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How would beating Notre Dame alter Texas’ 2016 expectations?

A win against the No. 11 team in the season opener would speak volumes of this team’s potential

NCAA Football: Texas at Notre Dame Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Texas’ 2016 season, by nearly all accounts, will make or break head coach Charlie Strong’s immediate future in Austin. Whether the determining factor is the eye test or an exact figure in the win column, the clear consensus is on-field results are now required. Considering Texas’ schedule, which includes five teams ranked in the Preseason AP Top 20, the challenge at hand looms as large as the expectations. With Strong’s decisive season set to kick off as the entire nation watches when Notre Dame enters Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, how would an upset over the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish alter 2016’s expectations?

There’s a convincing argument to be made for the Longhorns’ season opener being their most difficult matchup of the season, which has more to do with Texas than an explosive Notre Dame offense led by two Heisman candidate quarterbacks.

At this point, true freshman Shane Buechele is essentially the unspoken starting quarterback and he’s, by far, the focal point of the nation’s attention September 4 against a team that thrashed Texas 38-3 to begin last season. Buechele will face a substantial amount of pressure during his first ever game in DKR, to say the least, but Texas is still, though considerably talented, stacked with youth on both sides of the ball. Even if Oklahoma October 8, Baylor October 29 or TCU in the season finale November 25 prove to be better teams, Texas’ added experience should be easily noticeable by then–something not possible against Notre Dame. In short, if a new offensive coordinator’s new offense led by a new quarterback were to suffer any beginner’s bumps, it likely comes against Notre Dame.

Yet, despite a quarterback set to make his college debut and an all-around inexperienced roster, ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Texas a 54.1 percent chance to beat Notre Dame. If that were to hold true and Texas began the season 1-0 followed by a nearly given victory against UTEP and fairly winnable rematch against California, the expectations of seven or eight wins for Strong to return in 2017 may seem a bit shallow.

According to ESPN’s FPI, Texas has greater than a 50 percent chance to win 10 of its 12 games, with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma being the exceptions. While that doesn’t necessarily mean the Longhorns are expected to win 10 games with the 17th most difficult schedule, it’s evidence of the talent to win at a much higher clip than last season’s five-win effort being in place.

ESPN

Beating Notre Dame to begin the season would only serve as affirmation of this young, but talented Texas team’s potential and any pleas of inexperience wouldn’t be as reasonable as they may still be with a Texas loss. Avenging last season’s embarrassing opener in a true freshman quarterback’s debut would only prove the ‘Horns can play well enough to compete with and beat the nation’s headliners, and that expectation would only carry on from week to week and amplify with each win.

Though every game on the schedule – aside from UTEP and Kansas – is one Texas could realistically come up short in, losses like last season’s near-victories against California, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, as well as the 24-0 blowout loss to Iowa State and 18-point loss to West Virginia would be expected to have different outcomes. While much of the same could be anticipated regardless of the Notre Dame outcome, Texas defeating a team with sights set on the College Football Playoff right out of the gates sets a much higher standard for the entire season. Strong’s need for seven or eight wins then becomes an expected eight, nine and possibly even 10 wins.

But hey, such high standards are what Strong hopes reestablish as the norm at Texas, right? He gets his wish if Texas beats Notre Dame September 4.