It's Michigan Week

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly toed the company line Sunday, downplaying his program's rivalry with Michigan. But no amount of coach speak (or ACC-fueled appeasement) can lessen what the Irish and Wolverines have meant to college football in September over the last 35 years.

It might not be a historic rivalry in Brian Kelly's mind, but it sure is on paper, on the field, and in the hearts, souls, and bloodlines of everyone that grew up rooting for the Blue and Gold or Maize and Blue.

For an exceptionally astute coach, one that has put his stamp on every aspect of the Notre Dame football program, Kelly sure seems far removed from the pulse of the school's alumni and fan base after Sunday's dismissive comment of Michigan's place in Irish lore.

"I really haven't seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries," Kelly said on his weekly Sunday conference call. "I've seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played."

You want a rivalry? Try on 14-14-1 for size since the series resumed on a regular basis in 1978. 20 of those 29 games were decided by one score or less. (And that doesn't include the 1991 Desmond Howard classic or the Tim Brown special four year previous.)

22 of the 29 contests played over the last 35 years pitted ranked teams; just three from the collection of 29 were played without a national ranking at stake for one of college football's all-time great programs.

A remarkable 19 of the last 29 matchups were won, outright, by the underdog including three straight by the Wolverines before Manti Te'o and the Irish subdued them in South Bend last fall.

"For me, I've been in Michigan (as a coach and resident) a long time, I've always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game," Kelly said. "But in the Notre Dame history books, this game has been played, but obviously there have been some years where it hasn't been played for a number of years."

Proximity, of course, doesn't lend itself to blood, sweat, and oh-so-many tears.

It's true Notre Dame and Michigan have taken three two-season breaks since resuming in 1978. Prior, they hadn't played since 1941 and 1942. Fittingly, the teams split those decisions. The other eight games, all won by Michigan, occurred before the Great War.

Kelly later noted the rivalry would likely endure another break when the programs inevitably meet again.

"I would think that the geographical proximity and certainly from a recruiting standpoint in the Midwest, Notre Dame and Michigan are recruiting kids that are very good students, there are a lot of similarities," he said. "I don't think any time off will affect the great rivalry that these two teams have shared."

USC is Notre Dame's chief rival. Ohio State's is Michigan's, but Michigan vs. Notre Dame has been college football's greatest -- and more important -- its most consistently competitive September rivalry since the Carter administration.

Fortunate for Irish fans, Kelly is tasked with coaching his mix of veterans and rookies (maybe more of the latter than we expected) to a win in Ann Arbor, not to pass a Notre Dame history lesson prior to the contest.

He excels at the former. The latter should be left to both fan base's alumni and those afforded the right to an honest answer. Newly-minted contract extension or not, Kelly still appears pressed to toe the company line, because there's little chance he believes what he said.

Asked later about a comment from Michigan coach Brady Hoke over the summer that Notre Dame was "chickening out" of the series by invoking an out-clause that will force a break following the 2014 contest in South Bend, Kelly said,"Everybody knows the challenges we have as an independent when it comes to scheduling. We're a team that a lot of people want to play, including Michigan, obviously, or Brady wouldn't comment in that regard.

"We're trying to do the best we can maintaining our independent status and our relationship with the ACC," he continued. "We'd like to play everybody. Unfortunately we can't. There's going to be a little bit of hiatus on the game, but we'll work hard to get them back on the schedule."

For those that understand, this is the week that matters most. For Brian Kelly and his staff, it's another game to win because he's tasked with winning them all.

Ultimately that's what matters Saturday night in a Big House that's recently morphed from merely cavernous, to raucous and imposing. Ann Arbor will be rocking, fueled with a healthy dose of new hate. The Irish will be ready.

The rivalry, excuse me, Notre Dame's "most meaningful, entertaining, competitive, and contentious football series" of the last 35 years is tied at 14-14-1.

Tiebreaker Round 30 is just five days away. Top Stories