This week was supposed to be a celebration of the culmination of one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. But perhaps fittingly, the end of the Notre Dame-Michigan series will be a bitter one.
It wasn't enough for the Fighting Irish to pull the plug on the series, exercising an out in their contract with the Wolverines two years ago that would make this weekend's midwest matchup the last scheduled between the two teams.
With little more than 48 hours to go until the showdown in South Bend, Notre Dame announced an upcoming series that it surely knew would grab national headlines, with a partner that Michigan is plenty familiar with.
It could just be a coincidence that the Fighting Irish decided to use this week to reveal their upcoming home-and-home series with the Wolverines' arch rival, Ohio State, per the Buckeyes' official website, but in all likelihood, it's probably not. The Buckeyes will host Notre Dame in Columbus on Sept. 3, 2022, before traveling to South Bend on Sept. 23, 2023.
Ohio State isn't exactly replacing Michigan on the Notre Dame slate—the Wolverines and Fighting Irish have met in each season from 2002-2014—but the reaction from the media was telling, if not predictable.
Just two days before two of college football's traditional powers were scheduled to meet for the final time, all eyes were on a matchup that won't be taking place for another eight years.
As Notre Dame approaches its last game with rival Michigan, it announces a home-and-home series with Ohio State, to be played in 2022-23.9/4/2014, 3:06:28 PM
Brian Hamilton @BrianHamiltonSI
#OhioState and #NotreDame set a home-and-home series, somehow fail to include “LOL Michigan” in official release. http://t.co/igsFcNBfRj9/4/2014, 3:14:50 PM
Tom Fornelli @TomFornelli
Just think of the hype those games will get when Urban Meyer returns to Columbus with the Fighting Irish.9/4/2014, 2:12:21 PM
While we still have a near-decade to discuss who will be coaching in the first game of the OSU-Notre Dame series (and for what team), let alone the players who will be on the field (the true freshmen who will play in that game are currently in fifth grade), Thursday's announcement served as a direct message to Michigan that the Wolverines can be easily replaced—if not upgraded from.
Perhaps the first sign Michigan should have seen came in 2010, when the Fighting Irish announced a four-game series with Texas to start in 2015. That preceded the scheduling partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC, which was ultimately cited for the Irish's canceling of the Michigan series.
But regardless of the backdoor deals and scheduling technicalities that led to this weekend being the last meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan for the foreseeable future, the fact remains that on the eve of their finale, the Wolverines find themselves as the odd man out.
Since the Fighting Irish decided to bring an end to the series two years ago, Michigan has hardly recovered from a scheduling standpoint, inking a neutral-site date with Florida in 2017 and home-and-homes with Arkansas (2018-19), Virginia Tech (2020-21), UCLA (2022-23) and Oklahoma (2025-26).
Of course, a lot can happen between now and the next two to 12 years, but it's hard to imagine any of those games garnering the same attention that the two-game series between Notre Dame and Ohio State will. When the two teams met for the first time ever in 1935, it was billed as "The Game of the Century," a nickname that carried over to their two-game series in 1995 and 1996.
Brutus Buckeye @Brutus_Buckeye
Hey @OhioStAthletics, how's this for a #TBT? Game program from the 'Game of the Century' #GoBucks @NDFootball http://t.co/LK7axLwaS89/4/2014, 2:22:51 PM
Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer remembers the 1996 meeting between the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish well. Then the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame, Meyer witnessed Ohio State storm South Bend and walk away with a 29-16 victory in a game that was preceded by hype that still stands out to the now-OSU headman.
"I just remember the lead up to that game was incredible," Meyer said on his weekly call-in show on the Ohio State Radio Network on Thursday. "Two of the most tradition-rich programs in America and a rabid fanbase on both ends. I've witnessed both of them."
None of that is going to change in the next eight years, which is perhaps the biggest reason why Thursday's announcement has overshadowed Saturday's actual game. In a series where Michigan has won six of the last eight meetings, perhaps the Irish are looking for any edge that they can get, as they look to walk away from this weekend's historic finale on top.
And as the head coach of the Wolverines' chief rival, who is Meyer to disagree?
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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