The term ‘polar opposites’ would accurately describe the roster landscapes between Texas and Notre Dame for Sunday’s season opener, as opposed to 2015. While the majority of Texas’ talent spent last season suffering through growing pains, Notre Dame may be in for much of the same after losing the bulk of 2015’s production, though, many still expect the Fighting Irish to be a team capable of a College Football Playoff run. For better or worse, this isn’t the same Notre Dame team that trounced Texas 38-3 last September, and for what can only be for the better, this is also a distinguishably different Longhorns unit entering the 2016 slate.
For the 12th time, and second in as many seasons, two of college bluebloods are set to battle as one of the headliners of the greatest opening weekend in college football history.
· Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Texas 9-2
· Notre Dame is 4-0 against Texas in Austin
· Sept. 4 is first meeting in Austin since Notre Dame’s 27-24 victory Sept. 21, 1996
· Texas hasn’t beaten Notre Dame since its 1970 Cotton Bowl victory
· Notre Dame and Texas are the second and third most winningest programs in college football history with 892 and 886 wins, respectively
Statistical Texas Tidbits
· Texas is 102-18-3 all-time in openers
· Texas has won its last 16 home openers
· Charlie Strong is 3-8 against ranked opponents, but won two consecutive (Oklahoma, Baylor)
· Texas is 0-11 when an opponent scores first and 0-11 when trailing at halftime under Strong
· Texas returns 226 career starts and 14 starters from 2015
· Tyrone Swoopes enters 2016 just 28 yards shy of 3,000 career passing yards and 208 yards shy of 1,000 career rushing yards; a feat that would put the senior in company with only Vince Young and Colt McCoy
· Bevo XV will be introduced prior to the game, making the 100-year anniversary of Bevo
Notes on Notre Dame
· Notre Dame returns only six starters from 2015; it’s lowest ever
· The Fighting Irish saw seven players from 2015 drafted; seven more signed NFL contracts
· Notre Dame hasn’t opened the season with a true road game since 2006
· Notre Dame is one of only five schools to return multiple starting quarterbacks that beat a Power Five school in 2015
· Notre Dame’s No. 10 preseason ranking is its highest since being ranked No. 2 in 2006
· The Fighting Irish haven’t suffered a losing season since 2007 (3-9)
Not the same Notre Dame
As noted, Notre Dame returns only six starters from a team that was on the cusp of the College Football Playoff in 2015, despite a plague of injuries to key contributors. Statistically, Notre Dame’s 2015 defense was more average than elite and now will be taksed with replacing elite talents in the front seven such as Butkus Award winner (nation’s best linebacker) Daylon Smith and defensive linemen Romeo Okwara and Sheldon Day. Linebacker Joe Schmidt, safeties Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farley, along with standout cornerback KeiVarea Russell will need to be replaced, too.
And that’s just the defense.
Offensively, the Fighting Irish are fortunate to return two high-level, experienced quarterbacks in Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer – both will play against Texas – as well as a more than capable backfield consisting of Josh Adams and Tarean Folston, who rushed for 889 yards in 2014, but essentially missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL he suffered against Texas. But the Irish did lose 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Prosise, their top three receivers, a group headlined by Will Fuller. Receiver Corey Robinson was also forced to retire due to concussions and expected 2016 difference maker, tight end Alize Jones, will miss the 2016 season due to academic ineligibility.
More recently, and much more publicized was the arrest of six Notre Dame players in two separate incidents – Devin Butler in his own incident with a police office, while five others – Ashton White, Kevin Stepherson Jr., Te’von Coney, Dexter Williams and starting safety Max Redfield – were arrested after a police officer reportedly found marijuana and a handgun in the vehicle. Butler has been suspended indefinitely, while Redfield was dismissed from the team. For the other four, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said, “They will be available to play,” against Texas. That may not ultimately be the case, though, as the university will have the final say on suspensions; that is, if it concludes its investigation prior to Sunday evening.
The Irish still have enough talent to fight
Regardless of all the offseason attrition, which has been well documented, there’s reason many believe the Fighting Irish are capable of a playoff push. The current quarterback situation is, well, a really good problem to have. Notre Dame’s backfield has the capabilities of producing two 1,000-yard rushers and the offensive line, despite needing to replace three starters, is still massive and loaded with talent. The defensive line, which Charlie Strong said “will probably be the most physical front four we’ll face all season” could prove problematic for Texas, which isn’t ideal considering Texas’ rush defense isn’t expected to have its way against the Irish offensive line.
Does Notre Dame have its share of question marks? Sure. Just look at the receiving and linebacker corps, the secondary and overall lack of experienced depth. But Notre Dame is ranked preseason No. 10 for a reason.