Saturday, a fading rivalry between two legendary programs has one last gasp for the foreseeable future when the Michigan Wolverines make the trip to South Bend to take on No. 16 Notre Dame.
No future installments of the showdown that annually kicks off the serious portion of the season are on the schedule for future years, so fans might want to set anything and everything aside to catch this one.
As Sporting News' Bill Bender illustrates, recent history says the final clash will be a classic:
The game, however, continues to produce dramatic finishes to the present day. Since the programs resumed the rivalry on an almost-annual basis in 1978, the Wolverines have a 15-14-1 advantage. Four of the last five meetings have been decided by a TD or less, and close to 20 points per game were scored in the fourth quarter in those games.
Below, let's take a look at all of the game's pertinent info, factors to take into account beforehand and a prediction to boot.
When: September 6, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 56
- Spread: Notre Dame (-6)
Team Injury Reports
|Jake Butt||TE||08/03/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|Graham Glasgow||G||08/31/2014||is probable for Saturday's game against Notre Dame||Probable||one-game suspension served|
|Drake Harris||WR||08/30/2014||is expected to miss the entire season||Out||hamstring|
|Delano Hill||S||08/09/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||jaw|
|Ty Isaac||RB||08/28/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||eligibility|
|Jabrill Peppers||CB||09/02/2014||is probable for Saturday's game against Notre Dame||Probable||ankle|
|Csont'e York||WR||08/09/2014||was dismissed from the team||Out||disciplinary|
|Austin Collinsworth||S||08/30/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|DaVaris Daniels||WR||08/15/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|Jarrett Grace||LB||09/03/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|Eilar Hardy||S||08/29/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|Mike Heuerman||TE||08/31/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Michigan||Questionable||hernia|
|Torii Hunter, Jr||WR||08/09/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||groin|
|Will Mahone||WR||08/02/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|Kendall Moore||LB||08/15/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|KeiVarae Russell||CB||08/15/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|Tony Springmann||DT||08/04/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||back|
|Ishaq Williams||LB||08/18/2014||was dismissed from the team||Out||disciplinary|
Injury reports via USA Today.
The End of a Series and What's at Stake
Last year, the Fighting Irish made the trip to Ann Arbor and left with bowed heads after a 41-30 loss. Coach Brian Kelly took a hit in more ways than one, as before the contest he had downplayed the credibility of the rivalry itself.
He sure isn't making that mistake twice.
Kelly clearly doesn't care too much for the series, but he put it in a more kind manner this year when speaking to the press about the doors now open for his team with Michigan out of the way, as captured by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:
I'm not going to go so far as to categorize not playing anymore is a good idea, because that's going to come back to me. So I'm going to stay away from that. I will say this: Given the complexities of our schedule, in not being able to play Michigan, it opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us.
Those opportunities are a major reason Kelly's side simply cannot afford to lose at home Saturday. In fact, it would be easier to list off the unranked teams Notre Dame encounters the rest of the way.
The Fighting Irish, as the ranks stand currently, have dates with No. 13 Stanford, No. 21 North Carolina, No. 1 Florida State, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 25 Louisville and No. 14 USC on the schedule this year, making the path to the playoff seemingly impossible.
Of course, the game is important to Michigan as well, but the Wolverines appear to have an easier ride after Saturday's encounter.
The Quarterback Spotlight
Like many collegiate contests, this one will come down to who produces better under center.
On Michigan's side is Devin Gardner once again, who threw four touchdowns and led the Wolverines in rushing last season in that triumph against the Fighting Irish. Just last week, Gardner was back to that form in a 52-14 win over Appalachian State, throwing for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
Kelly himself admits that Gardner is a player who forces his staff's hand unlike most.
“I would think we would have a little bit more and a variety of schemes for Gardner because he can hurt you obviously running the football and throwing the football,” Kelly said, per Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com. “We’re going to have to have a comprehensive plan for him.”
It will not be as easy for Gardner to be the best signal-caller on the field this time around, though, especially now that Everett Golson is back under center for Notre Dame.
In Notre Dame's 48-17 rout of Rice last week, the senior threw for 295 yards and two scores while complementing that output with 41 yards on the ground and another three touchdowns. As ESPN's George Whitfield Jr. notes, not only has Golson taken a step up in a development sense, those around him have received an upgrade, too:
You can absolutely see the calming affect of #ND QB coach Matt LeFluer on Everett Golson. LaFluer, former NFL coach, has been great for EG!— George Whitfield Jr. (@georgewhitfield) August 30, 2014
It all equates to a thrilling showdown between two of the collegiate landscape's more entertaining quarterbacks, and who knows? Maybe a marquee victory with some gaudy stats propels one of the two into the Heisman conversation.
At first glance, there are issues that could doom either side.
Michigan has been miserable on the road under coach Brady Hoke, going 6-8 away from Michigan Stadium over the course of his tenure.
On the flip side, Kelly's defense looks to be without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore yet again, per the injury report.
Which team wins?
That last bit, above all else, will decide the contest.
The Notre Dame defense was already a work in progress. Gardner is sure to get his one way or another, but it is wideout Devin Funchess (seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns last week) who will really break the Fighting Irish's back late in the contest.
In a battle between two of the winningest programs in NCAA history, one player can decide it all. Push comes to shove Saturday, that will be Funchess.
Prediction: Wolverines 35, Fighting Irish 28
Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.