Sep 22, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish nose guard Louis Nix (9) grabs the shirt of Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson (16) in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Thoughts On: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Michigan Wolverines

The former World Wrestling Federation has nothing on Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, who have been involved in a war of words reminiscent of a pre-match diatribe from the likes of The Rock, Jake “The Snake” Roberts or The Undertaker.

Notre Dame, per its new agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference, does not have enough open games left on its future schedule to play the University of Michigan.  As a result, Notre Dame has reneged on its previously scheduled tilts with Michigan and will not play Michigan again after next year’s tentatively schedule matchup.

Prompted by the schedule change, in May, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said that Notre Dame has “chickened out” of the rivalry.  There was not an immediate response then from Kelly — maybe because he was re-negotiating his contract with the University and did not want to draw the ire of alumni fueling the university-to-Brian Kelly “money train.”

Nevertheless, Kelly stated last Sunday that the Notre Dame vs. Michigan football game was not a national rivalry but more of a regional rivalry.  Kelly’s comments were interesting, since he gained recognition as being a quality coach when he was at the helm of the Central Michigan Chippewas from 2006 to 2008.

Anyway, the chatter has become parsed over the last couple of days with the admission from Kelly that the game will be won by the players on the field.

These programs are two of the most successful in college football history.  Michigan has an all-time winning percentage of .735, to Notre Dame’s all-time record of .734. However, Michigan has a record of 23-16-1 against the Irish.  Also, the Wolverines have won the last three games in a row played in Ann Arbor. Coincidentally, tonight’s installment is played at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan where more than 100,000 fans will be in attendance.

The Notre Dame fans will be expecting solid performances from senior quarterback Tommy Rees, a product of the posh Chicago suburb of Lake Forest. Rees lost his starting quarterback role last season as a result of a legal matter in the 2012 offseason.  Ironically, the man who replaced Tommy Rees last season, Everett Golson,  has been suspended from Notre Dame for academic issues.  Maybe Golson will be the starting quarterback for the Irish NEXT season.

Either way, Rees has experience leading the Irish, which he quarterbacked to an 8-5 record in 2011. Included among the losses was a 35-31 defeat to the Wolverines, in which Denard Robinson engineered a fourth quarter rally.

The other player to watch for the Irish is senior defensive tackle Louis Nix III.  Nix is dominant at the nose tackle position and is very similar to former Boston College nose guard and 2009 first round NFL draft pick BJ Raji. Look for Nix to be a major factor in this game as he harasses Devin Gardner, along with defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

Michigan is led at quarterback by Gardner, a Detroit native.  Gardner split time last season between quarterback and wide receiver, but seized starting jobs as the former down the stretch of the campaign.  Gardner accounted for 22 touchdowns for the Maize and Blue in 2012. He threw for 11 touchdowns filling in for the legendary Denard Robinson, rushed for seven touchdowns and caught four scores.

Senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint fills out the Wolverine offense. Toussaint ran for five touchdowns in 2012.  The dynamic running back scored two touchdowns in Michigan’s 59-9 speed-bagging of Central Michigan, the only Michigan game so far this season.

This one will come down to the Michigan offensive line.  If they can protect Gardner from Louis Nix III and open running lanes for Toussaint, then this will be a close game a la the aforementioned 2011 contest.  Notre Dame is balanced offensively and defensively, is well coached and has experienced players.  Playing in The Big House before a raucous crowd under the lights will help Michigan but in the end Notre Dame prevails.

Final Score:  Notre Dame 30 , Michigan 23

Tags: Football Michigan Wolverines Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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