The last meeting between No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 17 Michigan in the Big House, at least for the foreseeable future, will have major implications on each team for the rest of the season.
It’s only one game, but this is the type of matchup that will play a major role in determining what bowl games these programs will be invited to play in at the end of the regular season.
The Fighting Irish will enter Saturday ranked higher, but the Wolverines are expected to defend their home turf.
As the rivalry comes to an end, the stakes are high.
For Notre Dame, this is as close to a must-win game as it gets in Week 2. The Irish aren’t expected to contend for a national championship, but a BCS bowl is not out of the question. They will need to finish no lower than eighth in order to get an automatic bid.
Finishing high enough to get the bid likely means that the team can lose no more than two games. The schedule features many tough games. The Irish will go to Ann Arbor, and the schedule heats up when the team returns home in two weeks.
Michigan State, who is sitting just outside of the Top 25, will travel to South Bend on Sept. 21 to start a stretch of four straight home games for the Irish. No. 16 Oklahoma comes to town a week later, and Notre Dame hosts No. 25 USC three weeks after that on Oct. 19.
Depending on how the Irish do against those ranked teams, the final game could end up being huge. The Irish will travel to California to take on No. 5 Stanford on Nov. 30.
With the Spartans likely entering the polls soon, Notre Dame will have five ranked opponents on its schedule. It has plenty of tough games, so it can’t afford to lose in the Big House. A loss to Michigan would force the Irish to go at least 9-1 the rest of the way in order to be considered for a BCS bowl.
Not playing in a conference makes this game extremely important for the Irish. Senior quarterback Tommy Rees is going to have to play as well as he did in the opener against Temple. He threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns to build momentum entering this showdown.
This will be an important game for the Wolverines as well. A loss won’t have as big of an impact on them, but this game is big in terms of confidence.
Notre Dame is the only ranked opponent on Michigan’s schedule through October. Once the Wolverines get into November, their next three games could all be against ranked opponents—at Michigan State, vs. No. 22 Nebraska and at No. 19 Northwestern. Don’t forget that No. 3 Ohio State will come to Ann Arbor for the final game of the regular season.
Michigan has two ways to get to a BCS game: win the Big Ten or get an at-large bid.
Losing to Notre Dame would have everyone questioning the Wolverines until November. They would spend the first two months beating up on lesser opponents and would have to prove that they belong with a tough stretch to end the season.
However, Michigan would still be able to run the table—or lose a game or two—in the Big Ten and make it to the Rose Bowl.
Getting to Pasadena is the goal. It may not look like the Wolverines are serious title contenders right now, but a win against the Irish could give Michigan all the confidence that it needs to put together a championship run.
This game isn’t going to be low scoring like the last meeting, so Michigan is going to need a strong showing out of quarterback Devin Gardner. Despite going 10-of-15 against Central Michigan, the junior threw for only 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Michigan used a balance attack on the ground in the opener, but Gardner will need to be effective passing the football.
While this game may mean a little bit more to Notre Dame in terms of getting to a BCS bowl, this rivalry matchup has the potential to set the tone for each team’s season. The winners can use this game as a momentum builder, while the losers will have to overcome the disappointment before they hit the tough part of their respective schedules.
Fans should be in for a good showdown on Saturday, but it will be one of the last meetings in this storied rivalry.
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