Michigan-Notre Dame: Rivalry's Resurgence Sets Stage for Big Matchup on Saturday

Jay Nicols@boonta420Correspondent ISeptember 8, 2009

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 16:  Defensive tackle Derek Landri #66 (C) of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish lines up along with the rest of the Notre Dame defensive line against the Michigan Wolverines September 16, 2006 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Michigan-Notre Dame has not always been a fierce rivalry. In the 1880s, Notre Dame decided it wanted to play football. They looked at no other place than the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Already a decent football program, Michigan showed Notre Dame the game of football in 1887. For the next few years they would play and Michigan would always win, dominating the games on the scoreboard.

It was not until 1909 that ND got its first win over Michigan, 11-3. It was also the last game Michigan and Notre Dame would play until 1942.

Because Fielding Yost felt the Irish used an ineligible player in 1909, he tore the friendship up, and a hatred brewed. He never played Notre Dame again.

In 1942, Michigan and Notre Dame played for the first time since then. Michigan won the contest 32-20.

Then in 1943, Notre Dame clobbered Michigan, 35-12. Again, embarrassed by the loss, Michigan and Fritz Crisler would not play Notre Dame again until 1978.

Don Canham and Moose Krause were the architects of the renewed rivalry—one based on filling Michigan Stadium on Saturdays. The series began in 1978 and has only taken four years off from playing since—1993, 1994, 2000, and 2001.

The friendship turned rivalry has been a staple of college football ever since. The schools rank as two of the top three programs in wins. They are No. 1 and No. 2 in winning percentage for teams that have played over 1,000 games. 

The rivalry is one of the finest in college football. Michigan leads the overall series 20-15-1. 

Michigan looks to get back to its winning ways this year. However, Jimmy Clausen and Charlie Weis may have something else in store for the Maize and Blue.

For the past few years, fans of Notre Dame are not sure what to think about Weis. Is he a good coach? Is he meant to be an NFL OC? Did ND make a mistake by signing Weis long-term? All valid questions for a program that has fallen off the map in recent years.

While Michigan was enjoying two big wins over the Irish in 2006 and 2007, Weis was trying to get Notre Dame back to glory. He recruited Jimmy Clausen, the star quarterback from Thousand Oaks, Calif., to lead his Irish on the field.

Now, three years later, it looks as though Clausen may be living up to all the hype. He has star receivers and experience that can lead them to the BCS this year. A very nice schedule shouldn't hurt either.

Michigan, too, has been in turmoil since beating Florida on Jan. 1, 2008. After turning the ball over six times last year, the defense looks to gain momentum from Saturday's performance, and the offense looks to build on their explosive start.

After Notre Dame went 3-9 in 2007, Michigan decided to hire Rich Rodriguez and subsequently went 3-9 themselves in 2008. Two storied programs battered by transition.

Weis was not in a good mood after being beaten pretty badly by Michigan in 2007. So when he was finishing spring practice in May of 2008, Weis told the fans after beating SDSU that "...we'll listen to Michigan have all their excuses as they come running in, saying how they have a new coaching staff and those changes. To hell with Michigan."

Notre Dame captured the win last year with a 35-17 beatdown of Michigan. Weis' words came true.

On Saturday, against Nevada, Clausen went 15-of-18 for 315 yards and four TDs. The Nevada pass defense was atrocious last year, and it didn't look any better against Notre Dame this year.

Michael Floyd led all receivers with 189 yards on four receptions. Golden Tate, the breakout star from last year, was held to three receptions for 59 yards. Overall, the Irish had seven receivers make at least one catch.

The battle between Clausen and the Michigan secondary will be a pivotal part of the game on Saturday. With Boubacar Cissoko hurting with a nerve issue and J.T. Floyd still gaining experience, this could pose a problem for Michigan.

Depth is a word we hear a lot coming out of Schembechler Hall. If Cissoko can't go, we'll need Floyd, J.T. Turner, and Teric Jones to step it up in his absence. I have no reason to think Cissoko won't play, but you never know. Nerves can bother you for a while.

According to the AAFP website, Cissoko could possibly have a "burner" or a "stinger." This type of injury could sit a player for a period of time. Hopefully Cissoko will be able to get the needed rest and be in there on Saturday opposite Donovan Warren.

The defensive line for Michigan played pretty well on Saturday too, pressuring Tim Hiller into bad throws and getting in his face quite a bit. If Michigan can do that against Notre Dame's O-line, it could be an uncomfortable day for Clausen in Ann Arbor.

Craig Roh, the true freshman from Arizona, is the real deal in Ann Arbor. If a first game is telling of what is to come, than it looks like this kid could be great. But before we can honor him with any awards, let's see how he does against the Fighting Irish offensive line.

For the first time in many years, the Michigan/Notre Dame game will have meaning. Two rebuilding programs, losing luster over the past few years, are back on track. After two convincing wins on Saturday, this game in Ann Arbor is now a marker game for both programs.

Has Clausen become Joe Montana? Has Michigan found their QBs? Has the rivalry been given some juice?

We must wait until 3:30 pm on Saturday afternoon to find the answers.


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