Notre Dame suffered some pretty deflating losses in 2010.
Letdowns to Tulsa and Navy were disheartening to Irish fans all over. The dismantling by Stanford and a thrilling overtime loss to Michigan State didn't feel too satisfying either.
What may have been the low-point of the season, the Irish once again failed to take care of one of their biggest rivalries at the beginning of last season's slate. Brian Kelly had lost his first encounter with the Ann Arbor Boys.
Although a strong finish and (finally) a win over dwindling-powerhouse USC, Kelly righted the ship enough to put a positive attitude in place moving towards 2011.
Moving forward, the Irish will face Michigan yet again in their second game of the season. This time, however, Kelly and his team must trek to Ann Arbor in order to take on the Wolverines in their first ever night game.
This time around, things will be leaning in favor of the Irish, as they possess not only more experience on the field, but more veteran talent in addition to the rich-influx of talented freshman incoming in a few weeks. If there is any year for Kelly to begin building his dominance in South Bend, it will begin with the up-coming season.
As everyone knows, the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup is a showdown circled on every college football fan’s calendar. Not only have these two teams built a powerhouse rivalry, but sit comfortably atop the all-time winning percentage list at No.’s 1 (Michigan) and 2 (Notre Dame).
This season’s matchup will come along with a new taste in tongue. Besides the addition of these sweet "retro" uniforms, another head coach will making his series debut for the second year in a row, as Michigan hired former San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke for take over for the uncontrollable and passive Rich Rodriguez. Just for this reason, and the early meeting date with the Irish, Michigan will already be at a disadvantage with their team still adjusting under a new rule.
That isn’t to say the Wolverines won’t be returning any talent. 2010’s early season Heisman-winner, Denard Robinson, returns for yet another year of dominating performances and un-tied shoes. In addition to the top dual-threat quarterback in the land, Robinson is joined by other top names such as NT Mike Martin and top receiver Roy Roundtree. Talent won’t be an issue under the newly-begun Hoke era in Ann Arbor.
In contrast, Notre Dame possesses something Michigan doesn’t: a healthy balance of elite talent, experience, and a coach settled in to his program. Of course, the Irish have a few question marks to turn into answers before the start of the 2011 season. However, Michigan’s question marks are much more uncertain than that of their foes.
As of late, Michigan has undoubtedly had the upper-hand on their Irish rivals. In fact, they not only have clubbed Notre Dame the pass two years, but they have left them hung-out-to-dry, leaving them confused and with more questions leaving then entering.
This year, on the other hand, has a different feel to it. Although summer workouts have yet to begin, it’s easy to predict that the Irish will be favored in this year’s matchup. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that Notre Dame will not only win this year’s duel, but will win it in recent Michigan fashion.
Win at Michigan and Notre Dame will be sitting pretty, starting off their year right in search of their first BCS appearance since 2006.
Lose at Michigan and the Irish will be fighting for their lives for the final 10 games of one of the most competitive slates in college football.