While Notre Dame’s 0-2 start to the season was not successful, our first mailbag feature was a hit, with questions pouring in over the past 2 weeks. Fortunately for this edition of the mailbag, we have 2 Notre Dame victories to discuss. While Notre Dame fans had to wait 4 games for Marcus Freeman’s first win as coach, the good news is Notre Dame has reeled off 2 wins in a row and should it get past No. 19 BYU on Oct. 8 in Las Vegas, there’s a clear path to a 5-2 record before a visit to Syracuse on Oct. 29. If Notre Dame can get to 9 wins, a New Year’s Six bowl still is very much a possibility for Freeman, and that would be a quality accomplishment in his first full season at the helm,

Let’s do questions!!

What are Notre Dame’s chances of landing a top-5 recruiting class? Are they still very strong? – Bill, Madison, Wis.

If I had to scale it 1-10, I would say Notre Dame’s chances of landing a top-5 class for the 2023 cycle are an 8. It would take a huge close for Notre Dame to finish at the top, given the departure of top-10 recruit Keon Keeley of Tampa, Fla. But the Fighting Irish still are situated to sign a monster defensive class, led by 5-star safety Peyton Bowen, and 4-star Drayk Bowen of Indiana (the top-ranked player in the state) and Adon Shuler.

The Fighting Irish currently sit 5th in the 247 2023 rankings, but even if Keeley ends up at Alabama, as expected, adding 1 of 5-star Samuel M’Pemba, an edge from IMG Academy, or Taeshaun Lyons, a top-300 wide receiver from California, would cement a top-5 group. Both are to visit Notre Dame over the next month.

Would 9-3 get Notre Dame to a New Year’s Six? Tristan, Delaware


The answer to this is difficult this early, but as long as Notre Dame is in the top 12 come December, it almost certainly would be headed to the New Year’s Six. To do that, the Fighting Irish will have to finish 7-1. While possible, that’s not simple: the BYU game looms large as a test of whether Notre Dame truly has turned the corner after the 0-2 start, Clemson will come to South Bend on Nov. 5, an Oct. 29 trip to Syracuse suddenly is tricky thanks to what Robert Anae has done to resuscitate the Orange offense, and Southern Cal will see blood in the water when the Fighting Irish visit on Nov. 26. Notre Dame has won 4 in a row in the rivalry with the Trojans to take the series lead — Southern California will want to reverse that immediately in a battle of 1st-year coaches. That’s 4 difficult games that remain, and Notre Dame would need to finish 3-1 in those to get to 9-3 and play in a 3rd consecutive New Year’s Six bowl.

What matchup concerns you most in the BYU game? Tom, Denton, Texas

BYU is a very efficient offense. The Cougars rank 22nd in yards per play nationally and 25th in success rate.  Stopping the pass is job one, and while Notre Dame did stymie North Carolina for parts of their 45-32 win last weekend in Chapel Hill, Drake Maye still threw for 301 yards and 5 touchdowns. Jaren Hall is as good as Maye, if not better, and with 1,164 yards passing this season and an impressive 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the Cougars quarterback is going to make some plays. The Fighting Irish started slowly up front but now have 13 sacks this season, good for a top-20 national ranking. They also rank among the top 20 in quarterback pressures. That presents the classic strength-on-strength matchup: BYU has allowed only 5 sacks, ranking among the top 30 in the country in that statistic, and among the top 20 in fewest pressures allowed. A big challenge playing BYU is generating consistent pressure — with the exception of freshman tackle Kingsley Suamataia, the highest-ranked prospect on BYU’s football team, the Cougars start all upperclassman on the offensive line and the youngest player of that 4-man group is 22. When you play BYU, you play grown men, and that has long been an edge for the Cougars.

What do you think of Tommy Rees’ performance this season? Jason, South Bend, Ind.

It’s hard to erase the memory of this offense sputtering along under Tyler Buchner, a playmaker who was supposed to give the Fighting Irish a different element at the quarterback position. It wasn’t like Notre Dame marched up and down the field against Cal, either. The Fighting Irish had just 297 yards in that game, though they did achieve balance (150 rushing, 147 passing). Finally, as good as the offense looked against the Tar Heels, everyone has moved the ball against North Carolina’s defense.

Rees’ biggest tests are ahead of him, beginning with BYU. Yes, the steady play of Drew Pyne is encouraging. I also think Marcus Freeman will credit Rees for how well he has recruited — remember, Rees probably is the top recruiter on that staff or certainly among the top 2 or 3 recruiters.

I’m new to the beat — but Rees, an alum of the university and at 30, a rising star in the industry, unlikely is to stay in college anywhere but Notre Dame. That leads me to think he’s back next season, because there’s no real NFL buzz by his name, and won’t be unless the Fighting Irish become a potent offense under Pyne, a scenario that remains unlikely.

More likely: Audric Estime rallies to get to 1,000 yards or Isaiah Foskey gets to 10 sacks? Susan, Pittsburgh

To set this up for the reader … the Fighting Irish have Foskey coming off 2 solid games, but he’s only at 3 sacks through 4 games. Estime, on the other hand, just had easily his best game, and he sits at 264 yards on the season.

Notre Dame is healthy up front now, and Rees said last week that balance is vital moving forward. I’m leaning Estime on this question, because while the Fighting Irish will continue to incorporate Chris Tyree into the game as often as possible, Estime would need 736 yards over presumably 9 games to get to 1,000. That seems a little more likely than Foskey getting 7 sacks in the final 9 games — though I should at least acknowledge Foskey is on pace to get to 10 sacks by the USC game.

It’s a tough debate, but one with a key takeaway: Notre Dame needs both to occur if they want to close strong and sniff the New Year’s Six or a solid New Year’s Day bowl.