Over the next two weeks, we’ll look at some of the top nonconference opponents to appear on the schedules of Big 12 teams this fall. The idea, as the days dwindle before the start of preseason camp, is to provide an overview of the top challenges in front of league teams in the early weeks of this season.
We continue the series today with a look at Notre Dame.
Opponent: Notre Dame (vs. Texas at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Sept. 4)
Offseason storyline: One heck of a quarterback battle. The old “if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none” line certainly does not apply to Notre Dame.
Texas fans know all about the special talents of Zaire after he diced up their defense for 313 yards on 86 percent (!) passing. What Texas fans probably missed last season was the brilliance of Kizer, who stepped in after Zaire’s season-ending injury and led the Irish to a 10-win season and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Brian Kelly and his staff have a tough decision to make in August. If it’s Kizer, we shall see how Zaire fits into their game plan for the opener and beyond. As Ohio State reminded us last season, being fortunate enough to have two elite options can be tricky to manage.
On the other side of the ball, it’s an important year for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The Irish haven’t been great on defense in his first two seasons there, and now they must replace NFL draft picks Jaylon Smith, KeiVarae Russell and Sheldon Day. It’s a youthful unit that must make strides in 2016.
What’s at stake for Texas? Not trying to be too dramatic, but Texas’ season is on the line from the very start. Charlie Strong and his players have a perfect opportunity -- a Sunday night home game on national TV -- to make a statement with a lot of people watching.
A convincing win over the Irish would send a message that Texas is back. An embarrassing loss would start up the hot-seat roller coaster just like it did a year ago.
And, of course, Texas will be debuting a new offense, offensive coordinator and quarterback in this ballgame. There’s always a lot at stake at Texas, especially when you aren’t winning, and the Notre Dame game will give us a real sense of where this program is heading.
What’s at stake for Notre Dame? The Irish play only three true road games this season, and this is an important one.
It’s one of the better tests on their schedule -- maybe not up there with Michigan State and Stanford, but not far behind -- and a battle that will establish expectations for a team that has a chance to win a lot of games in 2016.
Of course, one safe bet when you have quarterbacks this good: If Notre Dame comes up short in Austin, there will be a decent amount of second-guessing. But Irish fans should be feeling confident coming into this one after the 35-point blowout win they witnessed a year ago.