Texas A&M faces challenge vs. No. 15 Arizona State in Houston

Former Aledo star Johnathan Gray and Texas hope to start high stepping, beginning today against No. 11 Notre Dame.
Former Aledo star Johnathan Gray and Texas hope to start high stepping, beginning today against No. 11 Notre Dame. AP

Sam Houston State at Texas Tech

2:30 p.m. Saturday, FSSW

The Red Raiders finished last season 4-8 (2-7 in the Big 12), just the program’s second losing season in the past 22 years. Third-year Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury has a much more experienced team this season with 16 returning starters. Junior QB Davis Webb had 2,539 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in eight starts last season. Either Webb or sophomore Patrick Mahomes will lead Texas Tech’s pass-first offense, with Jakeem Grant (938 yards receiving and seven touchdowns last season) as their top returning receiver. On defense, LB Micah Awe, the team’s top returning tackler out of Mansfield Summit, will help set the tone. While the Red Raiders haven’t lost to an FCS opponent since 1988 (North Texas 29-24), Sam Houston State could present a challenge. The Bearkats have depth and experience on both sides of the ball and enter the season ranked No. 4 in the FCS coaches poll and No. 3 by the STATS poll.

Texas A&M vs. No. 15 Arizona State

6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN

While it isn’t a matchup of ranked teams, the Aggies against the Sun Devils at NRG Stadium in Houston could be one of the top games of opening weekend. Texas A&M has three players from Arizona on its roster, including sophomore starting quarterback Kyle Allen and potential star freshman receiver Christian Kirk, who are both from Scottsdale, Ariz., right down the road from the Sun Devils. All eyes will also be on the Aggies’ defense. After getting new coordinator John Chavis, Texas A&M hopes to prove it can stop an opponent. Last season, the Aggies were No. 102 in the nation with 450.8 yards allowed a game, tied for No. 119 with just 13 turnovers forced and tied for No. 75 with 28.1 points allowed a game. Arizona State senior Mike Bercovici will set the tone for the Sun Devils. He was a backup last season but started three games when Taylor Kelly went down with an injury. Bercovici will try to avoid Aggies standout defensive end Myles Garrett, who hopes to build on his record-setting freshman season. He broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for most sacks as a freshman (11.5).

Texas at No. 11 Notre Dame

6:30 p.m. Saturday, KXAS/5

The last time Texas was on the field, the Longhorns were embarrassed by Arkansas. Texas managed just 59 total yards (including two yards rushing) and lost 31-7 in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. That result isn’t acceptable in Austin. Entering his second year as head coach of the Longhorns, Charlie Strong has had an entire off-season to use that ugly box score as motivation. While Texas faces an uphill battle on the road at Notre Dame, expect the Longhorns to come out fighting. Tyrone Swoopes will start at quarterback for Texas and will need to show playmaking ability early — with his arm and legs — to take pressure off senior RB Johnathan Gray, who is trying to recapture the dominance he showed when he was a star at Aledo. Notre Dame will have home-field advantage and a tough defense, led by junior LB Jaylon Smith who led the team with 87.5 tackles last year. The Fighting Irish have a strong front seven and will use the Arkansas game film as a blueprint for shutting down the Longhorns’ ground game and forcing Swoopes to throw the ball. Notre Dame dual-threat quarterback Malik Zaire showed his potential in leading the Fighting Irish past LSU 31-28 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl last season and should be his team’s offensive spark this year.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram