This fall, in what could be the final duel of the series at The Big House, Michigan vs. Notre Dame carries more weight than a simple win or loss.
A 125-year rivalry, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish embody classic college football. However, one of the game’s iconic head-to-heads may not continue past 2014, making this fall’s battle all the more important—especially for Michigan, which has a lot to prove in 2013 after posting an 8-5 record in 2012.
Coach Brady Hoke’s team is considered a Big Ten Championship contender. A loss to Notre Dame, an independent, wouldn’t affect that, but it could have severe implications when it comes to a BCS bid.
With a favorable schedule ahead, Michigan could string together an unbeaten year. Notre Dame is its earliest test before running through the minefield that has Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State waiting in later weeks.
After opening against Central Michigan, a Wolverines' victory over the Irish on Sept. 7 would give them needed confidence before colliding with lower-tier opponents, Akron and UConn. After meeting the Huskies in East Hartford, Hoke and Co. have a week to prepare for Oct. 5’s league opener against Minnesota.
The difference between a 3-1 or 4-0 record may not seem like a big deal, but for Michigan, entering the Big Ten docket without a loss would be ideal.
Michigan After Notre Dame
Under Hoke, the Wolverines are 2-0 after facing Notre Dame.
In 2011, Michigan pieced together a four-game win streak after beating the Irish, 35-31. Then, despite a loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines took care of Ohio State, 40-34, before claiming a 23-20 Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
In 2012, after losing 13-6 to the Irish, the Wolverines struggled, needing a Brendan Gibbons’ field goal to keep Michigan State from its fifth consecutive series win. The next week, Michigan fell 23-9 to Nebraska. A month later, the Buckeyes came away with a 26-21 triumph.
Going 11-2 in 2011 put high expectations on the Wolverines in 2012. A five-loss season cast doubt on Michigan’s progress and left Hoke with big shoes to fill in 2013.
Brian Kelly’s Irish did more than hand the Wolverines an early loss, they mentally set them back. Michigan didn’t look like Michigan after that game. Coming off a 12-0 regular season, Notre Dame aims to do the same this year. With lofty goals on the line, Hoke can’t afford another loss to Kelly.
Giving Fans Memories
Legends have suited up on both sides, hoping to propel their team past the other.
The rivalry got a boost in 2011 with Michigan’s narrow victory, and Notre Dame upset the favored Wolverines in 2002 and 2004.
According to fan votes, six of the greatest games played at Notre Dame Stadium were against Michigan, The series in meaningful on both sides, despite the Irish’s decision to stop playing Michigan.
Notre Dame Stadium is a classic venue, but so is Michigan Stadium. A victory at home in front of more than 110,000 fans would certainly resonate with the Wolverines' fanbase.
Knocking off a national title contender would invigorate Hoke’s players.
With a last-second touchdown connection in 2011, Denard Robinson and Roy Roundtree earned themselves a special place in the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry. Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon could put themselves side by side with Shoelace and Roundtree with an impressive outing this time around.
According to Golden Nugget, a Vegas oddsmaker, the Wolverines and Irish will take part in one of the games of the year. It may be one of the last hurrahs, but it’s still must-see TV for fans.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81