Finally, College Football has come back to our lives!
It’s been 247 days since the Fighting Irish last took the field, and it was looking to be a fairly quiet off-season, with the biggest controversy facing the Irish being who would be named the starting quarterback between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. But, Corey Robinson stunned Irish fans when he announced in June that he was ending his playing career due to concussions. Then came the news in early August that Alize Jones had been ruled academically ineligible, and would have to sit out the 2016 season. But, the worst was yet to come, as just two weeks before the start of the season, five Irish players were arrested in two separate incidents. As a result of those arrests, Notre Dame dismissed Senior Max Redfield from the team, and placed Senior Devin Butler on an indefinite suspension. In the end, the Zaire/Kizer question has yet to be answered, and the off-season was anything but quiet.
Notre Dame starts their 2016 season ranked 10th in the pre-season polls after finishing the 2015 season with a 10-3 record. Texas enter the season un-ranked after a dismal 5-7 season. This will be Coach Strong’s third season with the Longhorns, and the pressure is starting to mount for him to turn the program around after two straight losing seasons.
Notre Dame and Texas have faced each other eleven times now, with the Irish dominating the series 9-2. Notre Dame opened the 2015 season with a 38-3 dismantling of Texas.
Players to Watch
Malik Zaire/DeShone Kizer
Ideally, a starter would have been named in the weeks leading up to the opening game, but Coach Kelly hasn’t shown his cards yet, and it looks like we’ll see both Zaire and Kizer under center against Texas. Zaire led the Irish to victory in the season opener against Texas last season, throwing for 313 yards and 3 TDs, but would be lost to injury in the next game against Virginia. Kizer would step in for Zaire and lead the Irish to a 10-3 final record, with 2,884 passing yards, 21 TDs and 10 INTs through the air, and another 10 TDs on the ground.
Torii Hunter Jr
With Will Fuller and Chris Brown departing for the NFL, and Corey Robinson hanging up his cleats, Hunter finds himself as the most experienced WR for the Fighting Irish. Hunter finished the 2015 season with 28 catches for 363 yards, and he’s about to be thrust into a starring role for the Irish.
With Sheldon Day’s departure to the NFL, Rochell, a Senior, steps into a leadership role on the defensive line. Rochell has started 25 of 26 games the Irish have played over the last two seasons. In 2015 he recorded 63 tackles with 7.5 TFL, putting him 5th on the team for tackles, and 1st among defensive linemen.
Players to Watch
Tyrone Swoopes (QB)/Shane Buechele (QB)
Swoopes has game experience on his side, Buechele is the more talented of the two, and Coach Strong intends to play them both this Sunday. Against Notre Dame in 2015, Swoopes had a miserable game, completing just 7 of 22 pass attempts for 93 yards, so he probably won’t have much margin for error if he wants to keep Buechele off the field as much as possible.
Malik Jefferson (LB)
Just a Sophomore, Jefferson is arguably the Longhorn’s best player on defense. Jefferson was the team’s 2nd leading tackler last season with 61 tackles; he also had 7 TFL, 6 QB Hurries, 2.5 Sacks, and 1 Fumble Recovery.
Fighting Irish Keys To Victory
No one likes a two-QB system, and for good reason, they rarely work, even with two exceptionally talented quarterbacks like Zaire and Kizer. Coach Kelly seems intent on letting the game dictate who’s under center, but I wonder just how long that will last. It may seem like a good call to let the “hot hand” dictate who’s under center, but at some point Coach Kelly is going to have to make his decision, and I’d prefer he do it sooner rather than later, regardless of who ends up as QB1.
Run The Damn Ball
With the return of Tarean Folston, and Josh Adams coming off a strong Freshman effort that saw him set a Freshman school rushing record, not to mention the lack of experience in the receiving corps, I have a feeling that this will be the year that the Irish just Run The Damn Ball. If we say it enough it will come true, right?
Notre Dame is returning two QBs that would unquestionably be starters at any other program, but only one of their targets at the wide receiver position, Torii Hunter Jr., has more than one reception in a college game. Thankfully, the Irish have two very good running backs to lean on, not to mention two quarterbacks that can run, as well. The defense will be led by a strong defensive line led by the likes of Isaac Rochell and Jerry Tillery, but after replacing seven starters from last season, the Irish defense is a work in progress. This won’t be a blow-out like last season’s opener, but Strong’s Longhorns don’t quite have what it will take to knock off Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish will ring up another victory against Texas.
Final Score: Notre Dame 34 – Texas 20