Both programs have endured coaching change, major schematic adjustments, 3-9 seasons, quarterback shuffling and disillusionment from their respective fan bases. Arguably no two FBS head coaches entered their season openers last Saturday with more pressure than Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez and Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, both of whom are known for their offensive minds.
Granted, Nevada and Western Michigan aren’t supposed to beat Notre Dame and Michigan, but after recent losses to Navy, Syracuse, Appalachian State and Toledo, neither the Irish nor the Wolverines takes much for granted any more.
If Michigan had stumbled against the Broncos, Rodriguez might have had his own billboard in Ann Arbor, like Weis in South Bend.
Both squads delivered impressive wins. Both showcased improved quarterback play from Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and Michigan’s Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Both shut down heralded signal-callers in Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and Western Michigan’s Tim Hiller.
Notre Dame and Michigan have traveled remarkably similar paths to Saturday’s showdown at Michigan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). For the first time since 2006, the game serves as a platform for one of the sport’s winningest programs to make a national statement.
“I see it as an opportunity for both teams,” Michigan sophomore defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. “Notre Dame has had their own trials and tribulations over there, and obviously, we’ve had some things happen recently and last year. We’ve both had doubts arisen about us.
“This game is national. Everybody in the country follows the Michigan-Notre Dame game. It’s a game about respect and getting the pride back in both programs, so it’s going to be interesting.”