Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Why Brian Kelly Needs Irish Victory

Erik Cotton@https://twitter.com/ErikCotton2Correspondent ISeptember 22, 2012

Kelly has the Irish out to their best start in a decade.
Kelly has the Irish out to their best start in a decade.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have struggled for years to find the right fit at coach. Finally, they may have gotten it right, as it seems that Brian Kelly is the guy to lead this storied program back to prominence. 

Even with that said, he still needs to beat Michigan this week.

But why?

According to Yahoo! Sports, Kelly already has the Irish out to their first 3-0 start since 2002. They're currently ranked No. 11 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since December of 2006.

This past week's convincing win at Michigan State was Kelly's signature victory since he took over in December of 2009.

We're not trying to suggest these first three wins are all for naught if he doesn't beat the Wolverines.  What we are suggesting is that he has so much to gain by beating one of Notre Dame's biggest rivals at home, under the lights, with a national TV audience on NBC.

Kelly has lost his first two matchups with Michigan, both in dramatic fashion.

Wolverine QB Denard Robinson has been the reason why in each of those games.

2010 saw him put up 502 yards in total offense and score three touchdowns, including an 87-yard scamper, the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history. He also scored the winner with 27 seconds left in an epic, 28-24 Michigan victory.

In 2011, Kelly's squad committed five turnovers and squandered a 24-7 fourth quarter lead en route to a stunning, 35-31 loss.

Kelly knows the key to beating Michigan is containing Robinson. He told Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press as much:

He's not a great football player. He's the best player on the field...He's a difference-maker. So we have to find a way to limit big, chunk plays, just like we have the first few weeks. We gave them up in the running game in year one, and we gave them up in the passing game in year two. We have to eliminate and control those big plays that are out there. If we do that, we feel pretty good.

If the Irish beat the Wolverines, it would be their second straight win over a ranked opponent. It would erase the memory of the other two heart-breaking losses Kelly has suffered at Michigan's hands. And it would surely get them into the Top 10 of the AP poll. 

You have to take into consideration the rest of Notre Dame's schedule, too. It's as tough as anyone else's in the nation: The Irish still have road games left at Oklahoma and at USC.

If Brian Kelly and his team can beat Michigan to go 4-0, their matchup with still-undefeated Stanford at home on October 13 would shape up as one of the biggest in all of college football so far this year.

Let's pretend for a second that Notre Dame goes into their finale at USC with only one loss. Let's say that loss comes at Oklahoma, which is currently ranked No. 6 in the AP poll.

Even if they lose to USC, they'll have finished the season 10-2. That would almost certainly earn them a trip to some BCS bowl. 

But what if they win that game?  If Notre Dame finishes 11-1 and closes out the season by beating its biggest rival on the road, the Irish will get serious consideration for the BCS National Championship Game.

Now, of course, this depends on what other teams do, as well. If there are two undefeated teams from the SEC at season's end, they'll almost assuredly face each other for the title.

Brian Kelly and Notre Dame can't control what other teams do, though. They can only control their own destiny, and that starts with a win over Michigan this week. 

That would only solidify the idea that Kelly's the right man to lead the Irish back to glory.