Charlie Strong

Offseason Q&A: Texas


As the 2015 season inches closer, it’s time to start thinking about the Irish’s opponents. To that point, we begin our summer series taking a closer look at Notre Dame’s upcoming schedule.

When the Irish and Texas announced their plans to open the 2015 season playing each other, things looked quite different. Mack Brown was coaching the Longhorns. DeLoss Dodds was the Texas athletic director. Brian Kelly was set to embark on his first season leading Notre Dame.

Brown and Dodds are gone, with Charlie Strong entering his second season and former Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson now running the Longhorns’ sports empire. And while the 2019-20 games have been lost from the scheduled four-game series (Patterson, no stranger to scheduling battles with Jack Swarbrick, was unwilling to work with Notre Dame after they forged their ACC alliance) the Irish and Longhorns will kick off the next two seasons in fine fashion.

To get us ready for this series, Wescott Eberts from Burnt Orange Nation was kind enough to answer some questions. It’s been a chaotic 18 months for Texas fans after Brown’s reign over the Longhorns came to a frustrating finish.

So as Charlie Strong continues a reboot that’s got plenty of scorched earth, let’s dig into a blue-blooded season opener that’s coming on September 5.


It’s been 18 months since Texas hired Charlie Strong. And to put it lightly, plenty has happened as Strong has reshaped the program. From someone who follows things pretty closely, can you put into perspective the heavy lifting that Strong has done since taking over?

There’s certainly been plenty of heavy lifting with numerous dismissals and departures via transfer, including some highly-rated prospects who were either contributors in the past or expected to become key contributors in the the future. From that standpoint, the future of Texas football looks much different than it did in January of 2014 when Texas announced Strong’s hire.

So there’s been a full-scale culture change underway in Austin that also had to deal with season-ending injuries in 2014 to three key starters in quarterback David Ash, center Dominic Espinosa, and defensive tackle Desmond Jackson.


If I’m looking at this Texas football team, I see a team with a big question mark at quarterback and a young roster (29 freshmen?!) that’s going to be asked to do a lot. How much progress was made during spring practice, and what do you think is the primary focus of summer before a stern test in the season opener?


Strong said that the team was better coming out of spring practice than it was against Arkansas in the Texas Bowl, but given the nature of that devastating and disappointing beatdown, that’s not saying much.

Finding a quarterback is certainly a key storyline heading into the fall, with summer 7-on-7 workouts often a major proving ground for those battles, but this is also an offense getting used to a new system that the offensive brain trust installed this spring with the intention of better highlighting the skill sets of every player offensively.


Strong made some headlines when he spoke at a booster event and said that Everett Golson’s No. 1 preference was to play at Texas in 2015, a move not necessarily realistic considering the opening date on the schedule (at least from Notre Dame’s perspective). But it leads me to this question: Is the offense really just a quarterback away? What would Golson have been walking into? What type of skill talent surrounds the quarterback?

The offensive line play last year prompted Strong to say that even Teddy Bridgewater would have looked bad playing behind them, so the unit needs to demonstrate some significant improvement in order to get a major jump in production from the starting quarterback. Senior running back Johnathan Gray could have a huge breakout season, but there’s no particularly proven talent behind him.

Texas lost the top two leading receivers and three tight ends, so a number of young players will have to emerge for the offense to maximize its potential. There’s some talent, it just hasn’t produced yet.


Who starts against Notre Dame at quarterback? Tyrone Swoops? Jerrod Heard? Is that quarterback the same one who’s starting in November? How do you think Strong will handle the most important position in the program and how much faith does he have that the guy he needs to lead this team is currently on the roster?

Starting a redshirt freshman in South Bend isn’t Strong’s preference, so sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will likely come out with the first team unless Jerrod Heard takes a major step forward by the end of fall camp and clearly outplays Swoopes. It’s impossible to say at this point which one will start by November, but the odds are high that Texas will start both at some point this season — there will likely be a quarterback controversy in Austin this fall. As for Strong’s confidence in those two, it’s difficult to say. I think he would prefer to have more competition.


It wouldn’t be much of a Q&A if we didn’t talk about the Longhorns defense. How has Strong’s DNA impacted the unit? With six starters gone, among them All-American Malcom Brown, how will the Longhorns do against a Notre Dame offense that has pretty elite personnel?

Strong’s arrival resulted in some notable leaps by multiple Texas defenders and he also brought his 30-Stack defense with him to Austin, which resulted in some changes like defensive tackles playing outside in the three-man line and the addition of the Fox end position, which is a versatile hybrid defensive end/linebacker role.

After losing two players at every level of the defense, including six of the top seven tacklers, the unit will likely experience some growing pains and Notre Dame is a strong candidate to ensure those struggles start early.


Give me your best case/worst case scenario for 2015. A few eyebrows were raised when the early line had Notre Dame a 10.5 point favorite. We’re still 90 days away from the game, so this is kind of a ridiculous question. But what’s your early feeling heading into a pretty exciting season opener?

The worst-case scenario features the Longhorns losing multiple key starters to injuries again — guys like junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, senior cornerback Duke Thomas, and senior running back Johnathan Gray — then having young players struggle defensively and the offense fail to take off behind continued shaky quarterback play.

The best-case scenario featues one of the quarterbacks stepping forward to provide consistent play, young players across the roster emerging quickly, and Texas competing for the Big 12 title. In all likelihood, Texas will take a step forward in some key areas like becoming more consistent and more explosive offensively, but experience some struggles with the young defenders and have to battle hard to win six or seven games.


Irish A-to-Z: Hunter Bivin

Matt Cashore /

In his two seasons in South Bend, Hunter Bivin has found himself shifting inside and out as he looks for a proper fit along the Irish offensive line. And even though he was manning the left tackle position during the Blue-Gold game—and wearing the familiar No. 70 jersey that Zack Martin wore during the most impressive offensive line career in Notre Dame history—Bivin’s game is still a work in progress.

Entering his junior season, Bivin’s career seems at a crossroads. While he’s technically No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ronnie Stanley, few think he’ll play over Alex Bars. And while he once projected as a potential heir apparent to Nick Martin at center, he now faces challengers young and old at that position as well.

There’s still three seasons of eligibility remaining in the Kentucky native’s career. Let’s dig into Bivin’s future, an important year for his development.



6’5.5″, 302 lbs.
Junior, No. 70, OL



Bivin was an elite recruit. Rivals ranked him a Top 250 prospect. 247 Sports saw him as one of the top offensive linemen, and players, in the country. He was an All-State performer in Kentucky, an Under Armour All-American, and played for the USA Team.

Bivin had offers from Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan before choosing the Irish early in the process. Bivin was a starter on a state championship basketball team and also the state’s best shot putter.



Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2014): Made his Irish debut in the second half of a lopsided victory over Rice. Played in five games, including on special teams against Florida State.



After last spring, it looked like Bivin was on the trajectory to be the team’s next center. Or at least that’s what I thought.

When it’s all said and done, expect Bivin to be the Irish’s next starting center after Nick Martin. That it means he could wait two more seasons to see the starting lineup is a sign that everything went according to plan.

Athletically, Bivin has everything needed to be an elite college football player. And with no time constraints to see the field, Harry Hiestand can continue to mold Bivin to his liking, taking the athlete impressive enough to win state titles in basketball and shot put and turn him into a gifted player.

The battle up front will be one worth watching over the next few years, especially as Christian Lombard and Martin move on. But Bivin looks like the kind of player who has what it takes to win a starting job… even if it’s not right away.

With Bivin shifting outside during the spring, it’s hard to tell if that was a depth issue or where this coaching staff sees Bivin fitting. Either way, time to check the batteries on the Crystal Ball.



Bivin’s got everything you’d want—on paper—when it comes to an offensive line recruit. That said, it’s time for those qualities to translate to the field, something we haven’t seen yet.

It’s not necessarily fair to call Bivin an underachiever, especially when you want to have the type of depth Notre Dame has developed up front. It’s also worth noting that the two positions the Irish have worked Bivin have required some difficult playing time battles: Matt Hegarty just moved to Oregon and was inserted as the team’s starting center after he couldn’t beat out Nick Martin. And Ronnie Stanley will follow Zack Martin into the first round of the NFL Draft.

So let’s hold our breath a little bit longer.



For all the patience I called for just a few seconds ago, I’m thinking that Bivin’s time at Notre Dame will only come if things don’t go according to plans. At this point, I think it’s going to take an injury to get him into the lineup, and that he’s still better suited to play on the interior of the offensive line.

In the Blue-Gold game, Bivin gave up too much depth in pass protection as a  tackle, going against a defensive line that isn’t exactly overflowing with pass rushers. And while he’s got the versatility and size to be a valuable program player for five seasons, I just don’t see him making the move to the starting lineup at any position other than center, and Tristen Hoge could be a more viable option in 2016—not to mention Sam Mustipher.

You don’t hit every recruiting victory out of the ball park. So while Bivin hasn’t progressed like some have expected, he’s a big, strong, athletic kid. And that’ll be useful sooner than later.


THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB

Irish A-to-Z: Asmar Bilal / Blue & Gold

In soon-to-be-freshman Asmar Bilal, Notre Dame landed a linebacker who looks like he should be playing in the SEC. A star player out of Indianapolis power house and state champion Ben Davis, Bilal is the type of lightning quick and athletic linebacker that may not weigh 235 pounds, but he’ll cover sideline to sideline and beat opponents off the edge.

As part of an exciting linebacker corps, Bilal joins fellow Hoosier Josh Barajas and early-enrollee Te’von Coney as potential impact players. He’ll need to find a position and hit the weight room, but there’s plenty to like about Bilal.

Let’s dig a little deeper as we look at the incoming freshman.


6’3″ 210 lbs.
Freshman, No. 27, LB



A four-star recruit, Bilal made a difficult decision in choosing Notre Dame over Michigan. He had offers from Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee and a dozen other programs, too.

Bilal was an Army All-American, second-team on the MaxPreps All-American team and was Indiana’s defensive player of the year on the American Family Insurance All-USA team.



Right now, Bilal screams upside potential. In Ben Davis’ state championship victory, Bilal shifted to free safety, serving as a tackling machine in their runaway victory over Carmel.

That move will likely necessitate a look at Bilal at a variety of positions, especially if he’s capable of running like a defensive back. While he might join the group of recruits who end up shrinking a few inches once they hit the official program, if Bilal is 6’2 even, he’ll have the type of length that could play really well on the edge—though there’s also some who believe he’s a prototype middle linebacker as well.

It’s hard to say you know what a player brings to the table when you’ve only seen his YouTube highlights. But there’s reason that Bilal has many thinking he’s the real deal and the top player out of Indianapolis, and the Irish have a great starting point with him.



At the very least, I see Bilal wreaking some havoc on special teams. But if there’s an opening on the field with this defense, it’s at safety. Perhaps Bilal could serve as a situational defensive back, the type of in-the-box plugger that Drue Tranquill excelled at in 2014.

The reality of the situation is a year of learning and gaining weight for Bilal. With Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace departing after this season, and Jaylon Smith having quite a choice on his hands as well, the depth chart could turn over after this season—turning next spring into maybe an even more critical time than this fall in Bilal’s development.


THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL