Thanks to conference realignment, Michigan and Notre Dame are only scheduled to play one more matchup after this season. The Fighting Irish had to cancel the 2015-17 scheduled games with the Wolverines due to their decision to play five games with ACC members. With the Big Ten moving to nine conference games in the future, Michigan may also have been forced to rethink its non-conference slate – even with an emphasis on schedule strength in the playoffs.
Although new rivalries were created from realignment, it’s a shame these two teams may not play for a significant period of time. But let’s forget about assigning blame and focus on the game this Saturday.
Michigan and Notre Dame cruised to easy victories in Week 1. The Wolverines dominated Central Michigan 59-9, while the Fighting Irish won 28-6 over Temple.
Even though it’s early, this game could play a key role in shaping where these two teams are positioned for bowl bids later this year. Michigan and Notre Dame expect to be in the mix for an at-large BCS spot in December and an early loss certainly isn’t crippling, but it doesn’t leave much room for error the rest of the year.
Three Things to Watch
Michigan’s OL versus Notre Dame’s DL
The Wolverines’ offensive line is in transition this year. Three new starters stepped into the lineup last week against Central Michigan and allowed only one sack to the Chippewas. Left tackle Taylor Lewan is one of the best in the nation, while right tackle Michael Schofield has 24 starts under his belt. But the interior is a concern for Hoke and coordinator Al Borges. Left guard Graham Glasgow, center Jack Miller and right guard Kyle Kalis have just three combined starts – all from last week’s win over Central Michigan. Notre Dame’s defensive line is one of the best in the nation, anchored by 357-pound nose guard Louis Nix III and future first-round pick Stephon Tuitt at end. The Fighting Irish allowed 134 rushing yards in the opener against Temple but should have a better effort on Saturday. How well Michigan’s new starters on the line perform will play a large role in deciding the outcome of this game.
Who steps up at running back?
The Fighting Irish lost Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood this offseason, but replacements George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant combined for 179 yards against Temple last week. Notre Dame may not have a true No. 1 but there are playmakers. Michigan’s Fitzgerald Toussaint returned to action after suffering a broken leg late last year and rushed for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts in the opener. However, the postgame buzz in Ann Arbor last week was all about Derrick Green. The freshman rushed for 58 yards and one touchdown against Central Michigan and is poised to take a bigger role in the backfield this Saturday. It’s not necessarily important for either team to have one rusher get to 100 yards, but both coaching staffs would like to see a back get the hot hand and produce.
Which Tommy Rees shows up?
Rees has experienced a roller-coaster ride in his two extensive appearances against Michigan. In 2011, Rees threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns, including a 29-yard score with 30 seconds left. However, Michigan scored on a pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left to steal the victory. Last year, Rees came on to relieve a struggling Everett Golson and finished with 115 yards on eight completions. With Golson out of the picture in 2013, Rees is the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback in South Bend. Michigan allowed 144 passing yards to Central Michigan in the opener, but Rees should have opportunities to make plays against this secondary. The senior is coming off a good appearance last week (346 yards) and failed to throw an interception on 23 attempts. Yards are important, but Rees’ No. 1 priority on Saturday will be limiting the turnovers.
Key Player: Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan
The Wolverines already lost one key receiver for 2013 with Amara Darboh suffering a foot injury late in fall camp. Senior Jeremy Gallon was Devin Gardner’s favorite target last Saturday, recording 47 yards on four catches. Funchess is a breakout candidate for Michigan in 2013, and the sophomore grabbed two passes for 47 yards in the opener. Although Notre Dame’s back seven is experienced, Funchess needs to be a big part of Michigan’s gameplan.
The last four meetings in this series have been decided by seven points or less, including the 35-31 thriller in 2011.
Michigan has won three consecutive meetings over Notre Dame in Ann Arbor and should have a slight edge to make it No. 4 on Saturday.
Notre Dame’s defense is clearly one of the best in the nation and should be in midseason form after holding Temple to just six points last year. But Gardner outduels Rees, and the Wolverines create a late turnover to pull off a close victory.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Notre Dame 20
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