As week 2 of the 2011 College Football season draws nearer, one of the most anticipated match ups will see two of College Football's most storied programs go at it as the Michigan Wolverines (1-0) take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (0-1) in Ann Arbor Saturday night.
The two schools have a long rivalry dating back to 1887. Michigan holds the all time series lead 22-15-1 including wins over the Irish in four of the last five seasons.
Last year, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had his coming out party against Notre Dame where he threw for 244 yards and a touchdown and ran for a remarkable 258 yards and two touchdowns.
In week 1 of this season the Wolverines took care of business against Western Michigan with a 34-10 victory in Head Coach Brady Hoke's rain shortened first game.
The Irish however were not so fortunate. They fell to unranked South Florida at home and have dropped out of the top 25 going into their game at the big house.
But which team needs a win more on Saturday? Let's analyze the case for both teams.
Michigan is a program desperately trying to regain it's national respect.
The Wolverines failed to do so under Rich Rodriguez who was one of the least successful coaches in team history.
Now under Brady Hoke, Michigan will look to take themselves out of the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and back onto the forefront of the Big Ten title picture.
Beating Notre Dame is a crucial step in achieving that. Michigan has beaten Notre Dame two straight seasons with remarkable performances by Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson respectively.
The wins over the Irish have given Michigan fans false hope about how good their team may be until the harsh reality of the Big Ten sets in. But this year, with a new coach, improved defense and new system maybe it is different.
They certainly looked the part in an opening week blowout over Western Michigan, but although the Broncos are a solid team in the MAC, the win there will do little to gain Michigan the respect they feel that they deserve. They remain unranked and are really not close to the Top 25, receiving only 17 votes for the AP Top 25.
If Michigan loses to Notre Dame, in the first ever night game in Ann Arbor on the big stage, many will say that this is the same team that has failed to meet expectations the last several years. The same defense which ranked 110th last season, and the same squad that will likely finish middle of the pack in the Big Ten.
That is something they can simply not afford. For Brady Hoke and the Michigan they need to beat Notre Dame on Saturday night plain and simple.
Two words that one can only assume were going through the head of Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly after their opening week loss to unranked South Florida at home.
Now in his second year as coach, expectations were high for Kelly's Fighting Irish squad going into the 2011 season. Many expect them to return to a BCS game and they were ranked 16th in the preseason AP poll.
Kelly decided to go with senior quarterback Dayne Crist over Tommy Rees to start the season against the Bulls on Saturday. That decision did not pay off. Crist turned the ball over multiple times inside of the red zone, including having an interception returned for a touchdown which completed a 14-point swing in favor of the visitors.
Although Rees got them back in the game they still fell short and were subsequently dropped from the rankings this week.
Now it doesn't get any easier coming up. After their game against Michigan, Notre Dame faces off against no. 17 Michigan St the following week and then goes to Big East powerhouse Pittsburgh.
If the Irish start off the year 0-2, Kelly's seat could start feeling a little warm. The alumni and loyal fan base would throw their arms up in disgust.
How could a team this talented lose to two unranked teams to start the year? Not to mention another loss to Michigan would make it three in a row over one of their most hated rivals.
A win, however, would clam the storm. Maybe it was just a bad game, the wrong quarterback decision. Maybe a BCS game is still a possibility everyone just take a deep breath.
For Brian Kelly and the rest of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, deep breaths will be hard to come by if they walk out of Ann Arbor losers once again.
In the end, the pressure is squarely on Notre Dame in this game.
While a loss would hurt Michigan, Brady Hoke still has some room for error and a loss against Notre Dame would not be an embarrassment by any means.
Notre Dame however, has lofty expectations to live up to. While that is true every season many were picking them to play in a BCS bowl game this year. Starting the season off 0-2 would simply be devastating.
No matter which team is under the most pressure, seeing a game in "The Big House" under the lights with two excellent football teams will be a treat to not only fans of Michigan and Notre Dame but College Football fans everywhere.
This game is a must watch this weekend that can go either way.