This has all the makings of a really good game. Two wounded rivals seeking to punish each other on their quest to regain national respect.
The Irish have more on the line this game given their national ranking and all the crazy talk about National Championship possibilities. Notre Dame needs a win to build momentum for the remainder of their powder puff schedule.
A victory over Michigan won't guarantee them perpetual national respect for the remainder of the season (as say an Ohio State win over USC would do), but this game is an important early road test for the supposedly rejuvenated Irish. Stumble early, stumble often.
For Michigan, it's a different story, but one that will remain the same the entire year. Michigan needs to assemble as many wins as possible to prove that it's on the road to recovery from last year's disastrous season. Reasonable Michigan fans aren't expecting domination this year, but we want to see improvement.
In reality, Rich Rodriguez needs this win more than Charlie Weis. Weis can lose this game and still ensure his job for another year by assembling wins against the remaining powder puff opponents (USC excluded).
Rich Rodriguez faces the added dimension of needing a win now to deflect attention from the laughable national rumors that the Michigan program is on the verge of collapse. With two relatively easy games coming up, a win over Notre Dame could conceivably put Michigan at 4-0 heading into their road trips, starting at Michigan State. The Michigan coaching staff could then deservedly breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The best news for the Wolverines so far this year is that there were absolutely no signs last week that the negative attention negatively affected the Wolverine players. None. In fact, the attention had the opposite effect of uniting the team and fans around their coach. It will be interesting to see if the same young, aggressive team shows up this weekend.
The game itself will be won and lost in the trenches. Whoever wins the battle on the line on both sides of the ball wins the game. It's that simple. Barring six turnovers (2008) or eight sacks (2007), this will be a close one.
Michigan has the advantage on the ground. Notre Dame has the advantage in the air. (With two freshmen QBs, the jury is still out on Michigan's passing game. They may continue to surprise this weekend. They may not.)
If Michigan's defensive line/blitz schemes can get pressure on Jimmy Clausen, Michigan will win. Historically, he does not perform well under pressure, and he took an absolute beating the last time he was here. Michigan needs to hit him early and often. If Clausen has time to throw, the big play threats at wideout will be too much for the Wolverines to handle.
There is no concern on the ground for the Wolverines. The Notre Dame front four simply can't handle the Michigan line and the quickness (and now power with Brandon Minor returning) of the Michigan backfield. If Michigan's offensive unit communicates well and recognizes disguised Tenuta blitz packages to establish a consistent passing game to go along with it's running game, Michigan will win.
If both offensive lines control, the game will come down to turnovers, special teams and third-down conversions. Sounds like classic Big Ten football doesn't it?
I think the Michigan homefield advantage pushes a close game in the Wolverines favor. Michigan 24, Notre Dame 21.