For the final time for a long time, the Michigan Wolverines will host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. That may be an obscure way of describing this game, but moving forward, it's unclear how conference realignment will impact this storied rivalry.
The question is, where can you see the grudge match, and what should you be looking for?
The Fighting Irish and Wolverines enter this game as Top 25 teams, as No. 17 Michigan looks to take down No. 14 Notre Dame. Both teams won their respective season openers, taking home double-digit victories.
With the rivalry coming to a close—whether permanently or temporarily—it now comes down to which team has enough to win when it matters most. Chances are, it'll come down to which team has the ball last.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 7
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Michigan's Key to Victory: Run Game
The Wolverines enter this game off of one of the most encouraging performances possible. A win over Central Michigan is hardly a guarantee of title contention, but they won 59-9 and performed well in virtually every phase of the game.
Nothing was more impressive than the balance Michigan displayed with its rushing attack.
The Wolverines ran for 242 yards and six touchdowns during their dismantling of the Chippewas. Those two numbers alone are cause for shock and awe, but they aren't even the most encouraging sign for Michigan.
Three separate Michigan players ran for at least 50 yards and four scored touchdowns. Most importantly, the Wolverines carried the ball 47 times with only two players topping 10 carries.
Derrick Green picked up 58 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while Fitzgerald Toussaint tallied 57 yards and two scores on 14 rushes.
Wide receiver Dennis Norfleet displayed Michigan's creativity by picking up a 38-yard run, while quarterback Devin Gardner ran for 52 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries. Running back Thomas Rawls also scored a touchdown for the Wolverines, and thus their depth was established.
To win, Notre Dame will need to slow the run down.
Michigan has long relied on great quarterbacks, and the pressure on Gardner to produce with his arm is hardly minimized. With that being said, the Wolverines are a ground-and-pound team that can get outside of the tackles or pick up the short-yardage gains to move the chains.
The Fighting Irish boast a lethal defensive line, though, and Michigan will be in for a test.
Notre Dame's Key to Victory: Tommy Rees
During Notre Dame's season-opening 28-6 win over the Temple Owls, quarterback Tommy Rees turned heads by throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns. This was a dramatic breakthrough for Rees, who had been Everett Golson's backup in 2012.
Now back in the starting role that he once owned, Rees has put a temporary hold on the questions Notre Dame is fielding about its national title contention.
Rees displayed a veteran's poise, completing 16 of 23 passing attempts, good for 69.7 percent. Furthermore, he was without a turnover, taking care of the ball and failing to throw an interception or commit a fumble.
The Fighting Irish will need a nearly identical performance to win at Michigan.
The one reason for concern is that Rees threw all three of his touchdowns during the first half and then quieted down during the third and fourth quarters. Fortunately, he managed to lead a strong scoring drive, completing a 33-yard pass to Chris Brown, and led another before Kyle Brindza missed a 44-yard field goal.
Unfortunately, a win over Temple doesn't quiet the critics. Nor should it.
TJ Jones erupted for six receptions for 138 yards and DaVaris Daniels was Rees' leading touchdown threat, catching three passes for 69 yards and two scores. For that reason, we're inclined to believe that Notre Dame's success through the air will carry over into Michigan.
Just don't jump the gun, as winning a home game against Temple and defeating Michigan in Ann Arbor are two completely different tasks.
Notre Dame is a legitimate Top 25 team and should be able to tally 10 wins with the skill players in place. Furthermore, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III are legitimate NFL prospects on the defensive line, and Rees has displayed poise over the past two seasons.
Tasked with winning at Michigan, however, the Fighting Irish will slip up.
The Wolverines may or may not be a national title contender, but they're still a proud football team that knows how to protect The Big House. They didn't lose a single home game in 2012, and Brady Hoke knows the meaning of defending one's turf.
Thus far, Michigan hasn't lost a single game in Ann Arbor during his coaching tenure.
There's no question that the Irish are skilled and driven enough to be the team that defeats the Wolverines. After beating Michigan 13-6 in 2012, it's fair to say that Notre Dame even has bragging rights entering this game.
In the end, however, winning in Ann Arbor is as close to an impossibility as you'll find in college football.
Michigan 23, Notre Dame 21
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