Beating Michigan

There were many doubting Thomas's among the ND faithful before this game, including me. Michigan was a two-touchdown favorite and given last year's game and the way the two teams played in the opening week, it was hard to see why the Wolverines weren't 38-point favorites.

But, the game was a reminder that ND-Michigan games are pretty simple affairs. The team that can run the football, wins. In 2002, ND ran 50 times for 157 yards and Michigan ran 26 times for 91 yards. Result: 25-23 Notre Dame. In 2003, ND rushed 25 times for 49 yards and Michigan ran 54 times for 188 yards. Result: 38-0 Michigan. And in 2004, ND ran 40 times for 135 yards and Michigan ran 30 times for 56 yards. Result: 28-20 N.D.

This year's Michigan game also continues an interesting trend. The team that had the worse record the year before generally fares better in the game.

Since the series resumed in 1978, the team that had the worse record the year before is 11-5-1, including last week's result.

The stunners delivered by ND in 1998 (coming off a 7-6 record), in 2002 (coming off a 5-6 record) and in 2004 (coming off a 5-7 record) have all been against Michigan teams that were decidedly better the year before. And sometimes it has worked to Michigan's advantage: In 1994 ND was coming off a No. 2 finish and an 11-1 record and Michigan had suffered through an 8-4 season the year before, but it was Michigan that pulled off a 26-24 upset at ND.

Particularly in ND's case, the Michigan game, coming as it does early in the year, has been a make-or-break proposition for a team hoping to rinse out the bad taste of the year prior.

Consider that winning or losing the Michigan game has usually pretty well defined the season for ND. Since the series resumed in 1978, in the nine years that ND has lost to Michigan, ND's aggregate record is 55-49-1 (.529) (including 2003's disappointing 5-7 record), which works out to a modest 6.4 victories per 12 games.

On the other hand, in the 11 years (not including 2004) that the Irish have beaten or tied Michigan, ND's aggregate record has been 103-25-2 (.800) (including ND's 10-3 campaign of 2002), which works out to 9.6 wins per 12 games.

In other words, the difference between winning and losing the Michigan game is about three games. One can see that this year. Had the Irish lost to Michigan, five or six wins would have been about the highest rational projection for ND's win total this year, but now suddenly eight wins or so does not seem out of the question.

No Notre Dame team that has beaten Michigan in modern times has ever had a losing record. The worst records ever posted by an Irish team to beat Michigan was the 7-4 mark in 1979 and the 6-4-1 mark of 1982, though both those teams played very hard schedules and were probably better than their records let on.

The 1982 team was probably Faust's most promising unit and was 6-1-1 after a road win against then No. 1 Pitt. Faust, who seemingly never could catch a break, had the unenviable task of following up the Pitt game by playing eventual national champion Penn State the next week without starting quarterback Blair Kiel.

The Irish made a game of it, losing 24-14, but then an exhausted team lost at Air Force and then lost to USC, 17-13, when the Trojans were given a touchdown on a play where an USC back clearly fumbled at about the 2-yard line and Notre Dame recovered. You get the idea: it was a snakebit team.

So now the door swings open the possibility of a good season. But, it will likely slam shut if the Irish get caught flat like they did in 1998.

That year, coming off an impressive win against defending national champ Michigan, the Irish went to East Lansing to play an 0-2 MSU team and the scorewas 42-3 Spartans at halftime.

The fact that Irish have been stung once on the road already, however, seems to make it less likely that they'll overlook the Spartans. Top Stories