When the schedule was first released, this game appeared a potential trap for the Michigan Wolverines - facing a rebuilding rival coming into the "Big House" with conference foe and possible Big Ten contender Penn State coming to Ann Arbor the following week. Now, the stakes are the same for both schools - pride.
After a disappointing and shocking 0-2 start, the Wolverines look to defeat the Fighting Irish for the second consecutive year (not game) for the first time since the 1985-86 seasons. The Irish, although with expectations far inferior than the Wolverines', are also off to a dismal start after not scoring an offensive touchdown in losses against Georgia Tech and at Penn State and ranking 117th nationally in total offense.
One can argue that this game means more for a Michigan team with greater talent and playing at home on the brink of collapsing right before the start of the Big Ten schedule, but with pride on the line, anything can happen. After all, the prospects for victory got a little better for head coach Charlie Weis's squad when they found out Michigan senior QB Chad Henne, a four year starter, would be out with a knee injury suffered in last week's loss to Oregon. True freshman Ryan Mallett now steps in for his first career start in a game pitting the nation's two winningest program. Mallett gained some experience replacing the injured Henne in the second half last week, passing for 49 yards and throwing an interception. He will be opposed by fellow freshman Jimmy Clausen, who earned his first career start last week at Penn State and threw for 144 yards and one pick.
Adding fuel to this quickly diminishing fire (compared to the beginning of the season outlook) is Michigan running back Mike Hart's guarantee of victory immediately after his team's embarrasing defeat last week. One man hoping that guarantee comes true is Wolverines head coach Lloyd Carr, who may be a lame duck coach already, but certainly might not make it until the end of the season with a loss to Notre Dame. So maybe there is more on the line than just pride, but one thing is certain - everybody loses when a matchup of two great programs such as Michigan and Notre Dame is nothing more than an afterthought on a Saturday afternoon of great college football.
Stepin' Up Picks of the Week:
#1 USC over #14 Nebraska
#5 Florida over #22 Tennessee
#9 Louisville over Kentucky
#10 Ohio St. over Washington
#21 Boston College over #15 Georgia Tech
Michigan over Notre Dame
Pittsburgh over Michigan St. (both teams 2-0)
Upset of the Week: Alabama over #16 Arkansas 17-14
Stepin' Up Performer of the Week: RB Terry Grant, Alabama