Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 Michigan.

WHAT? Some call this a rivalry game. Whether it is or not, it is a top-15 matchup, and those can be hard to come by the first week of the season. Even in an era of Fast-Food-Chain-This Opener and Fast-Food-Chain-That Classic, only No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Auburn can top this over the next few days in terms of obvious stakes.

WHEN? 7:30 p.m. ET with kickoff coming 13 minutes later. If in the area, though, don’t risk missing that kickoff. In doing so, you will miss a flyover from four Air Force jets during the pregame ceremonies.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., with ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from just outside all morning.

If unable to get to the game, turn to NBC. One change will be noted in that broadcast, though how quickly depends on the referees on the field. NBC has added former NFL referee Terry McAulay to the booth as a rules analyst offering insights on close and/or controversial calls or rules interpretations. McAulay previously spent 20 years working the field of NFL games.

Not at a television with a functioning cable box, satellite or antenna? NBC is happy to offer a stream of the primetime game.

And for those of you not even in the United States, try out NBC Sports Gold. It should do the trick.

WHY? The credit for the two-year revival of this series seems to land at the feet of Irish head coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick and Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh.

“With Jim carrying that great [Michigan coaching] tradition, this is why we wanted to get this game back together,” Kelly tells Mike Tirico in the above video. “Notre Dame – Michigan to open the season, it’s just great for college football. …

“Jack really wanted to make sure that this game (happened). I think Jim, on his end, was very influential. I wanted to get this game.”

THEN, WHY NOT? Well, schedules are not what they used to be. The Big Ten used to schedule only eight conference games each year; now it has nine. The Irish remain independent today, but they are obligated to five games with the ACC every season. And, thankfully for sanity’s sake, there are only so many weekends in a football season.

“We had the opening, and Michigan had the opening, but this might not happen all the time because it is so difficult to get these schedules aligned,” Kelly said. “… We’re just happy that right now for college football we’ve got this game for the next two years because I think it’s such a great matchup.”

A HUMBLE SUGGESTION: Scheduling is and belongs well above this scribe’s paycheck. But what about … Every year Notre Dame plays the five ACC games, both Stanford and USC, and Navy. There are eight set pieces. Then play two of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue each season, rotating them through in three-year cycles. That makes 10 games per season accounted for. Add in one against a MAC foe of choice, and one against a Big 12 or SEC team as available.

That would provide for data points against four of the Power Five conferences each year, something Swarbrick has said he strives for, while also hopefully keeping the schedule halfway manageable. At least three of the ACC opponents each fall should be less than powerhouses, making for a starting number of five clearly-winnable games each season, also factoring in Navy and the MAC selection.

Then again, that schedule is notably more challenging than this year’s, which contains five top-25 opponents and a trip to Northwestern. This humble suggestion would include seven top-25 challenges. To think, 2018’s slate is already viewed as too stout for the College Football Playoff era.

Yes, this humble suggestion was offered to show just how untenable adding Michigan to the calendar annually would be. It would, at best, come at the cost of ever meeting Big 12 and SEC teams, something Swarbrick has rightfully made a priority.

BY HOW MUCH? This line has settled at the Irish by one with a points total over/under of 47, equalling a 24-23 final. The broken foot suffered by Wolverines sophomore receiver Tarik Black swung the line by a point or two, while the torn ACL of Notre Dame senior nickel back Shaun Crawford did not affect it.

Whatever the spread, that point total comes across in these parts as awfully high. This game should come down to the pass rush, both pass rushes. Michigan has the headliners in ends Rashon Gary and Chase Winovich while Notre Dame has the depth of at least eight contributing linemen. Both units will be chasing uncertain quarterbacks.

With that in mind, an Irish tilt makes sense. Notre Dame has the better offensive line, which should reduce senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s mistakes and help better set the edge for both him and a young stable of running backs.

Notre Dame 21, Michigan 13.

Yes, if looking back at “40 Predictions”, that score falls well under the 41 posited in in Prediction No. 2 and it even survives a bold July proclamation.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
Takeaways from deep dives on all 12 Notre Dame Opponents
Questions for the Week: Michigan’s injuries & Notre Dame’s depth chart
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Week one spreads & predictions
Brian Kelly on Notre Dame’s freshmen, reviving Michigan series
Michigan’s lines mirror Notre Dame’s in pivotal fashion
And In That Corner … The No. 14 Michigan Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s new starters at tackle, rover, safety
Losing Crawford creates domino effects in Notre Dame’s secondary
Friday at 4: To Jerry, a Michigan fan and an example of why we love this game

OUTSIDE READING:
At Notre Dame, Kelly and Swarbrick provide rare stability
Michigan’s defensive line as deep as star-studded 2016 group
Q&A with Mike Tirico: Calling Notre Dame-Michigan a ‘bucket list’ event ($)