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Thursday, September 01, 2016

Texas Football 2016: The Notre Dame Game 

Week One: Texas (0-0) v. Notre Dame (0-0, #10 AP)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 38, Texas 3 (2015, @ South Bend, IN)
All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads, 9-2
Line: Notre Dame -3.5

Here we are, on the first day of September, veering into the unknown of a new football season. In three days Texas plays host to the storied Notre Dame Fighting Irish, one of the few programs that can claim equal footing with - and in some aspects, even eclipse - the clout and winning tradition that the Longhorns hold amidst the college football elite. These two titans, these icons, will go head to head in front of 100K+ fans.

And I have no idea what to think. Better yet, I don't exactly know where to start thinking. Year Three of the Charlie Strong Era sets off in prime time on ABC against a top-ten team that whipped Texas' ass a year ago, with Strong on a seat that's hotter than an asphalt black top in the searing Texas sun, and the story lines abound.

Let's see how many we can think of in 10 seconds...
That may have taken 12 seconds.

For the record, I think: no matter who starts we'll see Buechele emerge as "the" guy;  Gilbert's offense may take time to sync but it will be miles beyond the boring, sputtering mess of the past few years;  Malik is not yet Derrick Johnson but damn is he fun to watch; if they stay healthy this O-Line could develop into something special;  #teamforeman; and last, but not least, for the love of God please put Bevo back in a prominent place, stop running that awful "I got my game on" video, and please tell Bob Cole to quit with the goofy promo where he calls Bevo "the big guy (or just get rid of Cole altogether).

Keys to Victory

C'mon, if you've read this column in the last ten years (granted that includes the almost-eight years since I last wrote it) you'd know I don't cover X's and O's. Sure, I like to think I possess a high football acumen from my days in the trenches as a Travis Middle School Mustang, but I save the breakdowns for the pros. You can't go wrong with the fellas over at Barking Carnival, and if you haven't read their 2016 version of Thinking Texas Football, then hurry up, finish this column, and go purchase it post haste.

Personal Anecdote Involving This Week's Opponent

I don't remember how hot it felt at DKR that day, but I remember feeling drained when time expired. Emotionally drained, mostly, but physically drained as well. So I guess it was your typical September Saturday afternoon in Texas - hot, muggy, and in this case, intense. What else would you expect from a match-up between two top ten college football powers? No. 9 Notre Dame. No. 6 Texas. Texas-sized hype and Texas-sized expectations. Big. Time. College Football.

What do I remember most? Music.

Texas legend Willie Nelson started the day with the Star Spangled Banner, and a few hours later, mere moments after a Notre Dame field goal split the uprights on the game's final play, handing Notre Dame a 27-24 come-from-behind win, that damn song interrupted the silence at DKR.


You're killing me, Aretha.

I vaguely remember the kick. I sort of remember Mark Shultis' shanking the punt that set up the winning Irish drive. I definitely remember the Bryant Westbrook demolishing Notre Dame FB Randy Kinder.

But mostly I remember wincing and slunking in the portable south end zone bleachers, thinking about what might have been. And then hearing the Queen of Soul belt out her most famous ditty.

A little respect oh yeah (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)
I get tired (just a little bit)
Keep on tryin' (just a little bit) 

 I don't know that the Longhorns earned respect that afternoon. They came up short. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory - a theme throughout that strange season. And it was tiring to watch. But they did keep on trying (you know what happened that December).

I still can't hear that song without thinking of the 1996 Texas-Notre Dame game. And I still can't believe we lost. But should Texas "shock the world" on Saturday, I know damn well what I want to hear blaring from Godzillatron.

They Said What?

“This is Notre Dame and Texas, two of the top programs in the history of college football. I think it’s going to be a sellout crowd. One thing I’m going to ask our fans to do is not sell their ticket to Notre Dame. It’s the hottest ticket out there. I know they can make a lot of money, but this is Texas. It’s oil. It’s cattle. So why would you sell your tickets? Go out and sell a cow. And you can make the same amount of money."
-Texas Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford 
Okay, coach. Given the price of brisket these days, or the cost of a burger at overrated local joints, I think the going rate for cattle may actually exceed the cost of a ticket this week. Unless you're sitting in McConaughey's suite. Speaking of...
"Take the ceiling off."
-Celebrity burnt orange torchbearer Matthew McConaughey
Go read Matt's season opening The Week That Will Be for more on this one (but then come back and finish this column). As always, he nails a great theme, this time centered around Austin's favorite Oscar-winning superfan's life lessons.
"There's not much looking back and going, ‘Hey, we rolled these guys last year.’ This is a totally different team. They're just focused on their itinerary trying to get on the plane."
-ND Coach Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly comes off as a pretty vanilla personality. Maybe part of me just hopes that the Irish come into the game with overconfident swagger.
"For sure. No doubt about it"
-Former Longhorn Ricky Williams, when asked if he would have made the NFL Hall of Fame if marijuana were legal 
I believe it. After his awkward rookie season Ricky busted loose in 2000, starting a string of four consecutive 1000-yard seasons, including a rushing title in 2002. Retirement and suspension killed his prime - both obviously pot-related - and he didn't quite put up pre-retirement numbers over his final five years (2009 saw him drop 1100+ yards on 241 carries, a YPC comparable to his 2002 career year), but he was a beast until the end. 10,000 yards in the NFL makes for a very good career. Sadly, it could have been great.
"First, Notre Dame has to lose."
-Legendary Texas Coach Darrell Royal, on how to win a national championship
Boy, those were days, right?
"Thufferin' Thuccotash"
-Legendary Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz
I know. That was bad. Fight me.

Feel the Hate Flow... Ranking This Week's Opponent on the Stoops Scale

People love to hate Notre Dame, but I wonder if that hatred is a fading relic from the 40-and-over crowd that remember when DKR's aforementioned quote held a degree of truth. Maybe kids today hate the Irish like we did back in the day, but I wouldn't know. As a child of the 80s, though, with six months until I reach Mike Gundy's threshold for manhood, Notre Dame has not inspired good ol' fashioned, visceral, "love to hate them" hatred from me in, well, decades. Obviously, with any Texas fan, the hatred list starts with Oklahoma, regardless of their success or national standing, and these days it probably continues with some variation of Alabama, Ohio State, and USC, but I could toss out another dozen or more schools before I get to the Irish. Every now and then they raise my ire, but on a scale of one to five I award Notre Dame 2.5 Stoops.

Random Semi-Relevant Entertainment Thought Involving This Week's Opponent

Freddie Steinmark was an amazing young man whose fight against cancer touched countless lives, and Rudy Ruettiger, while a hard worker for sure, wasn't necessarily the underdog hero depicted onscreen. But even with my burnt orange bias fully intact, Rudy is a classic and My All American comes off as a glorified made-for-TV melodrama, destined to run ad infinitum on the Longhorn Network. It doesn't even remotely compare.

"Catholics v. Convicts" it Ain't

The only more cliched t-shirt possibility for this opening weekend of college football would require OU fans incorporating "Houston, you have a problem," into a design. Not your best work, Irish fans. That said, since Texas hasn't beaten Notre Dame since before mankind took "one giant leap," they don't really have to try too hard. 

 The Parting Shot

It's a young team. It's a team with talent and little experience. It's a team with a new offense and a potential starting QB that was playing in the high school this time last fall. But none of that matters come Saturday. Charlie Strong is coaching for his job - we all know that. I know some Texas fans are rooting for him to fail, and I get the angst, even as I disagree with the sentiment. But this week provides an opportunity to make a statement... to course-correct six years of meandering mediocrity. Expecting a win would be presumptuous, but in my opinion, so would expecting a loss. I think this team battles for four quarters and has a chance to win. It cannot get here soon enough.

Let's shock the nation, baby!



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