For the second straight year, Notre Dame and Texas will begin their college football seasons against one another. Can the Longhorns make this year’s contest between the two teams more competitive than Notre Dame’s 38-3 trampling from last year?
That win was the first of several impressive ones for the Irish in 2015, who positioned themselves as College Football Playoff contenders even after a close loss at Clemson and a ridiculous run of injuries whittled down their offensive depth charts. Brian Kelly’s bunch didn’t make college football’s final four thanks to a late-season loss to Stanford, but they will be back with a vengeance in 2016, with quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer each proving to be capable hands.
That drubbing Texas took in South Bend, on the other hand, was just one of several brutal losses the Longhorns absorbed early on in 2015. Texas staged a midseason stunner by upsetting eventual Playoff participant Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, but still finished a disappointing 5-7 on the season, posting a losing record for the second consecutive year. Charlie Strong’s recruiting is restoring the Longhorns’ cupboard to levels that might allow his team to compete for Big 12 titles again, but if that team can’t win more games on the field, it might not be his for too much longer.
And another bad loss to Notre Dame, especially as college football’s lone game on this Sunday, would be an awful way to start a pivotal 2016 campaign.
Bill C.'s big previews
Bill C.'s big previews
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: The Irish started the week as a 3.5-point favorite.
Three big things to know
1. How many QBs does Notre Dame have? Kelly has been vocal about playing both Zaire and Kizer — who were starter and backup entering 2015, only to see Zaire get hurt and Kizer shine brightly in his stead — in this game, and perhaps at the same time. But as Ohio State’s 2015 struggles with finding a quarterback showed, playing more than one quarterback isn’t without potential bad consequences. If Zaire or Kizer falters in a close game, is Kelly going to tip his hand by playing one over the other?
2. How well will Notre Dame run on the ‘Horns? The Irish are bullish about their running game, which averaged better than 5 yards per carry in 2015 despite converted receiver C.J. Prosise doing much of the work in the backfield. Prosise is gone, but injured incumbent starter Tarean Folston is back and joined by Josh Adams, who had more than 800 yards as a freshman in 2015. Behind a sturdy line, Notre Dame should be able to put up more than 200 yards on the ground against the Texas defense again — especially given that the Longhorns coughed up nearly 400 rushing yards to an injury-stricken Baylor in their 2015 finale.
3. Can Shane Buechele help Texas fight? The Texas freshman is expected to be the next big thing at quarterback for the ‘Horns, and there are hosannas being sung about him already. But he’s only a freshman, and while he could be an upgrade from Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, Buechele is also smaller than Swoopes and less shifty than Heard, making him a potential injury liability behind a line that yielded 32 sacks in 2015.
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