Texas is expected to improve on its 6-7 record of 2014 with this being Charlie Strong’s second year as head coach, and look for the Longhorns to play the Irish tough in Week 1.
One of the more marquee matchups of Week 1 of the 2015 college football season takes place on Saturday night, September 5th and look for the nearly double-digit underdog Texas Longhorns to make a close game of it when they visit the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN at 7:30 ET in a game televised nationally on NBC.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Texas as a decided road underdog for this contest with the current line at +9½ with odds of -106.
Should Improve on 6-7 Record
Charlie Strong took over as the head coach of the Longhorns last season, and it was an uneven year where the defense was outstanding at times while keeping Texas in games but the offense usually sputtered. The end result was a 6-6 regular season followed by a 31-7 blowout loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl in Houston. Improvement is now expected in Strong’s second season however.
Notre Dame comes off of an 8-5 season that ended with being the upset winning college football pick 31-28 over the LSU Tigers in the Music City Bowl, but remember that the offense was under the guidance of quarterback Everett Golson last year, and he has now transferred to Florida State, and the defense could still be a concern after surrendering 35.4 points per game in the last seven regular season games of 2014 before allowing 28 in the bowl game.
Up-Tempo Offense Should Help
Now, Texas is young on both sides of the ball this year, but the Longhorns do return quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Some may see that as a negative as Swoopes was inconsistent last year while throwing for 2409 yards and 13 touchdowns but also tossing 11 interceptions. However, Texas is now moving to an up-tempo spread offense this year more geared to Swoopes’s strengths, and that should help in his development.
Texas also has a potential 1000-yard rusher in the backfield in senior Jonathan Gray, who played sparingly last year yet still managed 637 rushing yards on 147 carries with seven rushing touchdowns, and he will now be running behind a much improved offensive line. Given the expected struggles of the Notre Dame defense, this game can be a coming-out of sorts for both Swoopes and Gray in the new spread offense.
The Longhorns lost six starters in defense, but the players that did return can all do damage vs. an Irish team breaking in a new young quarterback in Malik Zaire. Texas led the Big 12 with 40 sacks last year while allowing just 184.2 passing yards per game, and Desmond Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway are both back to terrorize opposing quarterbacks while cornerback Duke Thomas is also back to take away the top Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller.
Can Zaire Handle the Pressure?
Granted. Notre Dame has loads of talent at the running back and wide receiver positions and Zaire performed commendably in the upset of LSU in the Music City Bowl in relief of Golson. However, keep in mind that last year was a down season for LSU and Zaire now figures to face a lot more pressure from the Texas front seven. How he handles the pressure could be the key to the result here, and we are uncomfortable giving this many points with the young signal-caller.
Speaking of uncomfortable, that is precisely how Zaire will feel if Thomas effectively takes away Fuller as expected, forcing the youngster to search for secondary options while usually dodging Texas linemen.
And then there is that Notre Dame defense, a unit that still lacks a premier pass rusher and that could struggle vs. spread offenses such as Texas is instituting this year all season. Yes the Irish may get a boost with linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace both returning from serious injuries, but that boost may come as the season goes on and not in the opener vs. an offensive style the Irish (or anyone else) have not yet seen from the Longhorns.
Even the recent trends from last year seem to support the underdog Longhorns here as Texas went 4-1 ATS in its last five road games to close 2014 while Notre Dame is just 1-4 ATS in their last five home games.
Notre Dame is often overvalued, especially at home, and that appears to be the case again here if Texas is as improved as we expect, so we recommend backing the Longhorns with the big points in Week 1 on Saturday, September 5th.
College Football Pick: Texas +9½ (-106)