Game Day SituationNotre Dame opens one week prior at home against Rice while the Wolverines open with FCS foe Appalachian State (insert joke here). Michigan will hit South Bend for a prime time matchup, 7:30 on NBC -- it's the fourth straight contest played between the teams under the lights with Michigan winning at home in both 2011 and 2013 and the Irish taking the 2012 contest in South Bend.
The September 6 battle will likely be the only contest in which Michigan is a (slight) underdog until it travels to in-state rival Michigan State on October 25. The Irish will be favored throughout September as well before facing Stanford on October 4, the team's first projected underdog scenario.
Why #6 Could Be Too Low…Three out of four in the Kelly era is a starting point. Michigan has either played exceedingly well early (2010), late (2011), or throughout (2013) in each of its close wins while Notre Dame muddled through an ugly defensive struggle to take one from the Wolverines in 2012 en route to a 12-0 regular season.
In short, Michigan has risen to the occasion against Notre Dame each season since and including 2009, a 38-34 win in Ann Arbor. The same holds true for commanding victories over the Irish in 2006 (South Bend) and 2007 (Big House). Not since 2008 (South Bend) and prior, 2005 (Ann Arbor), has Notre Dame outplayed Michigan for the better part of 60 minutes.
If Michigan prevails this fall, the last scheduled matchup between the teams, it will have owned the Brian Kelly era under the Dome.
Michigan belongs at #6 because...Trap games abound on the Irish schedule, and this contest, placed conveniently after Rice and prior to Purdue, isn't among them. Notre Dame's entire August camp focus can be on A.) execution against capable but decided underdog Rice and B.) this revenge game vs. the team from up north.
As well, Michigan is no better than the fourth-best team Notre Dame will face in 2014 and it could be as low as the eighth. (Florida State, Stanford, and USC are superior; North Carolina, Louisville, and Arizona State are clearly peers, and Navy could beat Michigan, Notre Dame, UNC, ASU, and Louisville as well. For that matter, so could Northwestern…and Syracuse.)
In SummationVegas oddsmakers have staked the Irish as three-point favorites for this home contest -- basically a toss-up game as the home field is worth just under a field goal in gambling parlance. Purdue (+21), Rice (spread not yet available), Louisville (+8) and Northwestern (+8), and Syracuse (+5.5) are all bigger underdogs to the Irish this fall, while North Carolina (+2.5), Navy (+3) are similarly slotted.
To its credit, Michigan has been either the better team or found a way to win in six of the last seven contests in which the teams entered as relative equals (not including games played in both 2008 and 2007 which featured either an extremely poor Michigan or Notre Dame team.)
Through four seasons, the Kelly era has two traditional foils: Stanford and Michigan. Stanford was clearly a better football team than was Notre Dame in 2010, 2011, and 2013 -- all Stanford victories.
The Wolverines though were all over the map. Similar to Notre Dame in the 2010 season, better than the Irish in 2011, and worse last fall. Yet they won each.
It's time for Kelly's crew to answer the bell and deadlock this classic rivalry at 15-15-1 since it resumed in the modern era, 1978. If not, it will be a historical pock mark on his record in South Bend unless of course a national title is included on the final resume.
Up Next: Trouble Spot #5 and the season's top trap and "sandwich" game rolled into one…