Pick with Analysis
Notre Dame and Texas both had trying seasons in 2014, neither reaching their full potential. The Fighting Irish finished 8-5 after a 7-1 start, while the Longhorns were almost opposite, finishing 6-7 after a 3-5 start. The Irish have more starters returning and a better offense, giving them the nod at home in this matchup as a -9.5 point favorite (at 5 Dimes) against Texas.
The biggest news for Notre Dame in the offseason was probably the announcement of Malik Zaire as the starting quarterback and Everett Golson transferring away. Golson fell apart toward the end of last year, finishing with 14 interceptions, and was eventually benched a couple times in favor of Zaire, now a junior. For a guy with only 35 career pass attempts, Brian Kelly is putting a lot on Zaire’s shoulders. However, he did just fine in their bowl win over LSU last year, going 12-of-15 for 96 yards and a touchdown as well as 96 more yards on the ground and another touchdown. His dual-threat ability will be key to the Irish’s success this season.
Zaire will have plenty of help on offense as well, starting with an offensive line that will have an advantage in almost every Game this year. Along with that, Tarean Folston (889 yards) and Greg Bryant return in the backfield, and William Fuller (76 receptions, 15 TDs) is back at receiver. Zaire has the weapons, but can he lead his team to a Playoff berth?
One area that Texas had success in last season was on the defensive end, so Zaire will not have an easy time in his first start of the season. The issue for Charlie Strong in his second season with the Longhorns is that the defense lost half of its players and the offense is still less than ideal.
For the Longhorns to have a chance in this Game, their defensive front has to win their battle against the Irish offense. They lost a couple big names, but still have some big bodies along the line, most notably tackle Hassan Ridgeway. If Texas can at least stymie the Notre Dame rushing Game a bit, that will in turn put pressure on the first-year starting quarterback.
Because on the other end, the Longhorns still have plenty of question marks. Tyrone Swoopes hadn’t been named the starter a week before this Game, but all signs point to him getting the nod. Swoopes finished with just 13 TDs and 11 INTs last year, while leading an offense that scored 21.4 points per Game. However, coaches and players have all come out and said that Swoopes is a completely different player and person this season. Whether that means he is a better quarterback remains to be seen though.
The Longhorns should have a better and more experienced offensive line this season to go with a healthy Johnathan Gray at running back, which should help. The Irish fell apart defensively late last year, but with 10 returning starters on that side of the ball, not including corner KeiVarae Russell, expect this group to be much better.
Texas may be a year away from competing for the Big 12 title, but if Swoopes can take a step in his junior season, this team won’t be an easy out, especially if the defense can match last year’s levels. Their first test will be winning a road Game at Notre Dame.
Our Pick – Texas has been a thorn in Our side over the last few years. They are one team we’ve had trouble nailing down. Had this matchup occurred at the end of last season, Our model would have had the Game a toss up. Both teams recruit well and fill needed holes with good talent.
With that in mind, the value play here is with the Longhorns. We’re always sure to gain some extra value betting against Notre Dame at home, especially in their opener. We’ll take advantage of the line move and the extra cushion. Texas +10.5