College football fans should be sure to mark the calendar for Saturday, Sept. 7.
That will be the day the No. 17 Michigan Wolverines' season will be defined.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, ranked No. 11 in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll, will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., that Saturday night in what is sure to be one of the biggest battles of the college football season. The result will tell us a lot about what to expect from Michigan the rest of the year.
Who will win this year's matchup?
It will be the second game of the season for the Wolverines, as they’ll be taking on Central Michigan in the opener. With all due respect to Central Michigan, that shouldn’t be much of a test for Michigan. It would be surprising if the Wolverines didn’t come away with a victory of at least 20 points.
A win over Central Michigan won’t really show what the Wolverines are capable of, though.
Michigan needs to be tested and tested early for us to truly see what the rest of the year will hold for the team that went 8-5 overall last season and fell to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
Notre Dame will provide that test.
In last year’s matchup between the two rivals, Michigan had a tough time cracking the Notre Dame defense and only managed to put six points on the scoreboard—a pair of field goals from Brendan Gibbons. Notre Dame scored three times and came away with a 13-6 victory.
Notre Dame finished the year with just one blemish on its resume, a beatdown at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game.
While the Fighting Irish won’t have some of their stars from a year ago, such as linebacker Manti Te'o, they’re still expected to be one of the best programs in the nation in 2013.
Devin Gardner will run Michigan’s offense in the upcoming season, as Denard Robinson is now in the NFL. I’ve previously written about Gardner's outlook, including how he has what it takes to be one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and how he’s bound for a big season.
Gardner will truly be tested against Notre Dame, and his performance on Sept. 7 will have a direct impact on not only the game’s result but also the team's season.
If the Wolverines come away with a victory over Notre Dame, it will say that they should be considered one of the top 10 programs in the country and are in store for a big year.
Michigan has a lot of tough games on its schedule this year. It will host teams like No. 2 Ohio State and No. 18 Nebraska and travel to play teams like No. 22 Northwestern throughout the season.
A win over Notre Dame would give the program a ton of confidence heading into those showdowns.
A loss, however, would put a damper on the rest of the season. While it’s still possible to make it to the BCS National Championship Game with a loss on Michigan’s resume, it’s much more difficult—especially with a blockbuster against Ohio State scheduled for the last game of the regular season.
For this reason, Michigan can't afford to lose this early season matchup with the Irish.
The Wolverines would need a miracle run the rest of the year if the team were to fall to Notre Dame in the second week of the season.
There are significant implications to the Sept. 7 matchup between these two national powerhouses, and it will definitely give fans a good indication of just how much potential the Wolverines have in 2013.
All statistics and information courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.