One question is repeatedly asked 365 days a year, 24-7 by college football fans of their favorite teams: How many scholarships can be given out this year?
Generally, there is no “correct” answer most of the time because rosters are fluid, especially this time of year when players might turn pro (Kyle Rudolph and purportedly Michael Floyd), transfer (offensive lineman Alex Bullard to Tennessee), or some decisions still need to be made on who will return for a fifth season.
Nevertheless, here is a review of the current scholarship breakdown, with each class referring to the 2011 football season. There are 85 scholarships allowed, per NCAA rules:
• 22 seniors — This includes quarterback Nate Montana, who originally enrolled as a walk-on, and the return of Michael Floyd, who was contemplating turning pro.
• 15 juniors — Three players from the original group are no longer with the program: E.J. Banks, Bullard and Shaquelle Evans (UCLA).
• 19 sophomores — There were originally 23 signed last February, but offensive tackle Matt James died in a spring break accident, cornerback Spencer Boyd transferred to South Florida, safety Derek Roback transferred to Ohio U. and safety Chris Badger, who is on a Mormon mission in Ecuador, has a scholarship awaiting him in 2012.
That's 56 scholarship players from those three classes, which leaves Notre Dame 29 for the 85 maximum.
Right now the Irish have 20 verbal commitments, most recently Zack Martin's younger brother, Nick Martin, another offensive lineman. That puts the number at 76.
The five fifth-year seniors we are expecting to return are safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Gary Gray, offensive tackle Taylor Dever, kicker David Ruffer and tight end Mike Ragone. That takes us to 81, if indeed those five return.
That leaves four more scholarships for this year, or room to fill out the remaining needs with a maximum one-year total of 25. The best-case scenario — on paper — for the Irish to fill out those four spots would be defensive end Aaron Lynch, followed by a mix and match that includes either Ishaq Williams or defensive lineman Troy Niklas, running backs Savon Huggins or Amir Carlisle, or potentially offensive lineman Chase Hounshell.
Signing four of those six would entail a strong finish. If the remaining four slots are not filled, then another fifth-year senior such as offensive linemen Matt Romine or Andrew Nuss can fill the spot, especially if Ruffer or Ragone doesn’t return.
The roster is still fluid, but it has crystallized a little more in the past week.