Sunday Night College Football Picks: #10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Texas Longhorns

#10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Texas Longhorns
Sunday, September 4, 2016, 7:30 pm Eastern, TV: ABC
Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium – Austin, Texas
Opening Line: Notre Dame -4 1/2
Current Line: Notre Dame -4 1/2
Opening Total: 59
Current Total: 57 1/2
Opening Money Line: Notre Dame -180 / Texas +140
Current Money Line: Notre Dame -210 / Texas +175

Notre dame is 4.5 point favorite at Texas Sunday night.
Notre Dame is 4.5 point favorite at Texas Sunday night.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Texas Loghorns meet Sunday in Austin in the season opener for both schools. Notre Dame leads the series 9-2 against Texas including 4-0 in Austin. The Fighting Irish destroyed Texas 38-3 last year in South Bend. They haven’t played in Austin since 1996.

Notre Dame finished 10-3 last year under coach Brian Kelly. All three losses were to teams that finished in the top ten in the final rankings. Notre Dame lost road games at Clemson and Stanford by two points each, plus a loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Texas went 5-7 under coach Charlie Strong. It was a mostly forgettable season but the Longhorns did upset Oklahoma and Baylor. Of course, they were shut out 24-0 by Iowa State too.

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Notre Dame averaged 466 yards per game including 259 yards and 208 rushing yards. The Fighting Irish averaged 34 points per game. Notre Dame allowed 373 yards per game on defense including 197 passing and 176 rushing yards. The Irish allowed 24 points per game. Notre Dame was -6 in turnovers with 20 giveaways.  The Fighting Irish averaged 45 penalty yards per game. Notre Dame was 73/168 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents were 80/210. The Irish allowed 26 sacks and forced 25 last season. Notre Dame is 43/53 scoring in the red zone with 31 touchdowns and opponents were 33/41 with 27 touchdowns.

Quarterback Malik Zaire suffered a broken ankle in the second game of last season and would not play again. He was replaced by DeShone Kizer. Kizer threw for 2,884 yards with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and also had 134 carries for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns. Zaire threw for 428 yards with 4 touchdowns, and rushed for 103 yards before the injury. Kizer will start but both quarterbacks are expected to see action.

Running back C.J. Prosise is now with the Seattle Seahawks after rushing for over 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns, along with 26 catches for 308 yards and a touchdown. Josh Adams is back after rushing for 835 yards on 117 carries with 8 touchdowns, and also caught a touchdown pass. Tarean Folston returns after a season ending injury in the first game of last year. He rushed for 889 yards with 6 touchdowns in 2014.

Receiver Will Fuller was a first round pick by the  Houston Texans. He had 62 catches for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns. Torii Hunter Junior had 28 catches for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sophomores C.J. Jones and Equanimeous St. Brown will also start at receiver. Durham Smythe is the tight end.

Seven Notre Dame players are either injured or suspended, including two running backs, a wide receiver, a tight end and three defensive players. Four of them were suspended after getting arrested for marijuana possession.

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Texas averaged 371 yards per game on defense including 225 rushing and 146 passing yards. The Longhorns averaged 26 points per game. On defense, Texas allowed  453 yards per game including 233 passing and 219 rushing yards. The Longhorns allowed 30 points per game. Texas was +11 in turnovers with 25 takeaways. The Longhorns averaged 59 penalty yards per game. Texas was 66/187 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents were 93/217. Texas forced 37 sacks and allowed 32 last year. Texas was 30/34 scoring in the red zone and 20 touchdowns and opponents were 47/51 with 35 touchdowns.

Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes split time at quarterback last season but neither set the world on fire in the passing game. Heard threw for 1,214 yards with 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and rushed for 556 yards and 3 touchdowns. Swoopes threw for 537 yards with 4 touchdowns and an interception, and rushed for 451 yards with 12 touchdowns. He started the first and last games of the season, while Heard started the other 10 games.  They were expected to be part of a three way battle for the starting quarterback with dual-threat freshman Shane Buechele. However, Buechele clearly separated himself from the veterans and will most likely start. Heard moved to wide receiver. Swoopes will likely take a few snaps a game like he did last year.

Texas has a dynamic pair of bruising running backs. D’Onta Foreman had 95 carries for 681 yards and 5 touchdowns. Chris Warren III had 71 carries for 470 yards and  4 touchdowns. Foreman and Warren each weigh at least 255 pounds. warren is probable with an ankle injury but Foreman is questionable with a hamstring injury. Texas does lose Jonathan Gray who rushed for 489 yards with 3 touchdowns. The quarterbacks will continue to get plenty of carries as well.

Receiver John Burt made 28 catches for 457 yards and 2 touchdowns last year in his freshman year. Freshman Collin Johnson will provide speed on the other side. Slot receiver Armanti Foreman had 11 catches and 2 touchdowns last year. Tight end Andrew Beck could play a larger part in the offense after making 8 catches last year.

Notre Dame is 4-1 ATS in September and 2-7 on fieldturf. Texas is 3-7 ATS in non-conference games and 1-5-1 against independent teams.

Some of the experts are giving Texas a realistic shot to pull off the upset at home. I don’t quite buy it especially if the running backs aren’t healthy. Both teams are missing several players, but Notre Dame has more talent. I like the Irish to win by double digits.

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