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The Week That Will Be -- Take the Ceiling Off

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This type of game is why you come to Texas.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week: 0-0 ATS 0-0 SU

For the Year (2015): 49-32-3 (.605) ($1,180) ATS 62-23 (.729) SU

"Take the ceiling off."

Everyone's favorite new University of Texas professor Matthew McConaughey attended Texas practice Wednesday afternoon, and while we weren't privy to any private conversations, linebacker Malik Jefferson was nice enough to let us in on one inner dialogue:

You sit here for the 270 days it has been since the Longhorns last played a football game and you think about an intro to your first column of the new season for at least half of those days, and it is blown up by an actor that once well, what hasn't McConaughey done?

But I ask you to think back to the spring of 2014 when McConaughey won his Academy Award for Best Actor.

There's a few things, about three things to my count, that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase.

That was the crux of McConaughey's Oscar acceptance speech, where he went on to say that his hero is always himself in ten years, because...

You see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero's always ten years away. I'm never going to be my hero. I'm not going to attain that. I know I'm not. And that's just fine with me, because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

This has been an off-season of taking that next step for the Texas Longhorns. They know that the excuses -€” as valid as they may be -€” are wearing thin on a fan base that hasn't seen a bowl win in four years or hasn't seen their team in the national conversation for the past six seasons.

Of course you wouldn't know it by listening to them -€” in fact it has been an eerily quiet off-season for the Horns with the exception of gaining even more firepower in the Baylor football imbroglio.

"Don't give them anything to talk about" is a tenet of the Charlie Strong philosophy, learned from the coach that knew how to downplay the best -€” Lou Holtz.

So instead of boastful talk about taking the next step, it has been Jefferson raising the ceiling by watching endless film of last year's game in South Bend, knowing that personal achievements mean nothing in the face of five touchdown losses -€” that there is always something to look up to.

It is Jerrod Heard and Kai Locksley raising the ceiling by going to coaches and giving up the position they have played their whole life to fill an area of need -€” to help the team chase its ultimate goal -€” to have something to look forward to.

It is the coaching staff raising the ceiling by revamping on the fly -€” going against core philosophies. It is the entire team bringing a physicality to fall camp that hasn't been seen around here since...Darrell Royal? It is competition caused by a tremendous influx of young talent raising seniors such as Dylan Haines and Jacorey Warrick to the top -€” keep on chasing.

The importance of Sunday's game isn't lost on anybody.  Texas simply cannot afford another effort like they had 365 days ago. Decisions won't be made and legacies won't be cemented, but perception is reality, and lately perception has not been good.

It is time to raise the ceiling on this reclamation project...with actions on the field, not with more reassurance off of it.

"It was eerie, watching the players carry him off the field against Oklahoma. That looked awfully familiar to when we carried him off the field after we beat West Virginia in 2011," he says. "I like to think that I always knew he was the real thing, but when you're inside the visitors' locker room in Morgantown and everyone's screaming the lyrics to ‘Country Roads' after the game, you have to believe.

"Here's what I can tell you, at least for us. In August of that year, it really was that storm-is-brewing cliche, because he has a way of locking in with his players, and it's a private, family understanding. We grew to be confident over that year, but it was always private, not in the media. Never boastful. So if they feel good about this year, no one knows." -€” Mario Benavides, former player under Strong at Louisville (h/t SB Nation)

Clemson -7.5 @ Auburn:

Clemson might have some growing pains in the early season as they replace 7 starters on defense, but they are in a different stratosphere than Auburn right now.

Clemson 38 Auburn 17

ATS -€” Clemson

SU -€” Clemson

UCLA @ Texas A&M -3 :

Both of these teams were a little wobbly going up the escalator at the end of last season, as the Aggies lost 5 of their last 7 against FBS opponents, with their two victories coming over Vanderbilt and South Carolina while UCLA lost to Washington State at home and were embarrassed by Nebraska in their bowl game.

It is Trevor Knight on the white horse riding into College Station to save the Aggies from the quarterback transfer bug that hit them last off-season, but the last time we saw Knight he was completing 31% of his 16 attempts against TCU. His last start? That dreadful 40-6 drubbing at the hands of Clemson in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl in which he threw three interceptions.

Josh Rosen is the quarterback on the other side, and if a UCLA offensive line that last year allowed the second fewest sacks in school history can keep him upright against Myles Garrett and crew, the Bruins should be able to win this one on the road.

UCLA 31 Texas A&M 24

ATS -€” UCLA

SU -€” UCLA

LSU -10 vs. Wisconsin (Green Bay, WI):

Leonard Fournette is one of 17 returning starters for the LSU Tigers, and with nine of those on offense, look for more of the same from LSU...which might not be a good thing.

Wisconsin somehow manages to have less seniors than the Longhorns on their roster (13), but one of those is Bart Houston, who will start at quarterback for the Badgers. Houston only has 51 career passing attempts.

This feels like one of those games that it never really feels like the Badgers are going to win, but I don't know that I trust Brandon Harris to go on the road and dominate a quality opponent, either.

LSU 24 Wisconsin 17

ATS -€” Wisconsin

SU -€” LSU

Alabama -11.5 vs. USC (Arlington, TX):

The last time these two teams met was the 1985 Aloha Bowl, as quarterback Mike Shula led the Crimson Tide to a 24-3 victory.

This time they meet at A&T Stadium, and while I am sure you can find a nice Mai Tai at the Death Star, it likely costs $22 and you might get some funny looks.

Max Browne is making his first career start at quarterback for the Trojans, and you know that excites Nick Saban in ways we would be totally creeped out if we were to see his inner thoughts. The redshirt junior backed up Cody Kessler the last two seasons, but seldom played, throwing for a paltry 143 yards in that time period.

Two guys you'll be sick of hearing about will play quarterback for Alabama, and the next Derek Henry/TJ Yeldon/Trent Richardson/Mark Ingram is Bo Scarborough, and Calvin Ridley is the new Julio Jones on the outside.

And oh yeah, Alabama is known for their defense.

Alabama 34 USC 20

ATS -€” Alabama

SU -€” Alabama

Oklahoma -11 vs. Houston (NRG Stadium):

What a delicious matchup this is.

Recently Oklahoma has struggled when they have been the anointed ones, finishing unranked twice, and 15th and 16th the last four times they were ranked in the pre-season top four, where they find themselves this season.

Houston, meanwhile, is using this as a measuring stick game after walloping Florida State in the Peach Bowl last year. They have higher aspirations this year and a win over Oklahoma would start them down that path.

The Cougars finished 13-1 last season and return 12 starters from that team, including quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who is an underrated Heisman candidate. This year they add former Longhorn Duke Catalon at running back...so offense shouldn't be a problem.

The problem with Houston is that they lost their entire secondary to graduation, so starting the season against Baker Mayfield is no way to get underway.

Oklahoma has their own attrition problems, as they lost several key members of the front seven on defense, including Eric Striker and Charles Tapper. Tom Herman will find ways to expose that inexperience.

Houston is for real, but I'm not sure they have the horses to get it done here...but don't be surprised if they do. They're for real.

Oklahoma 31 Houston 28

ATS -€” Houston

SU -€” Oklahoma

Notre Dame -4 @ Texas:

Texas is searching for the first win against Notre Dame since the Cotton Bowl in January of 1970, when James Street and the Longhorns outlasted Joe Theismann's Irish for the 500th win in Texas football history and their second national championship.

If the Longhorns are fortunate to come out on top Sunday night it will be the 887th win in school history...but to do that they'll have to do something they have never done...beat Notre Dame in Austin.

Tell me how many times you have had this conversation this off-season:

"How is Texas going to do this year?"

*shrug*

"Depends on the quarterback..."

It is a familiar theme for Texas fans, who have been searching for consistent quarterback play for more than half a decade now, and most I know would settle for average play from their signal caller.

But of course the question is who will that starter be? I'm not sure that it matters, as both quarterbacks figure to play and the one that tests out the best will play the majority of snaps, so it is a problem that will likely fix itself...and then be revisited several times over the course of a season.

Tyrone Swoopes's Texas career has been tenuous at times, but then you look up and he only needs 208 rushing yards and 28 passing yards to join Vince Young and Colt McCoy as the only Texas quarterbacks in the history of the program to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.

The senior is said to have really taken to this offense and to his credit has made up a monumental gap since the spring in the quarterback battle, but this is something we've heard before -€” it is time to show it on the field during a game.

Shane Buechele has that scarlet word of true attached to that even worst word freshman, and while he is said to have the maturity and the football acumen to make up for his inexperience, it is still a faster game than a matchup against South Grand Prairie at the Gopher Bowl.

The Irish have their own two-quarterback system, as Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer both figure to play. Zaire threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns against Texas, while Kizer threw for more than 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns when Zaire was hurt shortly after the Texas game last year.

But this game comes down to one thing. Can Texas run the football against a Notre Dame defensive line that figures to be one of the best they will see this season?

For a Texas win to occur on Sunday, they'll need to do what Ohio State did in the Fiesta Bowl, which was run it and keep running it and wear them down. The Buckeyes rushed for 285 yards on 54 carries, led by Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 149 and 4 touchdowns.

Missing in the middle is Jaylon Smith, who wrecked shop against Texas last year with 6 solo tackles and a sack. Throw D'Onta Foreman, Chris Warren, Kirk Johnson, Kyle Porter, grab Ricky Williams out of the Longhorn Network booth if you have to, but keep it up and trust it enough to stick with it.

This would be the biggest win in the short tenure of Charlie Strong at Texas...

And he gets it.

Take the ceiling off DKR, Texas fans.

Texas 24 Notre Dame 20

ATS -€” Texas

SU -€” Texas

For entertainment purposes only.  Save your money for a cold one after the game to celebrate Texas's first win over a Top 10 opponent at home since 2008.