Don't adjust your TV tint. [Eric Upchurch]
||Michigan vs Notre Dame
||Notre Dame Stadium
South Bend, IN
||7:30 PM EDT
||Notre Dame -1
||low 70s, 50% chance of T-storms
[Above: @phillykelly via OneFootDown]
Overview: It's Not Madness, It's Meat
In 1887 the Michigan football team, on their way to Chicago for the big Thanksgiving Game, stopped in South Bend to see some buddies, and taught their friends this game they were about. The Wolverines' 1942 visit had more fanfare, bumping the turning point of WWII to a corner of the front page. In 1989 Michigan kicked to Rocket Ismail. In 1991 Grbac threw a diving fade to Desmond on 4th and 1. In 2010 we got Denard in the pose and all the blood trying to escape through the purpled face of Brian Kelly. And if not by that point, certainly after 2011, any heart with a shred of college football in it could not imagine a world where Michigan doesn't play Notre Dame.
But minutes before the 2012 match, ND athletic director slash litigious orangutan Jack Swarbrick exercised a three-game opt-out clause inserted into the last re-up. It was meticulously timed to give Notre Dame one more home game than Michigan, and to give Michigan the minimal opportunity to react.
After the contractual games played out Michigan made a run on successful NFL Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, and because Mr. Harbaugh's heart has more college football in it than four Iron Bowls and a trombonist, one of his stipulations for returning was that Michigan play Notre Dame.
Swarbrick had what corporate lawyers call a Favorable Negotiating Position, but since everybody stood to win from this he had to get creative to avoid the appearance of a deal that any great ape of average intelligence could handle. Michigan would have to cancel its upcoming Arkansas series. It would have to start in South Bend again. It would have to put Notre Dame on the same home-away schedule as Ohio State and Michigan State, and play its home game in the middle of the Big Ten season. Also Warde Manuel must bend over a table at midfield during halftime and perform the caning scene from Oliver Twist while people in punctilious legal circles across the nation say "That Swarbrick: what a primate!"
So the last time these schools met was 2014, the all-time winning percentage was on the line, and Michigan got both Devins injured long after there was any point. It was a thing from the before-time, a game only the grad students remember. "Old Mone, he could run down a deer back then," says Grandpa Winovich. "I was just a wee, short-haired linebacker on a redshirt, but I remember that night. We outgained them, you know. That's what we told ourselves. We weren't supposed to look at the scoreboard. But I was a kid. I didn't know better. I glanced up. I shouldn't have.
"I told myself I'd never feel that way again."
In the interim Notre Dame went 2-5 to close 2014, went to a Fiesta Bowl by beating Temple and zero other ranked teams in 2015, then plummeted to 4-8 (Michigan quietly took back the "Winningest" lapel pin) in a fluky 2016 in which they lost seven of eight game decided by a single score.
That 4-8 mark also changed the direction of the program. Kelly scrapped the dink-and-dunk spread passing that defined his offenses for two decades, imported Chip Long from Memphis, and leaned on a rushing offense that maximized the legs of athletic giant Brandon Wimbush. Defensively they did the same, shelving the 3-4 under/Cover 2 that served them so well in 2012 for a blitz-you 4-2-5 under new DC Mike Elko. A rainy Citrus Bowl win over LSU capped a young team's bona fide comeback season that also featured stompings of USC, MSU, and NC State, a one-point early loss to Georgia, and an offseason having to defend their shiny new coordinators from SEC poachers.
OC Chip Long turned down an overture from Alabama, but Elko was lured to College Station. In his stead ND promoted Elko understudy Clark Lea, who gets 10/11 starters back from a top five outfit. Long meanwhile has to replace two of his best three receivers, both running backs, and the two best offensive linemen in the country.
After our three-year hiatus, Michigan and Notre Dame meet again, two great defenses, two tough running games, two fanbases greeting like old college buddies who went into the same business but haven't had talked in ages, two open roads to the promised land with matching precipices should something fall the wrong way. Michigan's got to wonder if their whole passing game can stay upright this time, while there's really only one question standing between the Irish and a playoff run. That is:
Where the hell is Wimbush aiming?
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