The bitter rivalry between the AP No. 17 Michigan Wolverines and the 14th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on even greater significance in Saturday's clash in the Big House.
Stakes are already very high in terms of how much momentum a victory would generate for the remainder of the 2013 season. However, Ann Arbor will play host to what could be the last showdown in a significant while between these two historic programs.
As Dave Miller of NationalFootballPost.com points out, the Irish are playing five games in the ACC beginning next season and haven't agreed with the Wolverines on a schedule for the foreseeable future.
The next three seasons are apparently out the window, so there are some serious bragging rights on the line in this primetime affair.
As far as picking a winner is concerned, it's hard not to go with the home team. Michigan is a perfect 15-0 under head coach Brady Hoke at home, where it has beaten Notre Dame the past three times, per ESPN Stats & Info:
A lot of matchups in this game are enticing, but it's worth starting at the quarterback battle between Notre Dame's senior veteran Tommy Rees and the Wolverines' dual-threat dynamo Devin Gardner.
Rees spelled Everett Golson last season and guided the Irish to a 13-6 win in South Bend. Now it's Rees' offense to run, and he looked extremely comfortable as the unquestioned starter in the season opener against Temple, throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns on 15 yards per attempt.
Meanwhile, Gardner can also stretch the field and devastate opponents running the football, too. His arm strength and accuracy make him a far more dangerous passer than his predecessor, Denard Robinson.
Both offenses have a slew of playmakers. For the Wolverines, it's senior receiver Jeremy Gallon leading the way, along with rising sophomore tight end Devin Funchess and sure-handed slot receiver Drew Dileo.
The Irish boast T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown, who had somewhat of a breakout game against the Owls:
6'7", 270-pound tight end Troy Niklas is an X-factor who caught a 66-yard touchdown in last week's game to give Notre Dame key momentum and a 21-6 lead just before halftime.
Michigan has an intriguing backfield featuring Fitzgerald Toussaint and highly touted true freshman Derrick Green, who is a powerful runner but also has the burst to get to the outside, where defensive backs will want no part of tackling him.
It's up to the fantastic tackle tandem of Taylor Lewan—who will be matched up frequently with fellow NFL prospect Stephon Tuitt—and Mike Schofield to help the Wolverines get to the perimeter.
Again, though, the key is that Gardner—who ran for two touchdowns last week—has the capability to gash the Irish defense on the ground.
He boasts a combination the Irish haven't really seen or prepared for recently and not at all during 2012's undefeated regular season.
If the Wolverines can find early success and keep up the tempo while getting good play out of Lewan and Schofield, the impact of Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III in the trenches can be minimized.
Both defenses are still stout, but this won't be as low-scoring as last year's game. Look for the Wolverines to ride the wave of home-crowd support and for Gardner to have his official coming-out party as Michigan quarterback in a close triumph.
Prediction: Michigan 28, Notre Dame 21
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