Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Brutally Honest Game Preview

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ESPN College Football Game Day will make a return trip to Ann Arbor for the first time since the 2007 season as the Michigan Wolverines host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the “Under the Lights” matchup kicking off at 8 p.m. EDT and will be televised on ESPN. That’s right the first night game in the 133 year history of UM football. Have to quote Kanye West and Rihanna here: “turn up the lights in here baby. Extra bright I want y’all to see this.”

It’s just too bad neither team is ranked; it would give the contest more oomph. At least there’s loads of tradition, as both schools are top 5 in all time wins and winning percentage.

Former U-M Heisman Trophy winner (1991) and current ESPN College Football Game Day analyst, Desmond Howard, will be honored in conjunction with the game.

Denard Robinson

UM Synopsis: the biggest question mark for big blue the season is the defense. And that’s understandable given how they had one of the worst defenses among all schools in the BCS automatic qualifier conferences last season. It’s too early to say much better they’ll be in 2011. But this is promising: Wolverines safety Jordan Kovacs was named Lott IMPACT Player of the Week on Tuesday, following Michigan’s 34-10 win over Western Michigan. The game was called due to lightning with just 1:27 left int he third. Once three quarters are complete, you have an official college football game. Notre Dame had similar weather delays issues last week.

Kovacs’ performance complements Brandon Herron’s week one outing which earned him Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the week honors. These are good steps in the right direction for the Wolverines D.

The offense shifts from a spread-option to a more west coast set as quarterback supreme Denard Robinson (last year’s Big Ten MVP) will take more snaps from center. Roy Roundtree is one of the league’s best receivers.

New coach Brady Hoke caught some national attention at his very first Big Ten media day, for making a couple statements which sounded a bit condescending and off-putting.

“This might sound arrogant, and if it is, it is. We’re Michigan,” Hoke said.

“We have a global education. We’re the winningest program in the history of college football. We have a tremendous staff of guys. The lifeblood for all of us, no doubt, is the guys you bring in your program. We’ve really tried to focus on the guys that fit the mold of Michigan with the integrity and character that we want to have.”

His other oft-reported statement:

“Well, I don’t think we’re rebuilding, period. I mean, we’re Michigan. We’ve got kids who understand that they’re Michigan.”

For the Full UM season preview go here

ND Synopsis: Notre Dame, like Michigan, is wearing some sweet new retro uniforms for this game (see them here) As expected, Coach Brian Kelly named Tommy Rees the starter at quarterback. He’s 4-0 as a starting QB, while Dayne Crist is 4-6. Personally, I think they should have gone with Rees from the get go.

Last week, in a 23-20 upset to South Florida, Rees led the team to 20 points and Crist zero, and Rees put much better numbers (24-34 for 296 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, in a situation where the USF defense knew he was going to be primarily passing versus Crist 7-15 for 95 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT)

USF came in ten point underdogs, despite being a Big East conference favorite by many college football experts. It was a huge “program win” for Skip Holtz.

Here are just a few things that went wrong for ND: they turned it over three times inside the USF five yard line; finished the game -5 in turnover differential, had -2 punt return yards, entered the red zone six times, but scored just twice, their kicker who had a perfect season last fall missed a chip shot field goal, and the loss came despite perfectly doubling their opponent yardage (508-254).

In the loss, the Irish did put up some impressive individual numbers on offense. Michael Floyd broke Jeff Samardzjia’s school record for receptions, and tied Golden Tate’s record for 100 yard receiving games by catching 12 for 154 with 2 TDs. Tyler Eifert added 6 catches for 93 yards. Cierre Wood was the first Irish 100 yard rusher since 2009, running for 104 yards on 21 carries. And Rees threw for just about 300 yards in only one half of play, and in a catch-up situation in which his opponent knew he would have to throw.

“He was 24 for 34 in a situation where they knew we were going to throw the football.  I don’t want to put him in that situation.  I want him to have the luxury of a running game which we had established when Dayne was in there.  We just did not complete the circle relative to all the other things that needed to occur,” Kelly said.

For the Full ND season preview go here

Prediction to be taken with an entire truckload of salt, not a grain of salt: ND 38, UM 31 (2010-11 prediction record 21-9)

Really hard to pick this game. On one hand, UM won at ND last season, and I think they’re a better, more complete team than they were in 2010. Plus, they’ll be hyped up for this historical, high-publicity contest. On the other hand, ND has shown they can circle the wagons when needed thus far in the Kelly era. And Rees for a whole game versus that sieve of a defense?

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports 

He does regular weekly radio spots in Chicago and Cleveland and has appeared on live shows all across the world from Houston to New Zealand. You can follow him on Twitter

 

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