CFN Big Ten Game of Week: U-M vs ND

CFN: Go ahead and admit it. Of all the big showdowns in week three, you're most looking forward to seeing what unfolds when Notre Dame faces Michigan. If nothing else, it's round one between superstar freshmen Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett.

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Big Ten Fearless Predictions, Week Three, Part 2

Big Ten Game of the Week

Notre Dame (0-2) at Michigan (0-2)  3:30 PM ABC
Why to Watch: While everyone loves the big game, and Michigan and Notre Dame have played some classics over the years with some of the most important showdowns in college football history, this year's matchup might be the most interesting yet. In the same way you don't want to watch the car crash, but can't seem to turn away, this game has now become a battle to see which all-time great program has fallen the furthest, and which coaching staff is on the hotter seat. These two haven't just lost their first two games of the season, they've done it with flair, and now it's desperation time. That means this game won't just have the pressure of being NOTRE DAME VS. MICHIGAN, it'll be about survival, and trying to jump-start a season. It's still early, and there's still plenty of time for each team to turn things around, but for the loser, its season will have the potential to go from disastrous to a whole other level of bad. Notre Dame has to face six likely bowl-bound teams in a row after the trip to Ann Arbor, and Michigan has to deal with a strong Penn State next week in the Big Ten opener.

Why Notre Dame Might Win: The general sense seems to be that Notre Dame had to play two elite level teams in Georgia Tech and Penn State, who are each likely to be in the top ten at some point, while there was no honor in Michigan's loss to Appalachian State. Oregon, while good, isn't seen as strong as the two opponents the Irish have faced, so while things might have been ugly so far, there's a chance the Yellow Jackets and Nittany Lions will do that do just about everyone. If the Irish offense ever wanted a jump start, this would be the time against a Michigan secondary that's been a step slow and way out of position time and again in the first two games. As long as Jimmy Clausen gets time to throw, he should be able to fire away at will against the nation's second worst pass efficiency defense. Fortunately for Michigan ...

Why Michigan Might Win: ... the Irish offensive line hasn't been remotely close to stopping a pass rush so far, and that's led to the quarterbacks being wildly inefficient. Notre Dame has allowed a whopping 15 sacks in two games, and while the Wolverine defense has been miserable, there's been a little bit of a pass rush. Michigan simply isn't playing up to its talent level, but it actually has the horses in place to turn the production up a few notches and start winning, while Notre Dame just plain stinks right now. Keeping it basic, which is what the Wolverines need to do right now, they should be able to pound the ball as much as they want to against an Irish line that's totally incapable of shedding blocks. The Wolverine offensive line should dominate from the star.

Who to Watch: The future is now for the two storied programs as true freshman quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett square off in what many talent scouts think could be the first of many showdowns that'll span the course of long NFL careers. Thrown to the wolves last week, Clausen wasn't horrible, considering the Nittany Lion defense and revved up crowd. He completed 17 of 32 passes for 144 yards with an interception, and while those numbers aren't going to get him into any hall of fame, they're better than they appear to be considering he rarely got time to throwand didn't have any running game to help the cause. For Mallett, a huge 6-6, 250-pound bomber, all he has to do is hand off to Mike Hart, not throw interceptions, and occasionally air it out to loosen things up. With Chad Henne out for at least three weeks with a knee injury, Mallett will have time to make the job his, just like Henne was able to do as a freshman. If Michigan wins, and if Mallett plays reasonably well, he could be seen as the spark who kicked off a new season.

What Will Happen: Mallett has Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington, and Jake Long to help ease him into the job. Clausen has ... Armando Allen? David Grimes? Actually, Allen and Grimes are dangerous speedsters who have the potential to rip apart the Michigan defense, but there is a big production gap between the Michigan skill players and Notre Dame's. Michigan had problems with mobile quarterbacks over the last two weeks, so look for Demetrius Jones to see time here and there. It won't matter. This is the week Michigan gets back on track in an ugly game for both teams.

CFN Prediction: Michigan 31 ... Notre Dame 17 ... Line: Michigan -8.5
Must See Rating: (5 Britney at the VMAs - 1 Big Shots) ... 4

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