(Diarist Note: We're setting up a tailgate all day tomorrow at the Fingerle Lumber Yard (Fifth/Hill) with the family truckster, otherwise known as Wild Rover II, a mid-1990s model Fleetwood Destiny mobile home. There will be a lot of people coming and going during what's going to be the longest tailgate day in our program's history. Everyone is invited to swing on by and chill if you're in the 'Hood. If you cant figure out which ones we are, just start yelling my name as you walk by the rows of RVs. If you don't look too much like a gomer, then I'll speak up. I'll be up there by noon, drink in hand, watching and talking football. Also: Go to the JCB, play the Pick-4 and, well, don't you think its about time you bookmark us or something on make us a regular read? )
Oh boy. It's here. Michigan/Notre Dame Week. NIGHT GAME WOO!!!! It is always one of the more tense weeks for me on the football calendar. As a 30-plus year vet of Michigan Stadium, I can state there aren't too many other times the Big House is more tense and on edge then when its invaded by 15,000 loud, obnoxious and drunk Leprechauns. Add in the historic night game aspect, and I have been antsy about this game for months now. Thankfully, we'll be tailgating a stone's throw away from a liquor store.
I was born in the early 1970s and raised not only on robbery, but also on 1980s college football. That means I have a healthy--or is it unhealthy--dose of dislike, disdain and distrust of Notre Dame football. To this day, I get rankled more about their team and most of their fan base, more than even Ohio State. Who am I kidding? I don't even have a problem (most of the time) with OSU fans. They're all great employees. Heck, I am even kinda, sorta dating one of them right now. What can I say? She has HAWT tattoos. But, they are all my neighbors, after all. There's a respect and a kinship to a certain degree when it comes to me and OSU fans.
But Notre Dame? That's a whole different ball of wax. Maybe it's all those losses highly ranked Wolverine squads suffered at the hands of the Irish when I was an impressionable lad. Maybe it's that douchebag Rocket Ishmail. Maybe it's that silly looking Oom Pa Loompa turned hero Reggie Ho. Maybe it was the cackling of my friends dad--a Toledo grad who adores Notre Dame because of his arch Catholicism--as Gillette's field goal swerved too far to the right in 1988. Maybe it's their liberal use of index cards to determine first downs. Maybe it's Paul Hornung winning the Heisman Trophy on a team with a losing record while some guy named Jim Brown got the shaft. Maybe it's their belief that God actually gives two shits about their stupid football team. Maybe it's because the Grotto is filled with piss water funneled in from Gary. Maybe it's because Rudy was offside. And a serial exaggerator. Maybe it's all the annoying Irish fans that decked themselves out in 49ers gear during the 1980s because OHMYGODJOEMONTANAISTHEBEST. Maybe it's because of that insufferable imp Lou Holtz. Maybe it's the ND blogosphere meltdown because they were playing a bowl game on Christmas Eve. Maybe it's because one on my favorite non MICH games ever was Miami 55, ND 7. And BC 41, ND 39. It's a toss up. I could go on and on, but I fear I have already ruined the sweet, laid back image I have cultivated here on these blog pages over the years by letting some of this hate spill.
But, I love Michigan-Notre Dame games. Yes, the programs are on hard times. Yes, this is no longer the 1980s or early 1990s when these games annually were early season National Championship Semifinal contests. But the games remain special. The pageantry remains everything that is good about college football. And, have you seen their games recently? They provide us with crackerjack contests that go down to wire, that could be retold by epic poetry worthy of gridiron heroics. And, its the easiest game to bet on every single year. Take the points with the underdog. Don't think about it. Don't do any of those silly head to head positional breakdowns. Don't even try to measure the intangibles. Just book the underdog and save all the analysis for the postgame. Since the modern series resumed in 1978, the underdog is a dominating 22-5 ATS. The underdog has won this game more often straight up than the favorite. And routinely the underdog--really the winner of this game period--plays their best game of the season. Did the 1994, 2006, 2009 or 2010 Wolverines play a better game all season than their 'upset' wins over the Irish? How about the Irish? Did their 2004, 2005 and 2008 clubs perform better and win than they did when they upset the Wolverines those Septembers. The last time the Irish covered as a favorite in this series was 1982, coincidentally the first ever night game in Notre Dame Stadium. That's just the kind of symmetry that scares the pants off me when the stinkin' Irish are involved.
Regardless, Michigan is the underdog tomorrow, and, like the last two seasons, that is where my money will be come kickoff. Its the first of seven games already on the betting board for 2011 where Michigan is not only the underdog, but faces buckets of money being bet against them in the wake of the dismal Rodriguez years. We'll find out tomorrow if all that dough that poured in on Notre Dame back in June to drive the initial line of Michigan -2 all the way to Notre Dame -4.5 in the span of a few hours was a good investment or not for all the Brian Kelly slappies in Wise Guy Land. Kelly is pissed at his QB? Wait until Rocko and Moe lose another game on your boys, coach. Then, you'll see anger. And 'For Sale' signs. We bet against the Irish last week at the JCB and won. We're already on MSU +7 next week. And we're on Michigan tomorrow. Let the Fade Notre Dame Tour Of 2011 continue. I'd ask God for help, but he's got bigger things to deal with than football. Like trying to figure out how to cave all the Irish posters on His new blog. Even He thinks they're annoying.
While I promote the fact that no analysis is needed for this game from a capping standpoint, that doesn't mean we cant chat about the keys to the game through our own make believe prop board. So, without further adieu, here we go. Don't forget to play the Pick-4 at the JCB. And, for sure, swing by the Fingerle Lumber Yard tomorrow for some rooting, tooting good times.
Michigan vs Notre Dame, Second Quarter Score: Irish -3.5
This prop covers the second quarter score only. It is also one of the four Pick-4 props for the week at the JCB. If you aren’t playing the Pick-4, then what the hell are you doing with your time anyway? You're not that far behind after one week, so join in and play now while the season is still young. Getting back to this key to the game, why the second quarter? For me, its the true litmus test on the new coaching staff in Ann Arbor. Not how they use Denard, not can they cobble together a serviceable defense, not can they teach anybody on campus to kick the ball. Nope. I am judging the new sheriffs in town by how Michigan does in the second quarter. A year ago? It was a fucking disaster. The Wolverines were thumped to the tune of 194-83 in the second quarters of their games last season. As a result, they rarely got to halftime in any important game in legit range of their foe. Can the new coaches change this? Can they make enough improvement on the field and hold games together better in the early going so that perhaps their talented Shoelace in the hole has a chance to win games in the fourth quarter. That's something that college football fans were robbed of last October and November: The chance to see Denard play with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Michigan outscored their opponents in every other quarter a year ago, but by being drubbed by almost a 2.5 to 1 margin in the second 15 minutes torpedoed the whole season. Seven times they were outscored by at least 10 points in the second stanza. Michigan was able to tie UMass 10-10 in the second quarter, but the only team they beat a year ago in the second quarter was, guess who? The Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But, they needed an historic and magnificent 87-yard TD run by Denard to make that happen. A week ago? Michigan won the second quarter 20-3. A turnaround or just a fluke from playing a MAC team? In the first legit showdown of the season, I am as intrigued by how the second quarter goes down as anything else. Maybe its just an early round of Maize and Blue Kool Aid in advance of the weekend, but In Hoke I Trust. Let's win this second quarter MICH. From there, the game will be ours, I say.
Cierre Wood -15.5 rushing yards over Fitzgerald Toussaint
Fitzgerald Toussaint featured prominently in our mock props a week ago, when we asked readers to determine whether or not he would surpass his career rushing totals in the opener. He needed 88 yards against Western, but ended with only 80. Certainly this would have gone Over had, you know, a fourth quarter actually been played. Let's involve Fitz again, this time matching Good 'Ol #28 head to head with another tailback recruit from the 2009 class. Fitzgerald Toussaint vs Cierre Wood. Toussaint was a Rivals 4-star recruit, the #8 ranked all-purpose back in the country coming out of high school. Wood was also a 4-star recruit per Rivals in the 2009 class, but their gurus placed Wood in the 'running back' category as opposed to 'all-purpose back' as they did for Toussaint. Everybody wanted a piece of Wood as he held scholarship offers from USC, Auburn, Florida and Nebraska as a high school senior. It took a while for his career in South Bend to take off, but he found a groove in Brian Kelly's offense a year ago and it was his hard running, along with the GRITTY QB play of Tommy Rees, that sparked the Irish charge late last season that had everyone excited about this year's prospects. He didn't carry the football more than 7 times in any of Notre Dame's first six games of the 2010 season, but he pretty much evolved into their feature back down the backstretch, toting for double digit carries in six of their final seven games, rushing for more than 81 yards four times. The Irish may have whiffed last week against USF, but not because of Wood, who surpassed the century mark for the first time in his career. The junior rushed for 104 yards and added 44 yards of receiving for good measure. He and Michael Floyd ought to give the Irish a tailback/receiver combo as productive as just about anybody else in the country. In this battle of the stats, we have the 8th ranked all purpose back in the 2009, the 14th best player in Ohio that year in Toussaint going up against wood, the the 8th ranked tailback in the 2009 class, the 8th best player in California that season. Whichever emerging Redshirt Sophomore playmaker shines the most tomorrow night might tip the balance of this game.
Roy Roundtree O/U 6.5 catches.
We know a few things about Royland Roundtree. He does a great Donald Duck, wakes up HONGRY, turnovers follow any pass he drops, he holds the Michigan single game record for receiving yards and is a great bounce back player. And that's what we're focusing on here. Every since he became a regular in Michigan's lineup during the final third of his redshirt freshmen season in 2009, he's rarely has back-to-back sucky games. A week ago, he wasn't much of a factor against Western Michigan, hauling in just two passes for 17 years. The four previous times in his career since becoming a regular that he caught three or less passes, he pretty much turned around and blew up the following week. After his less than stellar outings, he's bounced back to average 7.25 catches and 143 yards per game. This includes his eight catch effort, highlighted by the huge third down conversion, in last year's Notre Dame win as well the record setting performance in the Illinois win. Their wasn't really any pass catching stars for Michigan last week, but it was a game where that wasn't really needed. Somebody will have to step up this week, though, just because its a bigger game. Given his bounce back efforts, my money is on Roundtree.
Michigan -1.5 over Air Force
I know what you are thinking. Is JamieMac that much of a connected degenerate that he already has a line for next season's home opener against Air Force? No, really, I am not that connected. Degenerate? 50/50. But this is an actual prop offered tomorrow by sportsbook.com. They have a whole board of fantasy matchups pitting a pair of teams from different games against each other. San Diego State is -3 over Notre Dame. Can Hoke beat the Irish with both his new and old team? Talk about a chance at history, Brady! So, in the hypothetical matchup between the Wolverines and Fly Boys, Michigan is short 1.5-point chalk, which is ironic because Michigan isn't chalk right now in any actual game listed on the same book's future board. But they are favored in a game that they're not even technically playing. I blame Rodriguez. FIRE RICH ROD! I am reluctant to play props like these. I have never done so, but man it sure seems like a fun thing to track. Air Force is playing TCU in the middle of the day on Versus. Well, unless Versus shows a replay of last week's Notre Dame instead. Other fantasy props of this ilk include Iowa -2.5 over Missouri, Penn State -1.5 over Boston College and Alabama -0.5 over TCU. Notre Dame isn't anywhere on this board, perhaps a testament to how scared books are at releasing too many lines that involve the major question mark that remains the Michigan defense.
That's all I got. Its going to be a fun day and night in Ann Arbor. Please, everybody be safe and defer to the side of good, clean fun. There will be a lot of the latter going on at the Lumber Yard, so if you're hanging around the 'hood, stop on by.
Go Blue. Fuck The Irish.