With the NFL not yet underway, Sunday night will be taken over by Notre Dame and Texas as the Irish travel to Austin in search of a second straight season-opening win over the Longhorns.
The two met in South Bend, Ind., last year with Notre Dame dominating in a 38-3 victory. Charlie Strong and Texas are looking to take a step forward in 2016, and hosting the Irish on Sunday night as the only football game gives the Longhorns a grand stage to announce their return to competitor status.
The oddsmakers seem to feel like the Longhorns have made the necessary steps to make this a tight game at home, as Notre Dame is only a 3.5-point favorite. Here are the storylines to watch for each team:
Texas Storyline: The Longhorns have a new offensive coordinator in Sterlin Gilbert, who will bring his up tempo, spread attack from Tulsa to Austin. Along with a new coordinator, Texas could be starting freshman Shane Buechele at quarterback, although Strong has yet to make an official announcement between Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes. Either way the Longhorns go at quarterback, dramatic improvements need to be made on that side of the ball.
Texas was 83rd nationally in points per game (26.4) last year and really struggled throwing the football — 118th nationally in passing yards per game. Gilbert’s offense at Tulsa was 11th in passing yards per game, but a new system built to put up passing yards is only helpful if there’s a competent quarterback on the roster. Sunday night, we’ll learn whether the quarterback of the present — the future is undoubtedly Buechele — is on the roster.
Notre Dame Storyline: I wish I could go in a different direction with Notre Dame, but, like so many teams, the most intriguing storyline with the Irish is their quarterback competition. Where Texas is trying to decide between the unknown of Buechele and inconsistency of Swoopes, Notre Dame is in a very different position with DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire.
Both Zaire and Kizer have played and played very well for the Irish as the starter, with Kizer taking over after Zaire suffered a season ending leg injury in 2015. Brian Kelly says the plan is to play both quarterbacks, which is always an interesting choice. A two-quarterback system isn’t necessarily doomed to fail, but it takes an awful lot of cooperation from all parties involved to make it work.
One of the biggest issues with a quarterback rotation is continuity for the rest of the offense. With Will Fuller and three of the other top five pass catchers from last year gone, the wide receiver group lacks experience beyond Torii Hunter Jr. Whichever quarterback can best connect with a young receiving corps will likely be the one that Kelly eventually turns the keys over to.
Game Pick: Notre Dame -3.5. I don’t like laying points, but even with concerns about the quarterback rotation the Irish are the better football team and I think there is just a little too much faith being placed on the Texas offense to improve. Against a Brian Van Gorder defense that is going to look to pressure the quarterback into mistakes, starting a true freshman is risky, but Swoopes isn’t the most inspiring option even with experience. This game will be closer than last year, but I still see the Irish pulling away late for a fairly comfortable road win and cover.
For full Week 1 picks against the spread, check out our Expert Picks page.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Notre Dame at Texas line, game pick: Longhorns seek revenge against the Irish