To open a pivotal third season, Charlie Strong’s Texas Longhorns face three opponents who won 10 or more games a year ago, including one CFP semifinalist. And that’s just in the first five games.
In a near perfect world, Texas would take two out of three games against Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. In reality, the Longhorns would probably settle for a single win and move into a more workable patch of the schedule.
Indeed, the narrative of this season, good or bad, could be determined by the halfway point.
We’re breaking down all 12 opponents, divided into four separate phases of the schedule:
For Starters — non-conference. Texas vs. Notre Dame (Sept. 4), vs. UTEP (Sept. 10) and at Cal (Sept. 17).
The Early Tests — three team-defining games to open Big 12 play. Texas at Oklahoma State (Oct. 1), vs. Oklahoma in Dallas (Oct. 8) and vs. Iowa State (Oct. 15).
The Tossups — three winnable (and losable) games. Texas at Kansas State (Oct. 22), vs. Baylor (Oct. 29) and at Texas Tech (Nov. 5).
The Home Stretch — the final three games of the season. Texas vs. West Virginia (Nov. 12), at Kansas (Nov. 19) and vs. TCU the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25).
FOR STARTERS: The three non-conference matchups
Game 1: Texas vs. Notre Dame
Sept. 4, 6:30 p.m., ABC
Rather than go head-to-head with other marquee openers like Clemson-Auburn, USC-Alabama and UCLA-Texas A&M, Texas decided to move this game back a day and grab the Sunday evening national spotlight for itself.
So with the country watching, the Longhorns had better win. Or at least come close.
Anything resembling last year’s 38-3 massacre in South Bend will be, uh, … yeah.
Frankly, this is the biggest game of Charlie Strong’s first three years and could shape what’s perceived to be a make-or-break third season. Perhaps Bevo XV, who will make his UT debut, will counteract the luck of Notre Dame’s Irish.
Though Notre Dame could be rebuilding after the loss of seven draft picks, there’s plenty of optimism at quarterback, be it DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire, who impressed against Texas last year before going down with an injury the next week.
Notre Dame, at a glance
2015: 10-3, lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, 44-28. The Irish ended up ranked No. 11 in the country.
Triplets: QB DeShone Kizer (211-335-2,884 yards, 21/10 in 2015), RB Josh Adams (117-835-6), WR Torii Hunter Jr. (28-363-2)
Last time: Notre Dame, 38-3 (2015 season opener, in South Bend)
The last five Texas-Notre Dame matchups:
2015 — Notre Dame 38, Texas 3
1996 — Notre Dame 27, Texas 24
1995 — Notre Dame 55, Texas 27
1977 — Notre Dame 38, Texas 10
1970 — Notre Dame 24, Texas 11
Last year: Texas stubbed its toe on national television with its 38-3 drubbing in South Bend. The Longhorns managed only eight first downs, 60 rushing yards, 103 passing yards, were 8 of 23 on passes, were outgained 527 yards to 163, and were only 2 of 13 on third downs. Texas’ top three offensive players were Tyrone Swoopes (7-22-93, 0/0), Johnathan Gray (8-40) and John Burt (1-48). Notre Dame’s were Zaire (19-22-313, 3/0), C.J. Prosise (20-98) and Will Fuller (7-142-2).
Our 2015 coverage: Bohls column (“If this thing isn’t fixed, could only the Strong survive?”); our game story (“Horns suffer worst opening loss since 1988”); five key plays; and a Texas sider on Malik Jefferson‘s debut game as a Longhorn.
Next game on the schedule: UTEP