Notre Dame hasn’t beaten Michigan and Michigan State in the same season since 2004, and it hasn’t started the year 4-0 since 2002.
2012, though, looks like a different year for the surprisingly No. 11-ranked Fighting Irish.
No. 18-ranked Michigan, on the other hand, was a preseason darling until being completely annihilated by the top ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 41-14 in the opening performance. Following a scare against the Air Force Academy and a slaughter of UMass, Michigan’s season is riding in the balance of this game.
If Notre Dame can somehow come out with another impressive win, it will be one step closer to a BCS bowl berth—its first since 2006!
Notre Dame and Michigan matchups are always thrilling, and this one is no different. It has the makings of an instant classic and is one you will not want to miss come Saturday.
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
When: Saturday, September 22, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports
Spread: Notre Dame (-4.5), according to BetOnline
Will the Irish cover the -4.5 points?
The last three games between these two rivals have been shootouts, each decided by four points. Quarterback Everett Golson has answered a lot of questions this season, but he hasn’t proven whether or not he can go toe-to-toe with a quarterback like Denard Robinson.
The key to this game is the Irish’s ability to contain Robinson and the rushing game of the Wolverines. Their passing game is inept if it cannot feed off of the option-read. Notre Dame’s improved defense will have a big day and provide the Irish offense with a sizable cushion against a weaker Michigan defense.
Over/Under: 51, according to BetOnline
Will the Irish and Wolverines score over or under 51?
Both Michigan and Notre Dame have shown they can put up some points this season. Michigan's offense is leaps and bounds better than the Michigan State team that Notre Dame held to a mere three points a week ago.
The last three games between these two teams have all easily eclipsed the 51-point over/under, and this one will not be any different.
Notre Dame Injuries (via USA Today)
DE Chase Hounshell, Shoulder, Questionable
T Tate Nichols, Shoulder, Questionable
RB Amir Carlisle, Ankle, Questionable
DE Justin Utupo, Suspension, Questionable
Michigan State Injuries (via USA Today)
DT Richard Ash, Undisclosed, Questionable
DE Brennen Beyer, Knee, Questionable
LB Desmond Morgan, Head, Questionable
RB Stephen Hopkins, Hamstring, Questionable
TE Brandon Moore, Knee, Questionable
Top 25 Implications
A win, depending on what happens in front of them, could propel Notre Dame into the top 10 for the first time since 2006. A loss would not kill the team’s chances at a successful season, but it will effectively hamper any hopes at cracking the BCS this season.
For Michigan, this is a must-win game if it wants to rekindle the high expectations that placed the team within the preseason top 10. A Big Ten championship would still send the team to a BCS bowl, but it wouldn’t be pretty with losses to both Alabama and Notre Dame on their resume.
Keys to Notre Dame Win
It’s pretty simple for the Notre Dame Irish: stop Denard Robinson, beat the Michigan Wolverines.
It’s easier said than done, though.
Besides that, the defense must be physical upfront and dominate at the point of attack. If it can shut down the running game and pressure Robinson into passing situations, it may be able to force turnovers—something Robinson struggles with when he is forced to pass in order to win.
On offense, Brian Kelly has to trust freshman quarterback Everett Golson and take some chances down the field. He let it rip against a pretty good Michigan State defense and made enough plays to win that game. The Wolverine’s defense is not even in the same ballpark as Sparty and is ripe for the taking if Kelly game plans efficiently.
Keys to Michigan Win
For the Wolverines, they must get after and pressure freshman quarterback Everett Golson. Golson has the ability to beat you but is also still just three games into his collegiate career at the most challenging position in the game.
On offense, Michigan must get Denard Robinson going early in both the rushing and passing attacks. In the team's 41-14 shellacking against Alabama, it tried easing him into the action with a more conservative-style attack.
The Wolverines cannot afford to get down early against Notre Dame’s defense or the route may be on in South Bend. By running Robinson early, they can try to control the clock. If they’re successful, they can set up play action and other options from Robinson out of the backfield.
Like Alabama, Notre Dame's effective defense and consistent running game will wear down the Wolverines throughout this matchup. Michigan will be able to move the ball better than the school in East Lansing against the Irish, but in the end, the Irish will come out on top.
Notre Dame 37, Michigan 24
Mike Hoag is a Trends and Traffic writer for Bleacher Report and also covers the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for the site.