The scene is set for a classic at Michigan Stadium.
The lights will be turned on for the first time at The Big House, while Notre Dame and Michigan will trot out some old-school uniforms to mark the occasion.
It’s a great opportunity for both teams, but only one will seize it Saturday night.
But who will it be?
Maybe it is going to be the upstart Wolverines under the leadership of first-year coach Brady Hoke. He’s brought a certain swagger back to Michigan in just one game.
Or maybe Brian Kelly and Notre Dame will live up to the expectations and get the 2011 season back on track.
Stick with us here for a breakdown of Saturday’s night game in The Big House.
As long as Denard Robinson—arguably the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback— remains injury free, Michigan has stability at quarterback.
The only thing that might hold back Robinson is the more traditional offensive style implemented by Brady Hoke. He only completed 9-of-13 passes for 98 yards and no scores in a 34-10 win over Western Michigan last weekend.
Of course, the game was cut short due to weather and Michigan only ran 39 offensive plays.
Notre Dame is already making a switch at quarterback following last week’s shocking 23-20 loss to South Florida in South Bend.
Dayne Crist was ineffective as the starter last week, completing just 7-of-15 for 95 yards and one interception. After Crist took an earful from Brian Kelly, the coach made a switch.
In the second half, it was the Tommy Rees show and he was much more effective (24-of-34 for 296 yards and two touchdowns). He also had two interceptions.
It’s Rees’ job this week, and it may fall to him to rescue Notre Dame’s season.
Notre Dame’s Cierre Wood is the go-to back, and he can be tough to bring down. The same goes for his back-up Jonas Gray.
Wood rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown last week, while averaging five yards a carry. He also pulled down three catches for 44 yards.
Fitzgerald (Fitz) Toussaint made the most of his first start at Michigan. In the Wolverines’ new pro-style offense, Toussaint darted through the Western Michigan defense for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the rain-shortened win.
Michael Shaw is a solid back up and he also looked good last week.
Edge: Notre Dame
While Notre Dame has some issues at quarterback, if Rees or Crist can get rolling the Irish receivers should be able to help.
Led by senior Michael Floyd, who is an All-American candidate, the Irish have a strong receiving corps.
Floyd caught 12 passes for 154 yards and two scores last week. Notre Dame also likes to get its tight ends into the action, and Tylor Eifert had six receptions for 93 yards against South Florida.
Don’t overlook Theo Riddick either. The Irish receiver had just three catches last week, but he can be a game changer.
Michigan’s Junior Hemingway, a fifth-year senior, has the physical skills to be a big playmaker for the Wolverines. But injuries have hurt his performance.
Hemingway is teamed with Roy Roundtree, who had some huge games last season and had nearly a 1,000 yards receiving. Neither player had a major impact in the opener.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame returns five of six on the offensive line, as well as tight end Tyler Eifert. The unit averages about 6’4”, 303 pounds, and they pushed around South Florida’s defense.
Senior guard Trevor Robinson is the biggest at 6’5”, 300, and junior left tackle Zack Martin (6’4”, 300) is a physical force.
Michigan has a few new faces on the offensive line, but the group is athletic and physical. It may be the best group since Lloyd Carr was the coach.
The Wolverines are led by mammoth sophomore left tackle Taylor Lewan (6’8”, 294) and senior center David Molk (6’2”, 288).
Notre Dame plays a 3-4 defense and two starters return on the line. Both are physical beasts who eat up a lot of space.
Defensive ends Ethan Johnson (6’4”, 300) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (6’4”, 295) have produced nice careers so far at Notre Dame. But more is expected of each and they’ll need to play big to stop Michigan.
Michigan’s defense was a major weakness during the Rich Rodriguez days, but Hoke is determined those days are over.
The Wolverines defensive line is led by one of the best players in the Big Ten—senior Mike Martin.
Michigan’s line play was better in the opener, but still not good enough.
Edge: Notre Dame
Junior Manti Te’o led Notre Dame in tackles last year with 133 and he picked up where he left off with nine tackles and a sack against South Florida.
Senior Darius Fleming gets after the quarterback and could create chaos in the backfield for Denard Robinson. Fleming had eight stops in the week one loss.
Michigan returns three starting linebackers in its 4-3 alignment.
J.B. Fitzgerald, Cam Gordon and Kenny Demens are all good, but they got pushed around a lot last year. It’s hard to grade them after just one game this season.
Brandon Herron had the best game by returning a fumble and interception for touchdowns.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s backfield is experienced and up to the challenge.
The corners are held down by seniors Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, while the safeties are senior Harrison Smith and junior Zeke Motta.
Michigan’s Jordan Kovacs, a 6’0” junior safety, runs sideline to sideline making tackles. He had 10 in the opener to go along with two sacks.
Troy Woolfolk is back after a season-ending injury last year and he helps stabilize a backfield that allowed more than 260 yards passing a game in 2010.
Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick is an exciting player, but he had a shaky debut returning punts for the Irish. The talent is there and Riddick remains a threat.
Kicker David Ruffer missed a 30-yard attempt last week, but has been consistent in his career, while Ben Turk continues to be an average punter.
Michigan lacks a serious threat in the return game, and the Wolverines have one of the nation’s most inconsistent kickers in Brendan Gibbons. Matt Wile is a quality punter, who may kick field goals also.
Edge: Notre Dame
It was supposed to be much easier for Brian Kelly in his second year with Notre Dame, but if you watched him on the sidelines last week you clearly saw a coach on the edge.
Notre Dame might make a request to NBC to stop showing Kelly on the sidelines as the verbal abuse of his offense required the network to blur his mouth during replays.
Michigan’s first-year coach Brady Hoke took on a big task of revitalizing the Wolverines after a three-year mistake with Rich Rodriguez.
The early results are positive and Hoke is proving to be one of the best young coaches in the game.
Michigan’s players are well aware of what’s at stake Saturday, as history will be made in the first-ever night game at The Big House.
ESPN’s Game Day crew will be in Ann Arbor, and the fans will have their first opportunity to tailgate from morning until night before there’s even a kick off.
Working against Michigan, is the fact the players have all day to think about the historical significance and they could actually psych themselves out before it even begins.
This is a big game for both teams.
If Notre Dame is really going to improve on last year’s campaign, then Kelly’s team can’t open the season 0-2.
Michigan won’t be devastated by a 1-1 start, but the Wolverines will gain confidence in themselves and Hoke’s new system with each win.
This is a rivalry and both teams want this game bad.
In the end, though, Denard Robinson will flash some of his fancy moves and lead the Wolverines to a 28-24 victory in Ann Arbor.