Charlie Strong has not brought the kind of change that Texas football fans were hoping to see.
Since his hiring two years ago, the Longhorns head coach has totaled an 11-14 record with two consecutive losing seasons. Another poor season could be the last straw for Strong, and it won’t be easy for his team to get off to a fast start in the 2016 college football season.
Unranked Texas hosts No. 10 Notre Dame on Sunday night, taking center stage on the final Sunday before the start of the NFL season. Strong recognizes the challenges ahead as his team faces a legitimate College Football Playoff contender.
“It’s gonna be a big challenge, they beat us pretty heavily up there in South Bend,” Strong said at Monday's press conference. “We have to play physical. We have to win at the line of scrimmage. Last year, we weren’t able to stop the run. We got to run the football.”
“Pretty heavily” might be putting it kindly. The Longhorns were embarrassed at Notre Dame in last season’s opener, losing 38-3 and surrendering 31 points before the start of the fourth quarter.
Texas was able to do very little on the offensive end, rushing for just 60 yards on 29 attempts. Tyrone Swoopes only completed seven of his 22 attempts for 93 yards, failing to get the team in the end zone.
Strong hasn’t announced his starting quarterback, but Swoopes could find himself on the bench in favor of Shane Buechele, a true freshman who joined the program in January.
"He carries every intangible thing you could want in a quarterback," Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said of Buechele, via ESPN.com. "Leadership, hard work, camaraderie with the guys, just how he is. He carries all that."
The Fighting Irish also have two quarterbacks battling for playing time, but they have fewer questions surrounding the position. Quarterback Malik Zaire was nearly perfect against Texas last year, solidifying himself as an early Heisman Trophy candidate by completing 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
Zaire’s 2015 season, however, was cut short the following game when he broke his ankle. DeShone Kizer stepped in and led Notre Dame to a comeback victory over Virginia, helping the team go 10-2 before a loss in the Fiesta Bowl.
A season later, head coach Brian Kelly has decided to play both signal callers. When asked at a press conference how Zaire and Kizer will split snaps, Kelly said he doesn’t have an exact plan and “it will be more by feel.”
With a new offensive coordinator and new offensive system, Texas has renewed expectations. The Longhorns are just a 3.5-point underdog—the over/under is 59 at Las Vegas sportsbooks—and they did manage to defeat some of the nation’s best teams during a rocky season in 2015, beating No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 12 Baylor.
But Texas hasn’t improved enough over the last year to think they’ve already closed the gap between themselves and Notre Dame.
Prediction: Notre Dame over Texas, 37-27
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Online Stream: WatchESPN