Texas is so special that SB Nation has two sites covering the Longhorns. While that might not be enough to allow Bevo to roam the sidelines inside Notre Dame Stadium it gave us the opportunity to speak with Burnt Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts about this weekend's season opener. Also, check out Barking Carnival for more Texas blogging fun.
1. As Notre Dame fans we are intimately aware of a decline that completely messes up the culture of a football program. Yet, the Irish have tried to reverse 15 years worth of problems, whereas Texas appeared to falter in just a few short years late in the Mack Brown era. How big of a mess has Charlie Strong had to clean up?
WE: It was a pretty big mess -- the last couple recruiting classes for Mack Brown didn't pan out in the way that the program needed, especially the 2013 group. Featuring only 15 prospects, about half of them are gone already. There has been significant attrition over the last year and most college football fans probably remember all the dismissals that happened before last season. Strong also had to suspend a number of players and there have been quite a few transfers.
As a result, the talent level isn't there and after five poor seasons, the recruiting cachet for Texas just isn't there in the state any more with the rise of programs like Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M.
2. Where are expectations for 2015? Are most people resigned to another rebuilding year or is there more pressure to push for one of the top 4 spots in the Big 12?
WE: Surprisingly enough, I think most Longhorns fans are pretty realistic about the chances this year. The schedule is really difficult, with road games against Baylor, Notre Dame, TCU, and the neutral site game against Oklahoma in Dallas. Strong says that his expectation is to have a winning season because losing seasons aren't acceptable, so I think the only way that pressure really ratchets up on him is if Texas has a losing season and/or fails to make a bowl game.
3. Does the prospect of playing 2 quarterbacks make you more excited or worried? How much do you realistically expect Heard to play against Notre Dame?
WE: Well, the fact that junior Tyrone Swoopes hasn't distanced himself from redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard is a little bit concerning, but I think it also reduces the pressure on Swoopes a little bit because fans will see what Heard has to offer instead of calling for him every time Swoopes struggles. I'm not sure how Texas is going to manage the situation, but Strong has said that he doesn't want a situation where Swoopes gets pulled for making a mistake or two. I think Heard gets 3-4 drives, depending on how the game goes and how many possessions there are.
4. Most aren't expecting a real potent Texas offense, especially in the season opener. Where on that side of the ball do you think the Horns will improve and possibly give Notre Dame problems? Do you think Texas will struggle against the exotic Irish blitzes?
WE: I think the most improvement will happen offensively because the Horns lost so many key defensive players from last -- two from every level of the defense, in fact. I do have some concerns about the Notre Dame blitz because it will put pressure on the offensive line to make the right protection calls and then execute. The run blitzing could also be a serious concern because this is a team that can't afford to get in long down-and-distance situations with an offensive line that is still reportedly struggling some in pass protection. Swoopes and Heard will have to make the right hot reads against blitzes and with the run-pass options built into the offense.
5. Texas is replacing 6 starters on defense this year, including a few players who had very productive college careers. Still, there is some talent up front and the ingredients for a quality defense. How worried should we be that a Charlie Strong-led staff had all off-season to try and shut down the Irish offense?
WE: Well, there should be some concern because it's an excellent group of defensive minds -- Strong's reputation in that respect is well-earned. However, I think all those losses significantly mitigate any worries for Notre Dame there, as the Texas defense will probably have to stay pretty simple and will likely feature some youthful mistakes as a result of young and/or inexperienced players seeing a lot of action.
6. When this Texas-Notre Dame series was announced it was nearly universally praised by Irish fans as the perfect replacement now that we're no longer playing Michigan. How do Longhorn fans feel about the series and Notre Dame in general? Is there excitement to play the Irish for the first time since the 1990's and to travel to South Bend?
WE: I think Texas fans are excited about the opportunity to play another marquee opponent. I'm not sure there's a lot of hatred or anything from the burnt orange faithful directed at the Golden Domers, so it seems like a match up that is built more out of mutual respect than any great deal of enmity, especially for the younger fans who don't remember any previous match ups against the Fighting Irish. Since the Big 12 slate now includes fewer appealing games with all the defections, I think the excitement level is as high for an opener as it has been in some time, as Texas typically opens against non-Power 5 opponent.