Texas Longhorns(0-0SU,0-0ATS) vs.Notre Dame Fighting Irish(0-0SU,0-0ATS)
College Football Week1
Date/Time:Saturday, September 4th, 7:30 PMEST
Where:Notre Dame Stadium
byMike M,NCAAFootballHandicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread:Tex +9.5/ND -9.5
The Texas Longhorns travel to South Bend for a primetime showdown against Notre Dame in a battle of two of the winningest teams in college football history (Texas is third all-time with 881 wins, Notre Dame is second with 882). This will be the first night home opener for the Irish since 1990 when they beat Michigan 28-24 and were led by quarterback Rick Mirer, who you might remember going to the Seattle Seahawks with the second pick in the 1993 NFL Draft and finding about the same professional success as other gems picked in the #2 spot like Ryan Leaf, Blair Thomas and Tony Mandarich.
2014 was Charlie Strongs first year as head coach of the Longhorns and immediately emphasized the importance of integrity and character by cleaning house with an addition by subtraction approach, trimming the team of players who were not part of the character mold he was hoping to build upon. Their offense was designed around quarterback David Ash, who unfortunately got hurt early in the season which led to dual-threat Tyrone Swoopes being thrust into the starting roll. Swoopes showed flashes of brilliance during the season, none more so than against Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry where he set the game record for total offense and nearly led the team back from an eighteen point deficient before the comeback fell short late in the 4thquarter. For the most part though, he struggled with consistency, especially against quality opponents as the team had a record of just 1-5 against ranked teams, and in those five losses he never topped 200 yards passing in a game, averaging just 154 yards in the air per contest. Overall the team finished the season ranked 110thin the country in total offense and 106thin scoring offense. This year the team returns seven starters from that offense but severely lacks in the skill position department as they lose their top running back and top two wide receivers, which leaves Marcus Johnson as the teams top wideout with just 27 catches. How Swoopes adjusts and acclimates himself to the spread offense will determine how much the team can improve on last years dismal output.
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Defense is the strength for Texas despite losing six of their top seven tacklers, including defensive end stalwarts Malcolm Brown and Cedric Reed who are now playing on Sundays in the NFL. The team has reloaded well with recent strong recruiting classes, and top linebacker freshman Malik Jefferson showed why he was given an elite grade out of high school as he dominated throughout spring and summer practices, giving Longhorn fans a glimpse of the greatness theyll be seeing for the next few years in Austin. Coach Strong is known for his defensive intelligence, and despite the lack of experience should be able to get the most of a very talented group.
Notre Dame in some ways had a similar season in 2014 to the Longhorns. They also made a quarterback change to an exciting young dual-threat quarterback in Malik Zaire, but their change happened toward the end of the year and wasnt due to injury, it was because their initial starter Everett Golson was incapable of holding onto the ball with consistency, as he continuously hampered the teams chance of winning multiple games down the stretch with his turnover incompetency. The Irish also return seven starters to their offense, but unlike Texas, get almost all of their skill position experience back from last year, most notably running back Tarean Folston and a deep wide receiving core led by Will Fuller, who last season had over 1,000 yards receiving to go along with fifteen touchdown receptions.
Much like Texas, the strong point of the Irish team is their defense, which returns nine starters from last season that includes their top eight tacklers from 2014. Injuries decimated the Notre Dame D last year, which along with Golsons above mentioned turnover issues contributed substantially to the teams 1-5 record to end the regular season after a promising 6-0 start. While the injury bug continued this offseason as they lost nose tackle Jarron Jones, the teams 2014 leader in tackles for loss, to a torn MCL, the pass rush and linebacking core are expected to be the shining point in South Bend in 2015
The key to Saturdays showdown will be how the quarterbacks react to the expected pressure from the opposing defensive line and this theoretically should benefit the Irish. Malik Zaire will have ample experienced weapons to throw to in case of a breakdown by his offensive line which should give him a sort of safety net that should be immensely beneficial if he finds himself scrambling from pressure and looking downfield for a reliable target. Swoopes and his offensive line struggled late last season, and if they cant find a quick answer to the Irish pass rush, its going to be a long night under the lights in Indiana for the Longhorns.
With the strength of both teams clearly on the defensive side of the ball and both offenses facing questions marks I would expect a lower scoring game than the expected total of 54.5. If this game was played later on in the year and Swoopes had more time to build up consistency on the Texas offense I might be picking the Longhorns to cover, but I think too much is in Notre Dames favor for this opening week matchup. They have a more experienced, well-rounded offense and get to play in front of their hometown faithful at Notre Dame Stadium, and while both teams obviously want a win to start their season, I think the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly need this one more. This is supposed to be best team Kelly has had in his now sixth year as the head coach in South Bend, and last years second half collapse after a 6-0 start has certainly left a sour taste of failed expectations that can only be washed away by a strong showing to start the season. Texas should be able to keep the game close for a while, but by games end the talent and intangibles of Notre Dame should prove too much for Swoops and the Longhorns to overcome.
MikesPick to Cover the Point Spread:Notre Dame wins!