Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Stars Who Need to Step Up Most in Rivalry Game

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Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Stars Who Need to Step Up Most in Rivalry Game
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When the lights go out on the rivalry between Notre Dame and Michigan, it will be a downer for college football. However, fans still have 120 minutes left to enjoy.

Any time these two schools meet, it's one of the go-to games of the weekend. Even if the two teams are terrible, fans know that they'll be treated to some very good football, in addition to two of the most iconic stadium atmospheres in the country.

Luckily, the rivalry should go out with a bang, as they're playing under the lights at Michigan Stadium. The Fighting Irish are ranked 14th, while Michigan are just a few spots below, at No. 17. It's the kind of game where the level of play will only be matched by the drama.

This is the beauty of college football. Nowhere else can you find such a big game so early in the season.

Here are players from each team that will need to have the biggest performances for their respective teams.

 

Notre Dame

Tommy Rees

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy to forget Tommy Rees has had a lot of success against Michigan in the past. For his career, he's completed 35 of 52 passes for 430 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Wolverines.

Against the Temple Owls last week, Rees looked very good. His passes looked crisp, and he avoided making any foolish decisions.

Michigan will obviously be a much tougher test than Temple. In addition, the Wolverines secondary has improved from last year.

Rees needs to have a strong performance. The Fighting Irish running game won't be enough to carry Notre Dame through. Plus, it would keep the Michigan offense off the field.

 

Dan Fox/Carlo Calabrese

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Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese had one of the more unenviable jobs this season as they had to replace Manti Te'o in the Notre Dame defense. Te'o was a tremendous player and a great leader. Fox and Calabrese combined to have 19 tackles in the win over Temple. If they can have a similar impact against Michigan, it will be a big win for the Fighting Irish.

The linebacker duo will play a big part in shutting down the Michigan run game. If they're able to negate the Wolverines on the ground, that puts more pressure on Devin Gardner.

There's also that leadership aspect. Both players have plenty of experience, and their teammates will be looking to them to help set the tone.

 

Michigan

Derrick Green

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Fitzgerald Toussaint is likely to get more carries on Saturday night. Derrick Green is listed as No. 2 in the Wolverines depth chart (h/t Michigan football's Twitter account).

It makes sense. Green has more talent, but you don't want to lean too heavily on a true freshman, especially in a game as big as this. Let Toussaint shoulder the majority of the load in the running game, and then bring on Green in the right situations.

Of the two, the freshman is the more explosive. He averaged 1.2 more yards a carry in the win over the Central Michigan Chippewas. Green didn't look like a freshman at all but rather an experienced veteran.

Green is the more explosive between he and Toussaint. He's not a track star by any means. With his power, though, Green would be able to break for some big gains against a tired defense.

 

Blake Countess

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest reasons you should expect an improved Wolverines secondary is the return of Blake Countess. He missed pretty much the whole of 2012 after going down in the loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

You could see a little bit last week that Countess was having some problems adjusting to being in game situations again. He was giving his man a little too much of a cushion and just looked a little off the pace.

You can expect that since Countess hadn't played in so long. Luckily for him and Michigan, those problems didn't prove too costly against Central Michigan. If he does the same things against Notre Dame, it could be a major issue.

MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner reported Countess will be playing more of a nickel back role, which would probably be better considering his size. By disrupting Rees, Countess and the Michigan secondary would be making things very easy for the rest of the team.

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