I was going to spend my MGoTime this week addressing the shifting odds in the Big Ten after week one, but it's hard to focus when it's Notre Dame week. With all the semantic arguing about whether or not it's a real rivalry, I've found myself wandering down memory lane a lot. However it's couched, it's been a grand run of games over the years, and I am old enough to have memories of all of them, even the Rick Leach-Joe Montana duel that started the modern day series back in 1978. Of course, this is a rivalry, but pointing out the Irish's countdown clock to this game probably would make me an MSU fan, so I wont do that. Instead, how about I take you down Memory Lane with, of course, a point spread angle.
The underdog is 23-6 ATS in this series since the 1978 renewal. Can you name the six times that the chalk covered the spread? We played this game on twitter last night, and it didn't take very long for most of the correct answers to reveal themselves. So, you are under a bit of pressure to perform here, guys. While pondering, I will quickly list the spread changes on Michigan's future games this season. Odds per sportsbook.com:
At Penn State: Last week, UM -3; Today, UM -3
At Michigan St: Last week, MSU -2.5; Today, UM -2.5
Vs Nebraska: Last week, UM -4; Today, UM -3.5
at Northwestern. Last week, UM -3; Today, UM -6
Vs Ohio State. Last week, OSU -4; Today, OSU -3.5
I have no idea why the Nebraska line is shrinking. Also, it's worth noting that 5dimes had more future Michigan games on their preseason Games Of The Year board. However, that book apparently doesn't re-release new lines as the season goes on, so we're stuck analyzing only sportsbook.com's more limited action. I wanted to see how much the UM -12 line over UConn moved, but we'll have to wait until game week to find out.
Alright, had enough time on the trivia question? Hope so, because here comes the big reveal........
1981, Ann Arbor. Michigan 25, Notre Dame 7. Closing Line, UM -4...... One of the most bittersweet wins in program history. I don't know if anything could top the 2008 Outback Bowl on this list. Like that rousing victory over Florida, the Wolverines showcased everything that had made them such a highly touted team to begin the season. Butch Woolfolk rushed for 139 yards and as a team the Wolverines churned out 320 yards on the ground. Michigan just completed four passes on the day, but three went to Anthony Carter who took two of those to the house, including a 77-yard bomb to open the scoring. The Michigan D suffocated the Irish at every turn. It's just that they did it a week after losing 21-14 at Wisconsin, an inglorious season opener for the preseason #1 team in the nation. Seriously, how many preseason #1 teams lose their opener? FIRE BO ROD. The good news here is Michigan throttled the Irish, who had taken over the #1 ranking in the wake of Michigan's loss. The bad news is that other than this game, Michigan wasn't very sharp in their important games of the year. They lost to Iowa and Ohio State by uninspiring 9-7 and 14-9 scores. Had they split those games, they would have gone to the Rose Bowl. Instead, the Hawks went to Pasadena and Michigan played UCLA in something called the Bluebonnet Bowl at the Houston Astrodome.
1982,South Bend. Notre Dame 23, Michigan 17, Closing Line, ND -4.....Wait. Bo not only lost, but couldn't cover the spread against Gerry Faust? Honestly, I don't know why we kept that guy around for as long as we did. AC returned a punt for a score, but it wasn't enough. ND's Dave Duereson stripped Michigan flanker Vince Bean of the ball on the Wolverines final attempt to take the lead, and the game was over. This was Notre Dame's first home night game in program history. We waited nearly three decades for revenge over this moment and 2011 delivered. I love it when a plan comes together.
1991, Ann Arbor. Michigan 24, Notre Dame 14. Closing Line, UM -3.5....... This game speaks for itself. Desmond Howard's catch is the signature play of this series, launching a Heisman Trophy campaign and perhaps the most dominant single season individual performance in Michigan history. The game made Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) list of top-5 Michigan moments in series history. Hard to quibble with Tremendous here, but I will.
I would kick 1994, his top choice, off the list, move his other selections (2011, 1991, 2010, 2006) each up a notch and put the 1985 win over the Irish in the fifth and final spot. Admittedly, I am biased towards the '85 team. It's my favorite Michigan team of all-time, non national championship division. The run-up to the 1985 season was a down time for Michigan. They went an unheard of 6-6 the year before, had lost three of their last four to Ohio State and teams called Iowa and Illinois were going to Rose Bowls instead of them. Conventional wisdom said Bo had lost it and Michigan was a program in slow decay. The Irish were supposed to come into Ann Arbor in 1985 and extend the Wolverines misery. Instead Michigan kept the Irish out of the end zone all day en route to an inspiring 20-12 win. It was our first look at what would go down as one of program's best defensive units. Michigan capped the season with wins over Ohio State and then Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, ended #2 in the nation and re-established itself as a national power. Michigan would win Big 10 titles in six of the next seven years with five Rose Bowl berths. That whole run started with the '85 upset over the Irish. Besides, you cant have a top-5 that includes outcomes from two seasons that ended with the coach getting fired. The 2010 win gets to stay on the list because OH MY GOD DENARD!!! The 1985 gets bonus points because of the drunk Irish fan sitting behind us at the game who kept yelling at Gerry Faust. PINKETT, PINKETT, PUNT GERRY!! WHY DONT YOU GIVE IT TO PINKETT AGAIN GERRY!! WE'RE ALREADY PUTTING FOR SALE SIGNS IN YOUR YARD GERRY!! Easily one of the funniest random fans I've ever sat near during a game. Right up there with Barfie at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium for Browns games, but that's a whole different story.
2003, Ann Arbor. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0. Closing Line, UM -10...... The 'Houston Is Better Game.' Please tell me this is true. The students were chanting this comparing the Irish to the Cougar team the Wolverines whipped the week before, right? We had been waiting our whole life it seemed to see Michigan just annihilate Notre Dame for a game, rather than give us a typical heart attack inducing win or loss. We got it in this game. I didn't even mind that I lost $50 on the +10. What can I say, I don't analyze this game, I just take the underdog. Speaking of 38-0 scores.....
2007, Ann Arbor. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0, Closing Line, Michigan -9.5........ The 0-2 vs 0-2 cripple fight. Let's not talk about the preceding events. Just focus on Jimmy Claussen vs Ryan Mallet. Installment II of this series' three part Yakety Sax run. High times, indeed. I actually did not bet this game. How could you? The Irish looked like they had just started their football program during their first two games. And Michigan? Woof. Let's just move on.......
2012, South Bend. Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6, Closing Line, ND -6......Last year. What did it take for Notre Dame to cover as chalk in the series for the first time in 30 years? How about Michigan throwing interceptions on five straight passes, the last four by previous Irish foil Denard Robinson. Let's talk about the first of that bunch, a halfback pass that Vincent Smith lobbed into the hands of an Irish defender on first and goal. I place it third on the list of worst Michigan picks in this rivalry, behind Elvis Grbac hitting a wide open Michael Stonebreaker in the end zone in 1990 and Chad Henne in 2005 chucking it across his body on a bootleg killing a critical third quarter scoring chance. But at least its ahead of Demetrious Brown's cumulative effort in the 1987 game.
That's the rundown of the six times the favorite covered the spread in this series since 1978. The most common incorrect answer was the 2008 clash. It's an obvious, albeit wrong, guess given how bad Michigan was that year. Believe it or not, they were favored on the closing line by -1. Twitter friend @DrewCHallett did point out to an archival link showing ND favored by -1, but cover.com lists UM -1 and my Phil Steele magazine lists UM -2. I'm keeping this in the underdog covered column. Otherwise, I really don't want to talk about the 2008 game because it wont take long before some Michigan fan chirps in and tries to explain how Michigan really was the better team that day and should have won, blah, blah, blah. Look, this was the first in a long line of Rich Rod turds, to pretend otherwise is as lame as clinging to the notion that all Rich needed was Jeff Casteel, and he'll still be here. La La Land, folks.
Other popular guesses included the 1987 season opener that Michigan lost by a dismal 26-7 score as 3.5-point chalk; the 1999 game when A-Train scored the game winning TD to give Michigan a 26-22 win, but failed to cover the -7.5 line; 2011, however Michigan was 3.5-point home dogs that evening; and even a few 1997 guesses. Michigan won that game by a 21-14 score, a rather large margin for the series, but the Wolverines were a whopping -14.5 coming into the game. It was the fourth game of the season and the Irish were a shaky 1-2 coming into Ann Arbor, fresh of 28-17 and 23-7 losses to Purdue and Michigan St respectively. Hey, how about a hearty shout out to the Irish's #RealRivals for softening up the Domers for us and helping Michigan out in their national title quest!
As for this year's game. The line has grown from UM -3 to -4.5. It's a classic look ahead game for the Irish, what with Purdue on deck, so maybe it makes sense that the line is growing towards Michigan. Given the history, it's hard to turn down those points. And I wouldn't. I think it's the play to make if you decide to go to the window on this one. After a six year run of high scoring games in this series, during which the winner averaged 36.5 points per game, the series returned to the defenses a year ago. I think it stays defensive centric tomorrow. Michigan wins 20-17, Devin Garden runs and passes for a touchdown and a late defensive stop, let's say a Blake Countess interception, seals the win, but not the cover, for the Wolverines.........Have fun, enjoy the day and if you're Ann Arbor, swing by Fingerlee Lumber for our tailgate. We're the ones with the Desmond Howard RV. Go Blue!