starting job. After that, we'll see.

KJ from near the Channel Isles, Calif.: Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Eric! May your tryptophan hangover be all you hope for! This has been an unexpectedly good year for the Irish. Not many thought they would have a real chance at the College Football Playoff when the season started. Some still don’t believe they should be in the discussion. But here we are. Is this Brian Kelly’s best coaching job? And have another drumstick!

Eric Hansen: Hi KJ, and Happy Thanksgiving and tryptophan dreams to you, too. I know some of the other people on the beat have weighed in on this. I'm going to wait until after the season before I log my perspective ... but certainly it's been a job well done.

Bluey from Louisville, Ky.: After Jim Harbaugh finally defeats your alma mater, then loses to Wisconsin, the Irish coast into the playoffs. My question is simple: Will we see Kyle Hamilton in the playoffs?

Eric Hansen: If ND is on the playoff, II would say a yes to that.

Tom from Dowagiac: Hi Eric: I hope Brian Kelly stays for many more years and has earned the right to do so. He has the program on a great trajectory with great recruits in the pipeline. That said, there will come a day when he retires, and as he said at a presser, watch the Navy game on TV. I know you greatly respect the job Mike Elston has done over the years — especially the last few years with the great defensive lines. After Bob Diaco put his foot in his mouth a number of years ago, it seems like BK has clamped down on his assistants even talking to the press. But I'd like to see Jack Swarbrick and BK develop potential candidates from the inside. I know you want previous head coaching experience. But an outsider has little idea what the ND job is really all about. Since he already holds the title of assistant head coach, what can BK do to groom Elston for the head coaching job?

Eric Hansen: Hi Tom. These hypothetical questions are fun for fans, and I get that. They're hard for me, because my mind doesn't work that way. There are so many variables, including whether Jack Swarbrick would even be around ND still to make such a decision. I do think the world of Mike Elston, and not just as a coach but how he has prioritized his family. I don't think there's a single thing missing from his coaching skill set that would keep him from being a successful head coach somewhere. What's missing from his résumé is experience as a coordinator. So if he gets that opportunity, that would enhance his viability as a head coaching candidate. … But remember familiarity with Notre Dame isn’t a predictor of success at Notre Dame. Just look at the Bob Davie Era.

Mark from Golden Valley, Minn.: Eric, as always, a stellar job with this chat and your ND Football writing.  My question is do you believe OU or OSU will leapfrog ND even if Cincinnati and Michigan lose?  Do you get that sense from the committee?  Finally,  I did not come to this chat barefoot, but did wear plantar-fascia socks. And hope I’m still in good standing.

Eric Hansen: I don't know what plantar-fascia socks are (I'll Google them later), but of course they're a welcome accessory during the chat (and hopefully alleviate some pain). To be clear to the folks in Ohio, Mark is referring to Oklahoma State as OSU, not Ohio State. I think there's a chance Oklahoma State would jump the Irish — with ND playing Stanford, and Okie St. having to beat Oklahoma and Baylor in consecutive weeks. The ND/Okie State résumés are pretty similar. Oklahoma is much more of a stretch. Their path would be to beat Oklahoma State twice in two weeks. So is that the same high octane of beating two different top 10 teams would give you? Oklahoma's résumé is also weaker. And they're sitting at No. 10, not 7, so history is against the Sooners. No team ranked below seventh at this point in the season has ever made the playoff field.

Dave from Ponte Vedra, Fla.: Love these chats. Thanks so much for all your good work. With the substantial improvement in recruiting over the past few years, it seems like winning a national title again isn’t just a crazy dream. I think we’re just a truly elite QB away. I’m not sour on any of our QBs, but I don’t see elite anywhere. Do you think the Irish can eventually get a Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud type on campus?

Eric Hansen: Hi Dave, and thank you. That's the aim with the 2023 QB class. Let's use the 247Sports 2023 rankings, since they've updated theirs more recently. Notre Dame has offered scholarships to four QBs ranked among the top 100 prospects regardless of position AND have hosted them on campus: No. 5 Nico Iamaleava, No. 15 Dante Moore, No. 48 Jackson Arnold and No. 98 Christopher Vizzina  ... as well as No. 155 Avery Johnson. I think ND will land one of those guys. As far as the current roster, I wouldn't sell short Tyler Buchner. To play at the level he has with no senior year or sophomore year in high school is impressive.

Mike from Lemont, Ill.: Eric, lots of talk about the starting five on the O-line next year, but a bigger concern to me would be the defensive line. Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa are both gone. If Jason Ademilola and Isaiah Foskey both opt to the NFL, it seems like ND would be quite thin on the D-line next year. What do you think? Happy Thanksgiving. Cheers!

Eric Hansen: Mike, cheers to you. It depends on how guys develop. but there's a lot of proven talent in the interior (Howard Cross, Rylie Mills, Jacob Lacey) and some up-and-comers like Gabe Rubio. On the edge, there's less certainty, though Brian Kelly is making the pitch to Foskey that he can improve his second-day NFL stock to possibly top 10 by returning. Jordan Botelho, Justin Ademilola, and Nana Osafo-Mensah  have made progress. Alexander Ehrensberger and Kahanu Kia are among the intriguing young defensive ends. And who knows what Osita Ekwonu might turn into when healthy? The two incoming freshmen — Aiden Gobaira and Tyson Ford — might be able to help early. And the 2023 D-line class is going to be special.

Paul D. from Lititz, Pa.: Eric, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Much to be grateful for you as an ND fan. I’ve been a big fan of Tyler Buchner and I’d like your opinion of his Georgia Tech performance. Remove that first play long run, he did not look great. Question: Was that due to the second- and third-string O-line offering no protection? Or is he not far enough along to run the entire offense? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Happy Thanksgiving, Paul. That was really Buchner's first run at having the whole playbook thrown at him and having to navigate that in a game. And yes, he was playing behind the reserve offensive line for all but five of his 21 snaps. All in all, I consider it progress, even with a few growing pains.

IrishRob via Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, Pa.: This epiphany came to me this morning as I started thinking about college football. The media seems to go "nuts" talking up the extra game most teams have during championship week, and how that win means more than whatever ND did to that point, all things being equal. I am more of a “why reward teams that win average conferences” guy, but my question is; Could ND schedule another game during championship week, with say a BYU, that keeps them on the mind of the ranking committee?  What are the benefits and drawbacks of doing something like that, if it is even feasible. Happy Turkey Day to all!

Eric Hansen: IrishRob, Happy Turkey Day, and Happy Leftovers Day, for that matter. ... Under current NCAA rules, the only way Notre Dame could add a 13th game is if it were a road trip to play at Hawaii, which is the nation's No. 114-ranked team, according to the Sagarin computer rankings. That actually would hurt ND's strength of schedule (and its travel budget). Even if ND could play BYU on Dec. 5, it would not be considered a conference championship. And what incentive does BYU have to schedule that game? Look, even in non-pandemic years, teams with only 12 games on their résumés have made the playoff field. The fixation on the "13th data point" is real, but also can be overblown.

Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, very nice of you to hold this chat the day before Thanksgiving. I watched the release of the CFP rankings on ESPN last night and was quite surprised that not a single commentator mentioned how the ND season turned around once they solved the O-Line problem by putting Joe Alt and Andrew Kristofic on the left side. You have to wonder how closely these “talking heads” really pay close enough of attention to what goes on the college football landscape. Just a rant and not a question for you.

Eric Hansen: OK, thanks Bill. I will present it then without comment.

ledyer@att.net: Thanks Eric and all! Tweets are not a subscription or $1.00 @ monthly 🤔 !  .....no question or comment, I appreciate yuall ..... by and bye.....amen 🙏.

Eric Hansen: Thanks? I think? And how is the eggnog?

Michael from Chicago: Is it correct that while being honest with players about potential playing time that they don’t ask them to transfer until their four years are up (or is it graduation based)? How common is it at other Power 5 programs that they do that (if at all?)?

Eric Hansen: Hi Michael, if I am understanding your question correctly, Notre Dame sits down with all the players near or at the end of the season to gauge the next season, for the player and the team. This also helps with getting the numbers right in recruiting. And so with the early signing period, that process has to start a bit sooner. Yes, ND would not ask a player to transfer as an underclassmen unless he were going to be expelled. There may be conversations, however, that lead the player to conclude a transfer would be best. As far as players with degrees in hand staying or going, yes it's an invitation process to come back. And that's not universal at all. At many schools "redshirt seniors" don't yet have their degree, so it's not an invitation process. That doesn't mean a school might not try to push them out anyways.

Jim from Oakwood, Ohio: Hey Eric,  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family ... I hope you have a wonderful time with your family!  In some of the pre-season articles, you, Tyler and Tom made various predictions - and I'd like to ask you about one of them: your prediction that the QB for the last game would be Tyler Buchner. Do you still stand by that prediction or is the likely starter Jack Coan? Sure would be nice for Tyler if you are correct given the close location to his home. Second question: Might Coach Kelly award scholarships soon, retroactively, to some of the deserving players ... like "Milk?"  He's done a terrific job and other than Tyler's wonderful story, he's rarely mentioned in the game comments. Thanks for a wonderful year of reporting, and your analysis of ND Football.  Be well.

Eric Hansen: Hi Jim. Thank you for your sentiments, and same to you. No LOL, I am not standing by that prediction. Jack Coan is playing too well and has earned that start. As far as walk-ons getting scholarships, I believe ND is at 81, so there's room for that. And yes, Brian Kelly has awarded some in the past for the spring semester. When doing scholarship counts, once classes start, a school is locked into that number for the rest of the fall semester, even if guys like Lawrence Keys III and Brendon Clark jump into the portal during the semester.

Steve from Dallas/Fort Worth: I didn’t see the transcript last week — sorry. Will Bo Bauer and Josh Lugg stay for ’22? Roster impacts? Thanks!!!

Eric Hansen: Up in the air for both. Josh Lugg said Monday he'd consider it. Bo Bauer said he wants to focus on the rest of the season and then will ponder it. If Lugg were to come back, he'd probably play guard in 2022. Bauer would compete to be the starting middle linebacker. And in case you wanted to see the transcript, here it is.

Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Hi Eric. Let me add my name to the long list of Irish fans who appreciate this chat and the football information you give us. It's my best source for Irish football. Thank you! Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving! Wondering if your family follows the Italian tradition of ravioli on Thanksgiving. I have a couple of comments and would like your thoughts. There is a huge possibility the Irish will be 11-1 after Saturday. (Stanford has been devastated by injuries, especially on defense.) Based on the adversity faced by this team, I believe Brian Kelly and his staff have had their best coaching year in Kelly's career at ND. Also, Kelly has gotten all he could have gotten out of Coan. I have Coan as the Offensive Player of the Year. (Kyren Williams should be MVP).

Eric Hansen: Henry, thank you and thank you ... and no, we have always had turkey. BUT we have pasta the day after Thanksgiving. Yum to both. ... I'm going to reserve my critique on Kelly's coaching until after the season, because the next two games figure very much into that assessment. ... My MVP would also be Kyren, but my offensive Player of the Year would be Michael Mayer. However, I have a special level of admiration for Jack Coan. What a great teammate.

Connie from Pacifica, Calif.: I am an ND alumna, but my son is a Stanford grad. Because we live in the Bay Area our family goes to every Stanford home game. I will tell you firsthand that Stanford’s defense is as porous as a vegetable strainer. If ND can score 55 points against Georgia Tech, they can certainly score 55 points against Stanford. But should they? There is the argument that you want to impress the CFP committee, but how impressive is a total beatdown of a pitiful team? My larger point, however, is that Stanford is a great university with whom ND has a relationship of respect. In the past the Stanford/ND series has been characterized by last-second, hard-fought battles. Do we really want to humiliate a respected rival? Won’t it come back to haunt us in the future? I hope coach Kelly shows mercy and sportsmanship. What do you think, Eric? You do a great job of keeping us up to date on the Irish. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Connie, thank you, and I love the vegetable strainer analogy. Brian Kelly talked about this a little bit on Monday, with regard to the Georgia Tech game, that there's a fine line in lopsided games in terms of sportsmanship and style points. If you can get the wide margin organically, I think the committee respects that. But if you have to manufacture it — leaving starters in ‘til the end, calling timeouts to tack on a late score, etc. — the committee won't be impressed and neither will classy people like you. So, in the Georgia Tech game, Notre Dame piled up a 45-0 lead at halftime. Scored 10 in the second half and 0 in the fourth quarter. The second-team QB played much of the second half. Ohio State did the same thing with Michigan State. Built a 49-0 halftime lead and played to a 7-7 draw in the second half with lots of reserves seeing action. That’s the way to do it.

Will from Pitman, N.J.: Eric, many thanks to you and Tyler James for your great coverage of Irish football. Much has been made of the defense not allowing a TD in the past 3 games. Most commentators say that this is evidence that defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s system is taking hold and that the players are executing his aggressive strategy with the confidence of reckless abandon. I really hope this is true, but I still stay a bit skeptical. Starting with the second half of the Navy game, the Irish have faced three backup quarterbacks because of injuries to first-stringers. What is your read, Eric? Is ND’s latest defensive success due to an improved scheme and execution? Or is it due to weakened opponents?

Eric Hansen: Hi Will, and thanks for the compliment. Three games without a touchdown is a notable accomplishment regardless of who is playing quarterback. So is the improved tackling, the improved pass rush. etc. And keep in mind ND was doing it without the best defensive player in the nation. And without its most dynamic linebacker for the entire season. And a wide receiver heavy into the safety rotation. And against one of the best fleets of wide receivers (Virginia) no matter who was playing QB. Yes, subtract points for no Brennan Armstrong in the Virginia game, but that was Jordan Yates' fifth start for Georgia Tech, so he wasn't exactly untested.

Leo from Auburn, N.Y.: Eric, you and Tyler have a huge responsibility. Most college football sportswriters have only a local or statewide presence, but you two are writing to a national audience; and I might add you do an awesome job. I’m impressed with your objectivity, and I wonder if deep down inside you are fans of the Irish? After all, if the Irish are good, your readership expands. How do you balance local loyalties with national responsibilities? Like I said, you two do an outstanding job of keeping Notre Dame’s national following fully informed in a fair and objective manner. Thanks for that.

Eric Hansen: Hi Leo. Thanks for the kind words. The balance may be easier than you think. I'm not sure local Notre Dame fans view the team much differently than the national fan base. And we have to think nationally when it comes to Notre Dame. Ninety-six percent of our web traffic at ndinsider.com comes from outside our print coverage area. I love the local fans, and it's really fun to have a national and even international following.

Wick from Estero, Fla.: Eric, I’m such a Notre Dame nut that I even watch all of coach Brian Kelly’s press conferences. With a few exceptions (like the time he lit into Laken Litman), BK seems professional, straightforward, and very informative. True, his humor often falls flat, but you can’t have everything. What I like most is that Kelly is very transparent about injuries. Compare this with other coaches who are never revealing about injuries like Bronco Mendenhall and Geoff Collins. As a journalist, how do you rate Kelly’s accessibility and openness at press conferences? By the way, I appreciate the way you ask tough questions without coming off as being antagonistic. Great work, Eric!

Eric Hansen: Thanks so much, Wick. Geoff Collins won't even publish a depth chart. If doing so really costs your team in the W-L department, then how good of a coach are you? I appreciate Kelly's approach. There will be times he dances around a question, and he usually has a reason for it. Zoom was awful for those situations, because there was no mechanism for a follow-up. I'm going to go off on a tangent for a second. This has been the most fun I've had covering a team in my career, because we had the fans back in the stadiums, we could do in-person interviews. We could feel kind of normal again. ... OK, back to your question. I don't think Brian Kelly would ever do/say anything that would put his team at a competitive disadvantage. I also think it helps when recruits meet BK that the authenticity they see in a press conference or in an interview transfers over to in-home visits and campus visits.

Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif.: How did you gravitate to write for ND football instead of Ohio State? It sure seems to me like ND 's recruiting in the last month has gone down — no Zach Rice.There are a lot of rumors out here that USC is gonna flip (wide receiver) C.J. Williams from Mater Dei. Do you think Brian Kelly will go get another QB transfer for next year? I get a feeling that now that the offensive line has improved, Kelly will retain (O-line coach) Jeff Quinn. Your thoughts? Have a great Thanksgiving.

Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. When I graduated from college, I knew I just wanted to cover college sports. It didn't matter what team. And actually getting away from what was familiar was the best thing for my personal and professional growth. And Indiana University — not Notre Dame — was the first team I covered on a regular basis, with some Purdue mixed in. Walking that tightrope, for fans looking for the slightest hint of bias, was also good for me. The first coach I ever interviewed who had just been fired was Lee Corso. The first basketball coach I ever had to interview was Bob Knight. ... OK, to your real question. ... No Zach Rice and that wasn't really expected, but Aamil Wagner was a nice pickup, as was Drayk Bowen in the 2023 class. It will be a grind to the end, though, in the 2022 class, trying to close on those last few prospects and hold onto others. And yes, if ND doesn't get a second high school QB in this class, I'd expect them to peruse the portal ... but for depth. Yes, I think Quinn will return. Happy Thanksgiving.

Cd Walker from Saginaw, Mich.: Do we take another wide receiver in this recruiting class or do we go transfer portal? I know Avery Davis, Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin will come back — Joe Wilkins 50-50. Rally, we are ND. Go Irish. Love thee Notre Dame, our Mother pray for us.

Eric Hansen: Ced, whether ND adds WR(s) via the portal depends on how many of that group you mentioned comes back and whether ND can hold onto all three WRs in the 2022 class for another three weeks until signing day.

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hi Eric. Happy Thanksgiving! What an eventful season so far. Hope the Irish finish strong. A couple quickies. Is TE Kevin Bauman all healed or only 70% or so. Will he get more playing time in playoff/bowl game? Do you still feel Cincy winning out is to ND's advantage? I believe strongly in head to head, but I understand the need to weigh strength of schedule, bad losses, etc. As always, your views and thoughts are appreciated

Eric Hansen: Happy Thanksgiving, Len. I think Bauman is probably still shaking the rust, but he has been fully medically cleared to play. His playing time in the postseason depends on how he looks in practice compared to ascending freshman Mitchell Evans, and senior George Takacs. ... I can now see a scenario in which a UC loss could help ND in a playoff push but hurt the Irish and knock them out of the Fiesta and into the Peach Bowl if neither UC or the Irish make the CFP.

Mike from Florence, Nova Scotia: Hi Eric. Great work on the chats, I was listening to the last podcast and was surprised by Bruce F.’s assessment that ND has not closed the gap with ’Bama, Ohio State. Noting the current recruiting status, do you agree with his assessment? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. Thank you. I don't think Bruce Feldman implied ND lost ground, either, but Alabama and Ohio State aren't stationary targets. And I also think he was referring to 2021, not what's building for 2022 and 2023. Notre Dame is upgrading the depth of its talent.

Buddy from Oakland, Calif.: As an ND alum here across the bay from San Francisco, I follow Stanford football very closely and go to many of their games. Their program is on a definite downward trajectory. This year their defense has been non-existent. David Shaw over the years has been a very good coach and program builder, but I began to notice three years ago that he seemed to be putting less of an effort into recruiting. I think he thought Stanford, as a world class university, could recruit itself, but that has not been the case. This leads me to believe that in college football, recruiting is more important than any other factor for success. Good coaches can win with good players. Bad coaches can lose with good players. But neither good nor bad coaches can win with bad players. Eric, what are the main factors in creating a successful recruiting program? I have heard it said that elite high schoolers want to play for winners … so if a program is in the doldrums, how does a coach attract the elite?

Eric Hansen: Hi Buddy. Great questions. Not ones that necessarily can be answered with an economy of words. So I need to oversimplify. Some recruiting strategies are universal. Some are unique to schools like Stanford and Notre Dame. Hard work, the ability to identify talent and fit, the ability to build relationships are common cornerstones. At a program that's in the doldrums, you have a vision and you sell it. And you do it incrementally. As you begin to win more, the vision becomes more convincing. And you build a culture that protects that vision.

Dave from Tempe, Ariz.: Eric, Happy Thanksgiving and most of all thanks to you for the great job you do for us Irish fans! If all the variables of the college football universe tilt ND’s way and the Irish make it into the playoffs, be honest — will Notre Dame be competitive with a) Georgia, b) Alabama, and c) Ohio State? I would really, really be disappointed by another humiliating beatdown on the big stage.

Eric Hansen: Happy Thanksgiving, Dave. I'm not sure anyone will be competitive with Georgia in the CFP. Let's see what Alabama does with them in a couple of weeks, first. ... As for whether ND can be competitive? That might not happen if the Irish get into the CFP. But to me, the worst shot is the one you never take.

Todd from Burlington, Iowa: Eric, on this Thanksgiving Eve, thanks to you for your excellent journalism! Last Saturday we fans finally got a glimpse of Audric Estime and we were definitely impressed. I can see him teaming up with Logan Diggs to form a “thunder and lightning” combo in the years to come. That would necessitate Tommy Rees coming up with some two-back packages. This raises the question of why do we rarely see two-back offensive formations anymore? What is your view on why the two-back backfield has disappeared (except at the academies)?

Eric Hansen: I think most coaches believe it challenges defenses more to make them play in space. And unless you have backs (as ND does this year) who can comfortably slip into the slot, you can't do that with most two-back sets. I'm not sure Estime could do that as well as Kyren Williams/Chris Tyree. Need evidence that the spread offense challenges defenses? In 2009, Jimmy Clausen in a pro-style offense finished third in the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 161.4, with Florida’s Tim Tebow first at 162.2. This season, neither would make the top 10 with those ratings. The linebacker position skill sets, incidentally, have changed accordingly.

Jake from Saratoga, N.Y.: Hi Eric, just saw that Michael Mayer did not make the finalist list for the John Mackey Award. He is widely regarded as the best tight end in college football, and it’s probably not close. So, do you believe this is a political thing against the Irish, as I can’t think of any other explanation?

Eric Hansen: I think it’s laziness by voters not doing their research more than anything.

Jules from Joliet, Ill.: First off, thank you for conducting these chats. Great job. Two questions, please: 1. In regards to the transfer portal, assuming a team has an open scholarship, could they bring in someone during the season?  2. As for NIL, would a school be allowed to pay a walk-on for the use of his NIL and pay him the price of his tuition?  (In effect, this would increase the number of scholarships over the allowed 85. I thought that I had read that a school had done this. But I’m not sure if I understood it correctly.

Eric Hansen: Hi Jules, and thank you. 1. No, a team can't bring a player in during the season and have him be eligible, even with a really good lawyer. The cutoff for immediate eligibility this year was July 1 because of the pandemic. Next year it shifts to May 1. 2. In essence every walk-on BYU player, I believe, has an NIL benefit this year. But you technically can't offer a player NIL money/deals as a condition of signing with a school. The deals come afterward. But there are loopholes currently to abuse that aspect, which must be closed.

Chad from Denver: Eric, I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Do you decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving or after?  Great work as always and thanks for the chats.  I'm sure the other fans will fill this up with great football questions.

Eric Hansen: Chad, I'm lucky if I have the tree decorated by Christmas. Seriously. December is more hectic than you think on the beat. And my tree is one of those small Fiber Optic trees. I do play Christmas music. Does that count?

Stosh from Canton: Eric, on this holiday, I offer you great thanks. I live and die every Saturday in autumn with the Irish, and your work really means a lot to me. I like what I see from many Notre Dame freshmen, but one newcomer I haven't heard much about is Ron Powlus III. Personally, I think he can develop nicely into a Jack Coan type of pocket quarterback. Eric, what have you heard about young Powlus? Again, thanks for everything you do for us, Eric!

Eric Hansen: Stosh, thanks to you. He's kind of an unknown as a college prospect. Not highly recruited, hasn't been able to practice or play yet due to injury. It would be quite a story if he turns out to be like Jack Coan down the road.

Rich '69 from Phoenixville, Pa.: Hey Eric, home stretch. I was shocked that Drew Pyne didn't get a snap. To me this was a slap in the face. Yet he was shown smiling and cheering the play of the walk-on who entered after Tyler Buchner. Your take on the dynamic here?

Eric Hansen: My take on Drew Pyne is that he's a phenomenal teammate who's made the most out of his abilities. My take on that dynamic is Notre Dame owes itself to be the best version of itself in its postseason game. One of the ways to do that is to give reps to the players who can help you win that game, and neither QB (Coan and Buchner) were in the system last year or even had a fall season. So, not a slap in the face in my opinion.

Frank from Missouri: Why Is it Eric that ND is pretty much ignored during the college football call-in shows. Seems that only the SEC, the Big 10 and Oklahoma and Clemson are discussed. We made the playoff two out of three years. and we are rarely mentioned.

Eric Hansen: Frank, I have no idea which stations/shows you listen to. Maybe it’s a geography thing? That Missouri is in the SEC?

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Eric, if you’re willing to suffer one more O-line question, here goes: Do you have any insight into why Rocco Spindler hasn’t progressed to the point where he’s gotten more snaps, and if that’s the case, can we still feel good about penciling him in at right guard for next year? Thanks, as always, for your insights.

Eric Hansen: Bruce, thank you. Just because he isn't starting doesn't mean he isn't progressing. In fact, when I've asked Brian Kelly about Rocco, BK's been very complimentary. Only two ND freshman offensive linemen have started an opener in the past 50 years (Sam Young and Blake Fisher). Only a handful more have even played as freshmen at all. The last four first-round draft picks from ND who were O-linemen all redshirted as freshmen (Zack Martin, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley). I think there is a very good chance Spindler wi'll start next season.

Sean from Greensboro. N.C.: Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Thanks for the chat, especially the day before Thanksgiving. I will toast you with an Irish whiskey this weekend. I cannot remember a time in my adult life when so many major schools have head coaching openings, especially Florida. Four coaches in eight years is madness. Your thoughts please, and go Irish! Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Sean, a toast to you as well. ... To your question, it's nuts. It really is. And a lot of money is being thrown around for buyouts a year after budgets were severely strained due to the pandemic.

Tom from Grand Rapids via Dowagiac: Eric, I hope you and everyone in your family has a Happy Thanksgiving along with good health! Thank you for these chats and doing your best to add insight and knowledge. With that being said, is C’Bo Flemister hurt or in the perpetual doghouse? With the emergence of Logan Diggs and the show Audric Estime put on Saturday, do you see him entering the portal? Also with the view from the outside, what position groups are the highest priority for development. For me, I felt the defensive backfield, minus No. 14, struggled to tackle effectively and fight off blocks from receivers most of the year. What say you on this?

Eric Hansen: Hi Tom. Thanks for the compliments and Happy Thanksgiving. C'Bo Flemister was in the doghouse, using your term, to start the season. Then he got injured and is still injured. Even with Kyren Williams expected to enter the NFL Draft next spring, pondering the portal probably makes sense for Flemister, who will likely have his degree in hand when he does. ... Position groups with the highest priority for development? For 2022? I'd say all of them, especially quarterback. Who has the most work ahead of them? Probably the defensive backfield, as you mentioned, although there have been some encouraging signs there recently.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a great time with your family. I have found some of the CFP committee's decisions baffling this year. How are members of the committee selected? I am assuming this is a paid position. For example how does someone like Ty Willingham, who basically had a forced retirement from college football, land on the  committee twice? I once heard one of his former players say that he never even watched film when he was the head coach at ND.  Thanks for the insights and all your great work.

Eric Hansen: Happy Thanksgiving, Marie. And if I continue much longer this afternoon, it actually will be Thanksgiving. The members of the committee are selected by a board of managers, made up of university presidents and chancellors. ND president Rev. John Jenkins is on that board. The committee members (13) must include at least one athletic director from each of the five Power 5 conferences. There are other guidelines in place. I'm not sure how Tyrone would rank the teams, but I don't think he's a vindictive person either and would have it out for Notre Dame. But yes, some of the committee’s decisions and explanations have puzzled a lot of us. 

Gerry Labelle from Waltham, Quebec: Eric, hope you had a great Thanksgiving! Finally Notre Dame kept the gas on the pedal for most of the game and put Georgia Tech away early. Does the playoff committee ever look at teams like Georgia, Alabama and Cincinnati playing FCS teams? Only Notre Dame and UCLA have never scheduled an FCS opponent. That should mean something in the rankings - in my opinion! As I commented a while back, Alabama could lose three and still be ranked high by this committee!

Eric Hansen: Gerry, thanks. And an early Happy Boxing Day to you. The committee is supposed to take the entire résumés into account, so playing an FCS team should be a part of that.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Eric. I realize it's very difficult for a coordinator to determine when to make a move as a head coach or where to accept a position. There must be innumerable moving pieces. I have never seen this discussed on sites that I frequent. Do you think Clark Lea has hurt his opportunities to move on to another head coaching position at a more renowned football program?  It must be tough for other institutions to look upon Lea favourably when his team loses so badly, even though the odds are stacked against him. Did he actually deadend himself? And if you are perhaps a school like LSU, Texas or Florida, do you offer coordinator Freeman over head coach Lea?  Thanks a lot.

Eric Hansen: Intriguing questions, Denis, and belated Happy Canadian Thanksgiving. Let's look at it in context. Vanderbilt had three winning seasons in the last 38 that preceded Lea's arrival at his alma mater. They went 0-9 last season, so they’re two wins is an incremental improvement. The Commodores (2-9) were also competitive with South Carolina (21-20), Missouri (37-28) and Ole Miss (31-17), so there's something to be said for that. Let's check in in another couple of years and see what's happening then. Even if Vandy turns out to be a dead end, Lea could reinvent himself by becoming a defensive coordinator again (then seeking a head coaching job) or coaching at lower level (FCS), where he had a better chance to win. As far as Lea vs. Freeman in 2020, Lea was the preferred head coaching candidate. As far as 2021, it’s Freeman.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric, best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!!! Turkey meat: white or dark?? 1) With our first game in '22 in the Horseshoe (at Ohio State) do you think that we will check the portal for a Kicker? Our current kickers have little to no experience. 2) Is C'Bo Flemister able to play? He has been such a good teammate. I hope he can get a couple of carries to end his career. 3) What are some of the things to be gained from the 15 Bowl game practices? 4) Screen pass to Logan Diggs was one of the best executed plays of the year! Congrats to Josh Lugg for earning a Pancake award from Jeff Saturday on ESPN's Get Up show Tuesday for his block on the play!! Go Irish!!!!!

Eric Hansen: Best wishes to you too, Tom. 1. Dark meat all day long. 1A. Only if Josh Bryan were injured. He kicked the final extra point Saturday. Harrison Leonard, a good walk-on, kicked the PAT before that. Scholarship numbers are/will be tight, so it's hard to add a kicker you may never use and take away a scholarship from a position group. 2. He was injured last Saturday and presumably this week as well. 3. It's not necessarily 15 practices, but there are lots of things to gain ... revisiting fundamentals, tweaking schemes, development of younger players among them. 4. That was supposed to be Cain Madden's block, but he was tangled up, so Lugg alertly altered his assignment and threw the block.

Suzie from Chesterton, Ind.: Eric, this season ND had to face seven opponents who were coming off a bye week. This week we see the reverse. Stanford is coming off a beatdown loss to their arch rival in their annual “Big Game.” As a result do you think Stanford will come out flat with low energy and little emotion? Or do you think they will come out fired up and more determined than ever to salvage their season?

Eric Hansen: It's hard to say. You would have thought the Cardinal would have been up for last week's rivalry game with Cal. I think it's more about health and talent than it is about fired up or not fired up in this one.

Nikki from Queens, N.Y. Hey Eric, just was wondering what you thought about our most recent commit in punter Bryce McFerson. It’s so hard to get a good scouting report on these guys, as every punter or kicker who commits seems to be listed as elite, just as Josh Bryan was last year.

Eric Hansen: Hi Nikki. We really rely on those kicker/specialist academies/camps such as Chris Sailer and Kohl's kicking. Sailer has McFerson No. 1 and Kohl's has him No. 2 nationally. That's a position they can evaluate better than Rivals or 247Sports. And Josh Bryan may very well turn out to be elite. He hasn't had his turn yet.

Ray from Normal, Ill.: After Senior Day, the questions and comments always seem to ramp up as to which players will return for another year. Which current senior would surprise you the most by returning? To be fair, I'm not going to allow you to pick Kyren Williams or Kyle Hamilton, as they aren't seniors.

Eric Hansen: Kevin Austin Jr., and yet I think he should come back for his own sake.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, did I hear Brian Kelly correctly on Monday that Jordan Botelho is doing some training at the rover position? Is this a fit for him or just based on current needs? Thanks, Jeff.

Eric Hansen: Both. They're running out of bodies, and Jordan was a standout linebacker in high school in Honolulu. Particularly against teams that like to play "big" (Wisconsin, Stanford), it makes even more sense.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Who do you consider to be the most valuable offensive and defensive players on this year's team?  Who is the most improved?

Eric Hansen: Kyren Williams and Isaiah Foskey. Most improved, from the start of the season until now? Joe Alt and Ramon Henderson.

Eric Hansen: OK, I went 4 hours and 45 minutes today — a new record and still too slow (brain and fingers) to get to all the questions. ... There were quite a few about who's coming back and who's not in 2022. I touched on it a bit last week, so let's wait a couple of weeks before we revisit that question. By then, there will be more clarity and less guessing.

Thanks for all the great questions. Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Black Friday and Happy Hanukkah, which comes very early this year. We'll be back to do it all over again next Wednesday at noon ET.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI