Michigan (1-0) at Notre Dame (1-0) Sept. 6, 7:30 pm, NBC
Here’s The Deal: Michigan and Notre Dame will play again and the series will someday become special again. It might not happen for years, but there’s too much history and there’s too much greatness for the two historic programs to not square off in early September on a regular basis. But for now, this is the end of the series until further notice, and for two programs looking for definition and direction, this could be one of those games that makes or breaks an entire season.
Notre Dame continues to operate with an academic Sword of Damocles hanging over its head, waiting daily to see just what might happen next in the program’s latest controversy. Meanwhile, all was right with the world on the field as Everett Golson came up with a brilliant performance in the 48-17 domination of defending Conference USA champion, Rice. The offense was thrilling and explosive, and the defense solid when it had to be to get the easy win. The big boys are down the road with Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC just a few of the big names left to deal with, and while this might be a good Irish team, considering the potential for most academic casualties, getting big wins now is a must.
Getting any wins at all is a big positive for Brady Hoke, whose Wolverines came up with a cathartic 52-14 blasting of an Appalachian State team that’s nowhere near the version that pulled off the classic upset to kick off the 2007 season. Even so, for an offense that couldn’t run the ball last year, cranking out 350 yards was a big step forward. For a defense that couldn’t seem to come up with a tough stop, not allowing a point until midway through the third quarter and up 42 was a plus. With home games against Miami University, Utah and Minnesota up next, a win over the Irish probably means a 5-0 start before going to Rutgers. It would also be the first really, really big win for Hoke since beating the Irish last year.
So wake up the leaders and hail, hail to the echoes, or something like that, and enjoy a truly great college football matchup. It should be good enough to show why the series has to continue – and soon.
Why Michigan Might Win: Maybe, just maybe, the offense has figured it out. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was just Appalachian State, but the running game worked, the passing game was efficient, and the points and yards were flying off the board early. The Wolverine attack clicked twice last year in explosions against Indiana and Ohio State, but those were helped by mega-passing days. Against ASU, the commitment to the ground game was obvious, with the 350 yards the most by the Wolverines since cranking out 353 against Illinois in the middle of the 2012 season. As good as the Irish defensive front was against Rice, it’s still going to be a work in progress throughout the first part of the season. If Michigan was really able to revamp its O line in a hurry and the ground game is for real under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, there might be too much firepower for an Irish team missing its top receiver (DaVaris Daniels) and top corner (KeiVarae Russell).
Why Notre Dame Might Win: But it was Appalachian State. Michigan’s offense had its moments of pop and excitement throughout last year, but there always seemed to be a clunker right around the corner. Is the Michigan offensive line really ready to shine in a big game, and will the holes be there at times for the Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and the ground game like they were against ASU? Rice might not be special, but the offense failed to generate anything against a swarming Notre Dame defense that allowed a few big plays here and there late, but couldn’t find room on the ground. On the other side, the veteran Irish O line – potentially a major strength as the season goes on – should be able to generate a push. Notre Dame isn’t going to averaged 6.7 yards per carry like it did last week, but it should get more electric plays out of …
Who To Watch Out For: Everett Golson, who more than picked up where he left off in 2012, when he was the only positive in the ugly national title loss to Alabama. He completed 12-of-22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns against Rice, and ran 12 times for 41 yards and three touchdowns. Can he exorcise the demons of 2012, when he completed 3-of-8 passes for 30 yards and two picks against the Wolverines? He needs to. On the other side, Devin Gardner took target practice against Appalachian State, completing 13-of-14 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns – with all the scoring passes going to tight end/receiver Devin Funchess. Fantastic in last year’s win over the Irish, Gardner threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns while running for 82 yards and a score, but if the running game works like it did against ASU, he won’t need to carry the team this time around.
What’s Going To Happen: It’s going to be a classic thanks to the two quarterbacks. Golson will carry the Irish on his back, but it won’t be enough as the Michigan offense will look the part, only against a good defense this week. The Devin Gardner Heisman discussion will start up, but he’ll only be one part of a terrific end to the legendary rivalry.
Prediction: Michigan 34 … Notre Dame 31
Line: Notre Dame -4.5 o/u: 54.5
Must Watch Factor: (5: Hacked and Leaked Photos of Kate Upton – 1: Hacked and Leaked Photos of Kate Upton and Justin Verlander) … 5