More Than a Rivalry In Ann Arbor

Russ HartleyContributor ISeptember 9, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 15:  Terrance Taylor #67 of the Michigan Wolverines pass rushes against Matt Carufel #73 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 15, 2007 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won 38-0. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Yes, USC is playing Ohio State this week in Columbus, but the most important game this week is in Ann Arbor as Michigan takes on Notre Dame. This rivalry is one of the most intense rivalries across the nation. I have never seen so much hatred for the opponent, then in this matchup. The rivalry itself is important, but it's different this year.

This year is the year for the Fightin' Irish to regain their confidence and lead their University to a big bowl. I'm not talking about a bowl game with Hawaii, but a New Year's Day bowl or a BCS bowl. I am not predicting Notre Dame will make that kind of a bowl game, but to the coaching staff and the fans, they have to.

Coach Weiss has led this team to a 3-9 record two seasons ago and only 6-6 heading into a bowl game last year. If Weiss wants to stay long term, he has to get his team back up to the top. I'm not talking about in the next five years; he has to do it now.

At least Michigan has an excuse. They switched offenses and coaching staff and had to start all over again when it came to recruiting. Charlie Weiss has no excuse. He hasn't recruited well and that bit him in the butt two years ago.

Michigan could start off 4-0 if they win Saturday. If they beat the Irish, then their next two games are against Eastern Michigan and Indiana. They could be undefeated heading into East Lansing. A team that went 3-9 last year could match their previous wins in the first three games.

Even if the Wolverines lose, they will most likely go 3-1 which is a great start compared to last year. For Notre Dame, a loss could send the team into another losing season and could tear a hole in their plans of a "big" bowl game. Don't get me wrong, the Irish will be good this year, but that might not be good enough for Weiss and his coaching future.

Notre Dame needs to be great this year. They can no longer use the excuse of a young qb, since Clausen is now a junior. They have improved over the last year, and now need to claim their spot as the nation's most prestigious programs.

For Rich Rodriguez, a win against Notre Dame, would be a wish come true. He heard the fans and TV anchor's urges to fire him. He can erase all of that with a win Saturday. The fans will go crazy and find room in their hearts for Rich Rod. The Wolverines (if win on Saturday) will be 4-0, with momentum and confidence, they could take out state foe MSU.

Notre Dame is currently ranked in the top 25. A win for either team won't come easy. The Irish are coming off a one sided debacle in their opener and QB Clausen looked perfect. Michigan is also coming off a opener win 31-7, and has impressed everyone by their improvement.

Notre Dame won last year, as U of M had so many turnovers, I think everybody lost count. The last time Notre Dame traveled to Ann Arbor, they were embarrassed 38-0. A win for the Wolverines, and they become a team to be reckoned with.

A win for the Irish and they start their path to a big year and Weiss is sitting a little bit more comfortably. This will be the game to watch this weekend, and will be the most important game this season, for both teams.