|Notre Dame and Michigan restore rivalry's luster|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 11 September 2009 08:24|
At least, it looked that way when the Fighting Irish shut out Nevada and the Wolverines routed Western Michigan in their openers last week.
``It gives it a little more excitement, a little bigger stage, especially the way Notre Dame played Saturday and the way we played,'' Michigan guard Steve Schilling said. ``It's going to be fun to see what we can do when we play each other.''
s getting excited about wins over teams from the WAC and the MAC. But that's what has happened because Charlie Weis lost a school-record nine games at Notre Dame in 2007 and Rich Rodriguez's debut season at Michigan last year was marred by a school-record nine setbacks.
Weis won seven games last year, barely getting a chance to coach the Irish for a fifth season. But at least the Irish are ranked, at No. 18.
If Rodriguez wins seven times this season, it will be seen as a sign of improvement as long as negative news regarding possible NCAA violations and his involvement with a banned Clemson booster fades away.
Weis won't be fired if Notre Dame gets upset at Michigan and Rodriguez's job is safe regardless of the outcome Saturday. But both coaches desperately need a victory and the 2-0 record that would come with it at what seems like a key point of the season, early as it may be.
Win or lose, Weis and Rodriguez will get plenty of praise or blame. Maybe both.
``They understand the magnitude,'' former Michigan running back Jaime Morris said. ``They learned it.''
Weis got a taste of a sweet victory in the series four years ago at the Big House, beating No. 3 Michigan. Then he lost the next two games in the rivalry, including a 38-0 loss in 2007 on the road when Jimmy Clausen was sacked eight times - two more than he has in any other game.
``I was pretty banged up after that game,'' Clausen said. ``It took me almost three or four, five days to recover.''
The Irish said Weis has never been more emotional during a pre-game speech than he was last year, going into their 35-17, rain-soaked, fumble-filled win over Michigan.
``I think the 38-0 beating we took the previous year is what got me,'' Weis recalled.
Will he address the players in fiery fashion again?
``I don't think you're going to have to worry about me calling off the dogs,'' Weis said.
Both coaches are regarded as experts on offense and each has some talent to work with.
Clausen has thrown for 700-plus yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games, and Irish receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate have emerged as deep-play threats.
Michigan's safeties are inexperienced, but junior cornerback Donovan Warren didn't sound worried about facing Floyd or Tate without help.
``Going against those guys one on one, I don't think it'll be a problem,'' Warren said.
Rodriguez hopes his defensive backs are ready to be busy.
``They're going to get challenged by a quarterback who is playing as well as he can possibly play,'' Rodriguez said.
Michigan, meanwhile, hopes it only got a glimpse of what its freshmen quarterbacks can do.
Tate Forcier started last week and threw three TDs before halftime. Denard Robinson, who doesn't tie the laces on his cleats, fumbled his first snap and scored on a long run after juking a couple defenders. Forcier will start again, but expect to see Robinson - and Rodriguez acknowledged putting them both on the field at the same time is a possibility.
``There's probably more we can do with that,'' Rodriguez said. ``We're trying to get the ball to fast guys in space, so he's obviously one of them.''
Michigan and Notre Dame have obviously been at the head of the class in college football over the years, ranking 1-2 in winning percentage and unofficially in categories such as helmets, uniforms and fight songs. They have a host of Heisman winners between them.
After The Associated Press poll made its debut in 1936, at least one of the schools was ranked in their first 25 matchups. The past two years, both were unranked and the series lost some of its glow.
Now, it's back.
``It's a great way to jump off the season,'' Notre Dame linebacker Brian Smith said.