Alright, Irish fans, I think it's time to admit something. I am at heart a Michigan fanatic and have spent many years hoping for Notre Dame losses. This time, however, I find myself hoping Michigan loses so Rich Rod can just go away. I spent the last several years hoping Notre Dame could find a good coach on the same level as Lou Holtz because I believe very strongly that Notre Dame vs. Michigan just isn't the same, isn't as special, without both teams being top quality programs every year.
Just as much as I love Michigan, I want Notre Dame to finish second to my beloved Wolverines. I know, I know, here I am writing about the Irish. So what? In fact, it's more fun this way. Writing about your hated rival, and writing for that rival's fans, is rewarding in a special kind of way. Being from the South Bend area, and working near the campus, gives me the opportunity to provide insights fans from afar might not get.
Notre Dame provides a special atmosphere for each game. The campus is beautiful and special, from the Golden Dome to the reflecting pool in front of the famed Touchdown Jesus (the Hesburgh Library, the bands marching like warriors into the stadium before and after the game, and the spiritual sense that envelopes all visitors. The stadium still has wood bleachers, and fans are squashed next to each other so tight sometimes they don't even all fit, but nobody is ever disappointed in the Notre Dame experience.
Now, with both Michigan and Notre Dame coming off opening day wins, this rivalry between the two winningest programs in NCAA football history is set to be just as fierce as any other year. Still, something is missing. Neither team is top 25 material yet. Notre Dame beat a struggling Purdue program, and Michigan won by a margin that would have been unacceptable just five years ago.
Michigan fans are restless, struggling with a coach who seems unable to appreciate the Michigan tradition, while Notre Dame is adjusting to their fifth coach (Bob Davey, George O'Leary, Ty Willingham, Charlie Weiss, and Brian Kelly) since 1998.
A Notre Dame win earns Kelly praise and respect for at least three weeks regardless of the results of upcoming games. Michigan's Rich Rod has to win to keep Wolverine fans from tearing him to shreds. Yet this game will be played on the field by college students. It will be unpredictable, full of emotion, and filled with mistakes.
Michigan looks to their star quarterback, Denard "Shoelace" Robinson, while Notre Dame will turn to their defense and an intelligently coached and patient offense. Neither team is ready to start competing for national titles just yet, but Notre Dame at least has the potential to find success throughout the year. Michigan's hopes hinge on the non-conference games and a few upset bids in late fall.
Michigan just is not ready for this stage yet, leaving Notre Dame the Victors once again. Notre Dame should win 27-13 in front of nearly 81,000 fans and millions of TV viewers nation-wide.