College Football Picks: Lean Notre Dame -9.5 in Storied Matchup vs. Texas

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 5:51 PM UTC

Wednesday, Sep. 2, 2015 5:51 PM UTC

The marquee matchup of Week 1 in college football is Texas visiting No. 11 Notre Dame on Saturday night. The Irish are -9.5 with a game total of 50 in the College Football odds market.

Final Seasons For Strong And/Or Kelly?
It's quite possible that neither head coach, Texas' Charlie Strong or Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, is with his current school next season. Hear me out. Strong was not all that warmly welcomed by some big-name boosters when he was hired to replace Mack Brown before last season. Strong is a bit standoffish with boosters and wants to simply focus on football. That don't fly in Texas! Plus the Horns were 6-7 last season and looked rather bland. That's also don't fly in the football-mad state. I'd say it's 80 percent that Strong in back in 2016, but another losing season might drop those odds to 50-50. UT has plenty of money to buy out  Strong's contract and then go after someone like Nick Saban (again) or maybe the Eagles' Chip Kelly if Philly flops this season and Kelly wants to return to college.

As for Brian Kelly, he will be at Notre Dame next year if he wants to. But you hear rumors annually that Kelly does want to coach in the NFL at some point. If he leads the Irish to double-digit wins and a spot in the College Football Playoff, he likely would have his choice of NFL openings next winter. Perhaps in Miami, taking over for Joe Philbin? Or with the New York Giants to replace Tom Coughlin? Kelly grew up not far from the Big Apple in Massachusetts. Alas, I don't think the Patriots job will be opening, or Kelly would likely take that in a second.


Scouting Report
Notre Dame and Texas rank second and third in NCAA history on the all-time wins list among major programs (Michigan No. 1) with 882 and 881, respectively. It's just the fourth time that Texas will visit South Bend and 11th overall meeting between the schools. The Irish lead 8-2, winning the last meeting at No. 6 Texas on Sept. 21, 1996, 27-24. That was Lou Holtz's final season as Notre Dame coach. The Irish are 102-17-3 in season openers. Texas has won 15 straight home openers but is opening with a true road game for the first time since 1995.

The Horns bring back 11 starters (six on offense). That includes junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who beat out redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, although you should see Heard get some snaps. Swoopes was thrust into the starting role last season after David Ash suffered a concussion in Texas’ first game of the season, which ended his career. Swoopes had a couple of really nice games in 2014. He threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 50 yards in a close loss to Oklahoma; he threw for 321 yards and rushed for 95 yards in a 48-45 win over Iowa State; and he had 305 yards passing and two touchdowns in a win at Oklahoma State. However, his final two starts weren't good. He was picked off four times in a blowout home loss to TCU and just 13-for-25 for 57 yards with a pick in the 31-7 Texas Bowl loss to Arkansas.

Texas will start six freshman on Saturday: true freshmen Connor Williams (left tackle), Patrick Vahe (right guard), John Burt (receiver) and five-star recruit Malik Jefferson (linebacker), as well as redshirt freshmen Edwin Freeman (linebacker) and John Bonney (cornerback). There are also four sophomores listed as starters. So this is a very young squad.

The Irish bring back 18 starters, nine on each side of the ball. It would have been 19 but defensive tackle Jarron Jones was lost for the season in mid-August to knee surgery. He had missed the final two games last year with a foot injury but in his 11 starts had 40 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, along with seven quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and two blocked kicks.

I guess technically quarterback Malik Zaire is a returning starter. He was Everett Golson's backup last season but Golson kept turning the ball over, and Kelly went with Zaire in the Music City Bowl upset of LSU, although Golson also played. Zaire completed 12-for-15 for 96 yards with score and rushed 22 times for 96 yards and a TD. He's a bit like former Notre Dame QB Tony Rice. Zaire's emergence led Golson to transfer to Florida State.

This decade, the Irish are 2-4 SU against Big 12 teams but 3-3 against spread odds at sportsbooks.


NCAAF Free Picks: I believe the Irish have Top-5 talent. Texas is going to struggle early with all those kids playing. With your College Football Pick this weekend give the points and go 'UNDER' the total as neither QB is very accurate as a passer. 

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