Will Saturday night be the final game that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play in Ann Arbor? It’s entirely possible.
(Check out the Michigan perspective here)
The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry will be taking a “hiatus” beginning with the 2015 season that will last until at least 2017, and may not resume until after 2020, if ever. When Notre Dame agreed to join the ACC in all sports except football, they had to agree to play five ACC teams each year beginning in 2014 for them to maintain their football independence. When almost half of your schedule is now spoken for, some of these traditional opponents have to go by the wayside to make room. Michigan is, unfortunately, one of these casualties.
I disagree with head coach Brady Hoke (and my Michigan correspondent counterpart Rob White) that Notre Dame is “chickening out” in the rivalry. The Irish went 12-0 last year, including a win over Michigan where they absolutely destroyed senior QB Denard Robinson. Brian Kelly and the Irish aren’t afraid of the Wolverines. It’s about scheduling priorties and commitments to their new ACC partners, and maintaining the strongest rivalries. Michigan just isn’t as big a rival as some of Notre Dame’s other traditional opponents. I respect Brady Hoke immensely – he’s a fellow Ball State alum and led my Cardinals to the best season they ever had in 2008 – but he’s simply wrong.
That’s not to say that this is not a rivalry of historic proportions. I know what head coach Brian Kelly said (and ultimately redacted), and he was wrong about the significance of the rivalry, though one can understand how he might have come to that initial conclusion. Since 1887, the two schools have faced each other on the football field only 40 times – and I’m not too proud to not mention that Michigan leads the overall series 23-16-1.
Now compare that with some other Notre Dame rivalries – say Purdue (a geographic rival) or USC (a traditional rival). Notre Dame has faced the Boilermakers 84 times since 1896 and has played against USC 84 times since 1926. So there isn’t the body of work that is there for other Irish rivals, which is why it makes sense to cut this rivalry ahead of others.
But I seriously doubt these two programs leave the series dead for long. It might be four, maybe five years but I will absolutely guarantee that the rivalry will be renewed at some point.
But since this will be the last game at Michigan (the last meeting will be 2014 in South Bend), fans and players alike should take in and enjoy the game to the greatest extent possible.
3 Things to Watch
Tommy Rees - For those who checked out my season preview last week, you’ll know that I am not exactly high on Tommy Rees as the Irish’s starting QB. However, I will have no issues in stating Rees looked amazing last week, going 16-23 for 346 yards and 3 scores with no turnovers. That being said, it was against Temple. All due respect to the Owls, but those are the type of numbers Rees should have at home against a team that went 4-7 in 2012. Can he match those numbers against a top-20 team on the road at night? Well, we’re about to find out.
Notre Dame’s defense - It was an inauspicious beginning to the season for the highly regarded defense. Notre Dame allowed Temple to rack up 228 pass yards, 134 rushing yards, and let the Owls into the red zone on numerous occasions. If it had not been for an absolutely terrible performance by Temple’s kicker, the score would be much different than the 28-6 final we had last week (Note: The score would have been different if Notre Dame’s kickers didn’t completely suck also).
Devin Gardner - Notre Dame was haunted by Denard Robinson the last three years, including a 502 yard output in 2010 and the 2011 fourth quarter comeback when he led the Wolverines to a 35-31 win after trailing 24-7. Granted, the Irish did force Robinson into his worst game in college in 2012 with 5 interceptions and a fumble, but overall he was a match-up nightmare. So how will the Irish handle his successor Devin Gardner? It will depend on what Irish defense we see. If it’s the one we all expect to be here in 2013, Gardner could have a rough go. But if its the defense we saw last week against Temple, well things could get interesting.
My 5 Predictions
Tommy Rees – I think I’m going to give Tommy a little more credit this time around, though I’m not sure that he’ll drop a triple TD performance on Michigan’s defense. Let’s say he goes 16 for 27, for 270 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
Amir Carlisle – A bit of a shock for me to see Carlisle start of George Atkinson III, but he made the most of it gaining 68 yards on just 7 carries (9.7 average). Again, we know the Irish will be splitting carries across the board, so don’t expect much more than that from any of Notre Dame’s RBs. I could see Carlisle hitting 70 yards and a touchdown against Michigan.
T.J. Jones – The young receiving corps definitely stood tall against Temple (although, again, they should have). Senior WR T.J. Jones led the group 138 yards on 8 catches, and junior DaVaris Daniels added 2 scores. They’re going to struggle a bit more at the Big House, but should still be productive. Jones is the biggest threat in the Irish pass game, and I’ll give him 7 more grabs for 90 yards and a score.
Irish D – Michigan put up big numbers last week, nailing their week 1 opponent 56-10. Impressive to be sure, but it was against Central Michigan. Notre Dame’s defense has gotten a lot of heat for their lack luster performance against Temple, and will be hungry. Michigan will put up points, but it won’t be near the explosion that they had against a team from the MAC. The Irish defense will play well enough to get the job done, limiting the Wolverines to two touchdowns.
Final Score – Notre Dame has lost 7 of their last 10 trips to Michigan. The Big House is as tough a place to play as any in all of college football. The crowd will be loud and raucous in an attempt to help Wolverines finish out this chapter in the rivalry on a high note. I think Notre Dame’s defense will play stronger and better this week, though, and as long as Tommy Rees manages the game and keeps the offense on the field with smart, accurate decisions, things will be good for the Irish.
Notre Dame wins, 27-23.
Follow me on Twitter @IrishColt1