The Wolverines, though, had quite a different year. Michigan finished the season 7-5. It not only included a loss to Notre Dame but to Ohio State as well. The only bright point might have been a win in overtime at Michigan State. To make matters worse, the Wolverines blew a big lead and lost to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. The lowly season made head coach Lloyd Carr replace the offensive and defensive coordinators and hear concerned whispers from the Michigan faithful.
Does what happens in the Irish-Wolverine contest early in the year have any bearing on the team's final success? Last season, it appeared that it did. But take a look at the results the past 10 years and the final records of the two schools.
Notre Dame wins 17-10 on the road. ND finishes 9-3, Michigan finishes 7-5. Both lose their bowl games.
Notre Dame wins 28-20 at home. ND finishes 6-6, Michigan finishes 9-3 (loses in the Rose Bowl to Texas).
Notre Dame loses 38-0 on road. Notre Dame finishes 5-7, Michigan finishes 10-3 (beats Ohio State but loses in the Rose Bowl to USC).
Notre Dame wins 25-23 at home (Tyrone Willingham debut). ND finishes 10-3 (loses in the Gator Bowl to N.C. State), Michigan finishes 10-3 (loses to Ohio State but wins the Citrus Bowl over Florida).
*Did not play in 2000 or 2001.
Notre Dame loses 26-22 on road. ND finishes 5-7 and Michigan finishes 10-2 (beats Ohio State and wins the Orange Bowl over Alabama).
Notre Dame wins 36-20 at home in Bob Davie's home opener. Notre Dame finishes 9-3 (lost Gator Bowl to Georgia Tech), Michigan finishes 10-3 (loses to Ohio State but wins the Citrus Bowl over Arkansas).
Notre Dame loses 21-14 on the road. The Irish fumbled three times in the fourth quarter. ND finishes 7-6 (lost to LSU in the Independence Bowl) while Michigan wins the national title at 12-0.
Some conclusions based on these facts: Michigan has had a lot of success over the past 10 years. Yes, some of Carr's decisions at times can be puzzling and, yes, maybe they should have been playing for more national titles. But he's led the Wolverines to four appearances in the four BCS bowl games compared to just one for the Irish. Notre Dame fans will attribute that to the eras of Davie and Willingham.
But back to the main point: from the data, when Notre Dame loses to Michigan, their seasons go in the toilet. In the three losses to the Wolverines since 1997, the Irish have a combined 17-20 record in those years. The only time they've lost to the Wolverines in this time period and still had an above .500 record was 1997 but still they only went 7-6 that season with an appearance in the neglected Independence Bowl. But the four times the Irish have won, their combined record is 34-15. Seasons of 9-3, 10-3, 9-3, and 6-6 have followed victories over the Michigan. Weis and company can get one step closer to the goal of a national title with a win over the Wolverines. For Michigan, a win or a loss can mean the difference between a good year and a great year. They've lost to Notre Dame four times in this period but still managed to have a combined 36-14 mark. Their worse record: last year at 7-5. But the Wolverines have still put together two 10-3 seasons since 1997 after losing to the Irish. It makes one wonder how Carr is 3-4 vs. Notre Dame in the past 10 years, including losing to Willingham two of three years. However, in their three wins, Michigan is a combined 32-5, which includes the 1997 shared National Championship with Nebraska. A victory over the Irish on Saturday, if history is any indication, could put the Wolverines on the track for a highly successful season.
Conclusion: in the past 10 years, the Irish's fate in the Michigan game has a more significant impact on their season than the Wolverines. A win or loss for Notre Dame could foreshadow the season's fortunes. Either way, Michigan usually pumps out a nine or ten win year. A Wolverine victory, though, might mean the difference between the Citrus Bowl or a BCS appearance.
Here are some on Weis's best comments from the past week.
*On what Michigan wants to do on offense: "It was interesting listening in that (Vanderbilt) game to things that were coming out of Michigan at the time about wanting to get back to smash mouth football. Well, so far you've seen some smash mouth football. People can talk about, well, the quarterback not having to throw it. Well, he hasn't had to throw it a whole bunch. They've played smash mouth and done a good job."
*On the style of game when these two teams meet: "It's always a bruising physical game and each team knows you're going to get the best performance from the other team. That's what you do know. You already can book that. We know they're coming up here with the intention of winning the game. They're not coming up here hoping to win, they're come up here expecting to win. That's what we're expecting them to think. We wouldn't expect anything less from a Michigan team that we have a great respect for."
On Wolverine running back Michael Hart: "A lot of times when you see a guy that's like 5'9", a shade under 200 pounds and people don't think he can run with power and that they're just elusive. The thing is he runs with power. So any time you have a running back that can run inside and out, usually the running back is good at running either inside or outside except for the just great ones, Tomlinson, but they can run inside or outside. This guy can run inside and outside. Any time a guy can do that, now you can't say, okay, great, Hart is in there, now he can run inside, we'll just press the edge and give away the inside run. You can't give away anything with the guy because he's got vision, he can cut and he's got wheels, too. He can run. He's got speed."
*On the attitude of the freshmen since 15 of 28 have seen action this year: "I think it perks him up on one hand, but it also creates more anxiety on the other hand, when they realize that they're actually playing in these games. Sometimes they have a security blanket going throughout the year in not having to go out there or going out there when it's not really meaningful time. But a lot of these guys are getting in there in the first quarter when it's really meaningful time. I think they really look forward to it but they realize how much every game means and that every game is important and how important they are to the team."
*On finding a grove on offense: "Fortunately slash unfortunately it is like that every single year. Even with the carryover with experience, to get into a flow or a groove, takes a little bit to get going. You may have spurts where everything seems to go well, and I'm talking about the combination of inside run, outside run, protection, quick passes, intermediate passes, long passes, and tying all that stuff together with timing and cohesion, it takes a little time because even when you have everyone it is a new cast of characters that you are going against and there are the little idiosyncrasies that go with that."
*On Maurice Crum, Jr. who totaled 14 tackles last week: "He was another unknown for me when I first got here. We put him in as an outside backer, the Apache out there, our strong side backer. He was in space a lot. To be honest with you, out of all three of the starters last year the guy who was the most fundamentally sound was probably Maurice. Now you go and put him in the middle and people say he's only 225 pounds. Well, 14 tackles later, which is what he had in the game, he's still 225 pounds. He has a knack for making plays. And when you are in the middle you have more opportunities to make those plays."
***Prediction: Michigan 27 Notre Dame 24. The Wolverine running attack accomplishes two goals: keeps the Irish offense off the field for a bit and equals out the time of possession, usually a Weis advantage. Either way, this contest is going to be tight. Special teams could make or break this game and I'll take the Michigan unit over the Irish's.