There was much consternation from fans and media members when Notre Dame temporarily ended its series with Michigan. What many failed to realize was that Notre Dame and Michigan State were pausing a rivalry with stronger roots. The Spartans and the Irish have played 77 times since the series began in 1897 (when Michigan State was known by a different name) and fans have witnessed close battle after close battle. Notre Dame holds a 48-28-1 edge, as 10 of the past 14 meetings (dating back to 2000) have been decided by seven points or fewer.
After a two-year hiatus, 50 years after the classic 1966 10-10 tie, the two programs will again tangle for the Megaphone Trophy. The Spartans come in at 1-0 and are ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll after beating Furman in week one and not playing last Saturday. Notre Dame is No. 18 in the AP Poll and beat Nevada 39-10 after falling in double overtime to Texas in Austin on Sept. 3.
Michigan State at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Michigan State Defensive Line
Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson are considered among the nation’s best at their positions. On the other side, MSU defensive tackle Malik McDowell is an elite player that is listed as a top 10 overall NFL Draft pick in some of the very early mocks. End Demetrius Cooper is another talented Spartan who can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Irish offensive line has been a bit inconsistent so far this season and will need to come together in what should be the group’s toughest challenge so far this season. It also will be an interesting matchup of two outstanding position coaches: Michigan State defensive line coach Ron Burton and Notre Dame offensive line mentor Harry Hiestand.
2. Controlling LJ Scott and the Michigan State Running Game
Quarterback Tyler O’Connor was solid against Furman. But that was Furman and this is still a Mark D’Antonio-coached Spartan team. That means Michigan State will want to be physical up front and establish the run. Interestingly, while MSU did have 171 yards rushing against Furman, 45 of those came on wide receiver sweeps. Scott did have 105 yards but the Spartans were not able to impose their will up front the way they would have liked. And despite their defensive deficiencies, the Irish are far more talented than the Paladins that hail from the FCS ranks. Notre Dame, which had difficulties tackling the big backs from Texas, will be challenged by the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Scott.
3. Field Position
This is generally a strength for Michigan State. D’Antonio’s teams are annually among the national leaders in turnover margin and punter Jake Hartbarger has a big leg. Hartbarger averaged nearly 45 yards on his three punts against Furman, dropping each of them inside the 20. Meanwhile, Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome has not had a strong start after a very good 2015. Both teams have some home-run hitters on offense, but the team that has to consistently drive the length of the field for scores will be at a severe disadvantage.
With a full slate of Big Ten games ahead, this is just the first big game on Michigan State’s schedule. But for Notre Dame, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this contest. With a win, Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish would jump up close to the top 10 of the polls and their College Football Playoff hopes would remain alive. A loss would not only eliminate the Irish from the national championship chase, it would give 2016 the look and feel of a Belk Bowl season. In games such as this where the talent level is relatively even, beware of the more desperate team. Notre Dame survives a physical battle and keeps its season afloat.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Michigan State 21
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.