Here are the keys to the game.
Nobody new becomes famous: Everyone knows who Michigan's Mike Hart, Steve Breaston and Chad Henne are. If the average college football fan knows who Mario Manningham and Kevin Grady are following Saturday's contest, Notre Dame will be in trouble. Hart is going to gain his yards, Henne is going to complete some passes and Breaston might make a play or two whether on special teams or at receiver, but the Irish cannot allow someone unexpected to get the game ball. Grady (17 carries, 77 yards, two touchdowns) will only get minimal carries spelling Hart, so if he's on Sportscenter celebrating a few runs look out. Manningham (five receptions, 71 yards, one touchdown) is the team's second-leading receiver behind Breaston. The sophomore needs to leave as under the radar as he showed up.
Keep the Darius Walker nightmares coming: Walker made his collegiate debut against the Wolverines gaining 115 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns, leading the Irish to an upset victory over their rival. Last year he had 104 yards on 26 carries in helping Notre Dame maintain possession in another win. Irish quarterback Brady Quinn should be able to pick the Michigan secondary a part, so if Walker can get his 100 yards rushing the offense should easily roll to 30-plus points. Michigan will be bringing a lot of pressure off the ends with LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs, so Walker will be able to run like crazy on delays and draws.
Special Teams Execution: In what's expected to be a close game with the tide turning on several occasions, special teams can be used to steal momentum. Field position will be key Saturday. Punt returner Tom Zbikowski is due for a big return. The kick returners, whoever they are this week, need to keep the offense from starting deep in its own end. Flip the coin and both the punt and kickoff coverage units have to keep Breaston in check.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Michigan 24: The game will still be in doubt late, but the Irish will be too much in the end. The Wolverines and head coach Lloyd Carr will lose their seventh-straight road opener.
Offensive MVP: Walker gets the job done as both a runner and a receiver accumulating close to 200 total yards and two touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Victor Abiamiri sacks Henne twice and forces a key turnover in helping Notre Dame improve to 3-0.