When it Matters More

IrishEyes examines the Notre Dame/Michigan rivalry and offers its game predictions.

It's not the most chronicled (USC/Army), longest running (Navy) or bitter (Miami) of Irish rivalries.

They play semi-annually, sometimes grudgingly, and both count a different foe as their chief foil.

But if you grew up on Notre Dame or Michigan football in the 1980s, this is your rivalry. ND/USC? (I never suffered through a loss to the Trojans in middle school, high school or college…kind of hard to hate the nail when you're the hammer, as young USC fans would surely agree.)

Notre Dame and Michigan, on the other hand, have met on 26 occasions since the series resumed in 1978: the Irish hold a 13-12-1 edge.

Before national games were split into regions; before ABC wisely added a prime time matchup to its schedule and before the BCS title regularly ran through a team from the south, the ND/UM game marked the unofficial start to the college football season.

18 times the teams faced off from 1978 through 1999 – both programs were ranked in 15 of those matchups; at least one squad ranked in each. Seven times the matchup featured two Top 10 squads whose national title hopes were leveled by mid-September. Either Notre Dame or Michigan was ranked No. 1, 2 or 3 on nine occasions in that span.

On the Rise?

The 2006 matchup, won easily and brutishly by the visiting Wolverines, marks the last time the game was nationally relevant. Michigan was due for a win that day – they emerge from South Bend with a victory once per decade (1978, 1986, 1994, 2006); Notre Dame fares only marginally better in The Big House, winning in 1979, 1987 and '89, 1993 and 2005.

Tomorrow's winner will hit the practice field Monday nationally ranked and among the feel-good stories of September. Michigan enjoyed the brief notoriety last season before plummeting to earth, losing 7 of 8. The Irish fared well for the next 45 days then dropped their last four. A repeat nose-dive by Michigan would elicit a coaching change; if the Irish drop even three straight at any point this season the honeymoon will end for a coach who's avoided a single hiccup over nine months.

For his part, Irish coach Brian Kelly has downplayed the significance of one contest.

"I want to be careful not to underplay the significance of the game, this game is more than the rivalry," Kelly said Thursday night. "It's still about identifying who we are as a football team. That's where my focus is.

"It's more important that my team gains an identity and respect for how they're going to play the game more so than what my personal feelings are playing against Michigan," Kelly added.

Technically he's correct and a coach's approach certainly shouldn't vary because fans put more stock in one win than another, but Kelly has yet to see Notre Dame Stadium in fervor. He's about to experience what the Michigan game means to South Bend.

The season-opener vs. Purdue? Listen, when Purdue beats Notre Dame (5 times since Lou Holtz left), it's because Everybody is beating the Irish (38 total losses in those select 5 seasons). In the 13 seasons in which Notre Dame has defeated Michigan since the series resumed, the Irish have averaged 9 wins per.

As a whole, ND fans are spoiled and comparatively well-mannered. When matched up with Purdue, Stanford, Pittsburgh, and Utah…well, the denizens generally need a reason to cheer.

Saturday's a different animal. Saturday is Michigan. Saturday is a proving ground for both programs. Saturday's Stadium crowd and corresponding atmosphere will be the largest and most boisterous ever to favor a Brian Kelly-led squad. A Saturday win would start the course for a season of success in keeping with former program standards; standards to which Kelly has aspired since his first press conference.

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez has lost 8 of his last 9 road contests. Brian Kelly has won 19 consecutive regular season games. Michigan exits South Bend once every 8-12 seasons with a W…they'll have a new Michigan Man roaming the sidelines the next time that three-hour bus ride northeast is full of smiles.

Notre Dame 30 Michigan 29

Season Prediction Record: 1-0; Against the Spread: 1-0
Note: IrishEyes will have more on the matchup in this afternoon's Friday Free-for-All column. For detailed previews and statistical notes on Saturday's contest, follow this link.

IrishEyes Predictions

Each week, IrishEyes' staff members, moderators and one guest selector will add their predictions for the upcoming contest. Our Week Two predictions followed suit from Week One: across the board for the home team. IrishEyes staff and moderators also agree on a high-scoring contest.

  • Jeff Baumhower (Co-Publisher): There is a lot of buzz about both offenses and signs that both defenses have improved, so this should be an interesting game. Despite Denard Robinson's ability to break a play every snap, Notre Dame has the offense with the quick-strike potential. The Michigan defense is undermanned in the secondary and it doesn't have enough upfront to shut down the Irish offense. Notre Dame 34 Michigan 20
  • Dave Berk (Scout.com): This is a hard game for me to call as I feel Rich Rodriguez may have found the quarterback he needs to have success at Michigan. Brian Kelly's passing attack will have a chance to really show what it can do in this game as Michigan could find some real struggles in the defensive backfield. This game has a chance to be a real high scoring contest with both teams reaching the high 20s or mid 30s. After going back and forth: Notre Dame 34-28
  • BNolan (moderator): We owe Michigan a beating. It's in our house, and it's Brian Kelly's first shot at them. Despite some internal struggles, they will come to play. We will need to see the proverbial 'first to second week improvements'. If we contain, if we tackle, if we don't beat ourselves, we win. But it won't be the thumping I'd like to see. ND 27, UM 24
  • Weisass (moderator): The offense should go to the air against Michigan and OFTEN. Look for Floyd, Rudolph and the freshman Jones, throw in Wood and Allen and look for the offense to have a big day. My lone worry is the Michigan QB. Look for Manti to lay a Hawaiian Punch TKO of Denard Robinson. ND 35 UM 21
  • Morrissey79ND (moderator): Notre Dame's offense continues to run efficiently, both on the ground and through the air. Crist shows improvement, specifically throwing the ball more downfield to Michael Floyd. The defense has trouble containing Robinson at times, but hold Michigan to 3 crucial field goals. ND's D forces a key turnover from Robinson late in the game to seal the deal. ND 31 UM 23
  • KurzND (moderator): Both teams will score early, but second half adjustments slow Robinson. ND wins due to a weak UM secondary. Notre Dame 35 Michigan 28
  • SeattleND (moderator): Michigan has shown lack of team unity under Rodriguez, from players outing the extra practice time issue to others publicly pouting. I think this team is divided and will fall apart when things go south. It may not happen this week, but if ND can get on top early and force Robinson to pass rather than run, it could. Look for Kelly to go to "warp speed" pace to tire out the thin UM secondary. Notre Dame 38 Michigan 27
  • GaviND (moderator): Given the breakneck pace of Brian Kelly's spread offense, I am confident that Dayne Crist and Co. will expose an injury/suspension/expulsion depleted Wolverine defensive backfield and score points in bunches. The question is; can ND keep UM from matching them score for score? If the Irish front seven, or more specifically the linebackers, can learn from their mistakes last weekend, I feel we force Denard Robinson into some uncomfortable situations...and two more turnovers! ND 41 UM 31
  • GoIrish22 (New Ara forum poster): Look for ND to pick apart the inexperienced Michigan DBs and set up a stable running game. On defense, ND needs to contain Robinson's running ability on the edge and exploit his questionable throwing ability. ND wins because of a disciplined, hard-nosed defense. ND 31 UM 17

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