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Notre Dame 99-to-0: The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie

Clemson v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 05: Rylie Mills #99 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a third down stop against the Clemson Tigers during the first half at Notre Dame Stadium on November 05, 2022 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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At the beginning of March, Notre Dame projected to have 94 scholarship players this fall, nine more than the maximum allowed by the NCAA.

Then, an incoming freshman (safety Brandyn Hillman) asked out of his National Letter of Intent. Next, a handful of medical retirements or steps away from the football program before spring practices commenced (headlined by quarterback Ron Powlus III and offensive lineman Caleb Johnson) accounted for most of expected roster movement. Eventually, Virginia Tech transfer receiver Kaleb Smith retired toward the end of spring practices.

At that point, the Irish were down to 86 players expected to be on the roster for preseason practices, a reasonable spot to be in with summer attrition likely to shed a few more players before Notre Dame flies to Dublin. Mid-summer transfer announcements may no longer be a consistent piece of college football thanks to the narrowed transfer windows, but graduate students can enter the transfer portal at any point and maintain immediate eligibility. For that matter, undergraduate players can transfer at any point; they just have to wait a season to play.

Logic said, either those dynamics or an injury would presumably knock the Irish to the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarship players. Instead, four juniors hopped into the transfer portal as Notre Dame closed spring practices. Losing receiver Lorenzo Styles, linebacker Prince Kollie, quarterback Tyler Buchner and running back Logan Diggs robbed the Irish of some talent, some top-line depth and of any wondering about scholarship numbers.

At 82 players now, Notre Dame should not flirt with crossing the threshold of 85 this summer. Adding more than three transfers would be a surprise, and the Irish may not find even that many.

All of which is to say, this summer’s annual “Notre Dame 99-to-0” series will be a bit truncated from the usual renditions. At this point in the year, 86 or 87 names are usually slotted into the running content calendar. Currently, only 82 are.

Exactly 82 days from today, May 8, the Irish should hold their first preseason practice, a week earlier than usual thanks to starting the season a week earlier than usual due to international travels. That late-July practice will mark the start of Marcus Freeman’s second season leading Notre Dame and quarterback Sam Hartman’s only year wearing a plain gold helmet.

“Plain” was not meant in the negative tone some may read it. Rather, it simply means, the Irish gold helmets lack the black interlocking WF that Wake Forest features.

The “Notre Dame 99-to-0” series will otherwise be unchanged, beginning with senior defensive tackle Rylie Mills tomorrow and ending with either junior receiver Deion Colzie or senior safety Xavier Watts just before the Irish begin preseason practices. Some days may include two entries, likely of the same number, as compensation for the inevitable night with no access to the ethers of the internet while camping in the woods.

Those frustrations will again be tolerated from the content-production view in part because of encouragement this past fall, learning at least one NBC employee reads every single entry to try to buttress the home-game broadcasts.

This sixth year of “99-to-0” — dating back to 2017 but not counting the furlough-forced absence in 2020 — will again serve as a loose countdown to football returning. The jersey numbers will exceed the number of days before practice until the precipitous drop from No. 70 Ashton Craig to No. 54 Blake Fisher in the span of five days, but the implied countdown should give a sense of how close football season is throughout the summer.

Furthermore, proceeding by number will again allow whole position groups to be discussed in concert. The first seven entries will be defensive linemen, then a chunk of tight ends will proceed the entire offensive line.

July will be filled with the excitement of skill position players and quarterbacks, the areas of the roster Notre Dame continues to improve as it tries to move from consistent top-15 status to consistent top-5 status. That process is nowhere near complete, but Hartman may accelerate the 2023 progress.

That thought will need to wait until No. 10 arrives in mid-July.

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