The 2021 coaching cycle brought massive shake-ups to the sport.
Following the move, there was a lot of talk about recruiting. Kelly felt he could amass better talent in the state of Louisiana, while Notre Dame fans were optimistic that Freeman would recruit better than Kelly at Notre Dame. We now have some data to see how it has all played out.
Here’s how LSU’s recruiting under Kelly has compared to Marcus Freeman’s over the last two years.
Kelly and Freeman have each recruited two full cycles at LSU and Notre Dame. Here’s where each class ranked nationally.
LSU 2023: 6th
Notre Dame 2023: 12th
LSU 2024: 7th
Notre Dame 2024: 9th
LSU average: 6.5
Notre Dame average: 10.5
Thus far, Kelly’s high school classes have been better. Freeman did ink a better class in 2022, but for the most part, that class was built by Kelly at Notre Dame.
However, context is important here. If Kelly’s assumption was that it’s easier to get top talent at LSU, we can look at some historical data to see if that holds up.
Here’s how the classes compared in the five years leading up to the change.
LSU average class ranking 2017-21: 6.8
Notre Dame average class ranking 2017-21: 12.6
LSU recruited markedly better than Notre Dame in this span. From 2019-21, LSU had three straight top-five classes. Kelly didn’t have any at Notre Dame during that time.
But Kelly’s recent classes at LSU are about where LSU expects to be.
Freeman’s transfer classes at Notre Dame have ranked 76th, 29th and 36th.
At LSU, Kelly’s transfer classes have ranked third, fifth and 42nd.
Freeman and Notre Dame have been more selective in their transfers while Kelly relied on the portal to assist his rebuild his first two years. So far, LSU and Notre Dame are in the same ballpark this cycle.
Notre Dame has recruited at a better and more consistent level these last few years. A lot of that can be attributed to Freeman, but the uptick started before Kelly left.
Kelly put together top 10 classes in 2021 and 2022, that on average, were better than Freeman’s classes in 2023 and 2024.
At LSU, Kelly’s proven himself as a recruiter. He’s yet to sign a consensus top five class, but he’s come close with back to back consensus top seven classes.