Notre Dame is heading into another season with National Championship aspirations and has a pair of quarterbacks leading what should be an explosive offense. Texas, which hosts the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish in the season opener on Sunday, is hoping to bounce back from a losing season and is motivated to improve.
Notre Dame’s two regular-season losses last year came by a total of four points, and the team still had a chance to go to the College Football Playoff until falling 38-36 to Stanford in the regular-season finale. The Fighting Irish began 2015 with Malik Zaire under center but watched him go down with a fractured ankle in Week 2, leading to a strong effort from DeShone Kizer the rest of the way and a battle throughout camp that has yet to resolve itself. The Longhorns opened up their own competition at quarterback in camp and declared a winner between senior Tyrone Swoopes and freshman Shane Buechele, though they don’t plan on letting the rest of the world know until Sunday. “It’s just about being consistent and being progressive, and be able to know and execute,” Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert told reporters of the quarterback battle. “It’s like any offense – if you execute it at a high level, if you do your job at a high level, then the majority of the time you’re the guy.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC.
LINE HISTORY: The Irish opened as 4.5-point road favorites for their season opener, but since then the line has moved slightly in the Longhorns favor. The current number is Notre Dame -3.5. As for the total, it has been bet down slightly since opening at 60 and is currently sitting at 59. Check out the complete line history here.
WEATHER REPORT: There is a 20 percent chance of rain and a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast during the game. There will also be a five-to-six mile per hour wind gusting towards the northwest corner of the stadium.
Notre Dame – DL J. Haynes (questionable Sunday, ankle), CB A. White (questionable Sunday, possible suspension), LB T. Coney (questionable Sunday, possible suspension), WR K. Stepherson (questionable Sunday, possible suspension), RB D. Williams (questionable Sunday, possible suspension), RB J. Brent (out Sunday, foot), CB D. Butler (out Saturday, suspension), TE A. Jones (out Sunday, Academics).
Texas – OL Z. Shackelford (probable Sunday, undisclosed), RB C. Warren III (probable Sunday, ankle), RB D. Foreman (questionable Sunday, hamstring), OL B. Major (out Sunday, finger), RB R. Benard (out Sunday, knee), WR L. Joe (out Saturday, hamstring), WR D. McNeal (out Sunday, suspension).
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “Embarrassing 38-3 season-opening loss last year to the Irish figures to have the Longhorns fully focused in this re-match. The fact that freshmen made a total of 77 starts for Texas last season brings an influx of youthful experience in 2016. With head coach Charlie Strorg just 11-14 in his first two seasons with UT, expect a big effort from the Steers tonight.” – Covers Expert Marc Lawrence.
ABOUT NOTRE DAME (2015: 10-3): Zaire’s lone full game last season was the opener at home against Texas, during which he completed 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-3 thrashing. Kizer ended up with 21 passing TDs and 10 rushing scores in a breakout campaign and both quarterbacks are expected to go in Week 1, though the team has yet to decide which will take the first snap. “Haven’t figured that out yet,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly told reporters. “I mean, they’re both doing the same things that we’ve been asking them to do, and that may be something that we discuss in the locker room. It’s not really an issue for us right now. It’s not something that we’ve contemplated.”
ABOUT TEXAS (2015: 5-7): The Longhorns look like an improved team after closing the 2015 campaign with a win at Baylor and bringing in another top recruiting class. “The attitude of the team right now – offense, defense, special teams – is something we didn’t have last year, in my opinion,” Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford told reporters. “Guys are focused, ready to go. They’re ready to prove that last year was a fluke.” Swoopes got the start last season at Notre Dame and went 7-of-22 for 93 yards as the Longhorns were outgained 527-163.
* Notre Dame is 4-1 ATS in its last five games in September.
* Texas is 1-5-1 ATS in its last seven games versus Independent opponents.
* Over is 8-2 in Notre Dame’s last 10 road games.
* Under is 23-10 in Texas’ last 33 games overall.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The public is laying the points with the favorite, with 58 percent of wagers on Notre Dame. When it comes to the total, bettors are on the under with 62 percent of wagers on it.