No. 8 Notre Dame at No. 19 Michigan: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much

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WHO? No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1) at No. 19 Michigan (5-2).

WHAT? As much as the Irish résumé lacks worthy opponents, Notre Dame should be exceptionally grateful to have the Wolverines ahead of them this season. If the Irish win tonight, it will knock Michigan further down the rankings, if not out of them, but the figurative Wolverines stock has gone up enough in the last few weeks, regardless, to count as a worthwhile win.

Without Michigan on the schedule, a one-loss Notre Dame would likely be passed over by a few two-loss teams come season’s end. Having at least one victory against a name-brand opponent performing somewhat to expectations should be enough to prevent that from occurring if it becomes a pertinent concern.

WHEN? 7:30 ET. Most nights in late October, that kickoff would bring brisk delight. This weekend, it will bring rain. Some version of logic insists a forecast not include a 100 percent chance of rain unless speaking of the current moment with a hand out the window, but that is the expectation 23 hours ahead of time. Good thing an umbrella is stashed in the carry-on

One can be forgiven for wondering if that supposed inevitability will prevent the Para-Commandos from descending upon the crowd as planned.

WHERE? Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor. No, it is not officially known as the “Big House.” Its listed capacity is a bit above 107,000, but enough marketing materials have gone around touting 110,000 that this space will presume that is the evening’s attendance rather than a rounding error.

ABC has the broadcast, which means for those relying on mobile devices, head to your ESPN app. (A genuine question: Anyone else having trouble with that the last two weeks? There are several games this scribe will want to monitor in the afternoon but won’t be able to if that app is not working as wanted.)

WHY? Let’s go back a year to this exact, respective piece and pull from there (in italics): 

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 said. “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.”

BACK TO THE NOW … While none of that has changed, Orion Sang of the Detroit Free Press made an interesting point this week in “And In That Corner …” — “I’ve always gotten the sense that Michigan wanted this series more.”

There is no way to know that beyond conjecture, but the facts are simple. When this series rekindled last year, it did so where it ended, at Notre Dame. Not only that, it was the season opener. That was quite the draw for the Irish. Now, Notre Dame arrives in Ann Arbor off an idle week while the Wolverines just went to Penn State. That is an inarguable edge for the Irish, though its effect may be debatable. To put it simply, Swarbrick won the negotiations for this home-and-home.

UPDATE: Notre Dame and Michigan announced two future dates Saturday morning.

BY HOW MUCH? Supposedly certain rain, one defense giving up only 283.3 yards per game (Michigan, No. 14 in the country), another defense allowing only 16.8 points per game (Notre Dame, No. 15). If anything, it may be a surprise this evening’s combined point total over/under has not fallen lower than 49.5, as of the earliest hours of Saturday morning. The Irish are favored, but the one-point edge is indicative of a coin toss.

A casual rainfall should not be that bothersome. That is a reality of football today (better cleats, better gloves, better fields, better pigskins), despite the public perception. But if today’s downpour becomes atypical, then all bets are off. (Pun intended.)

Thus, that reduced total should instead be considered a testament to the respective defenses. If (read: when) Notre Dame’s offense stagnates for a full quarter, that is simply how the game goes. Just as likely, the Irish defense will force a turnover or two. While Notre Dame has lost only four turnovers this season, it has forced 14 (best turnover margin in the country). On the flip side, the Wolverines have lost 14.

Suggesting the edge in a rivalry game will come down to a turnover may sound simplistic, but it is also probable given the defenses in the conversation and the slim expected edge. If such proves true, coordinator Clark Lea and the Irish should prevail, should knock Michigan from atop the all-time winning percentage rankings, should end this series with a three-game winning streak until it is (hopefully) renewed again someday.

Notre Dame 23, Michigan 16.
(6-0 in pick; 3-3 against the spread, 2-4 point total.)

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
Notre Dame (initially) an underdog, and understandably so
Crawford’s return would help Notre Dame check Michigan’s WRs
Second consecutive weekend of chaos helps keep Irish hopes alive
And In That Corner … The No. 19 Wolverines coming off a stinging loss
Things To Learn: No. 8 Notre Dame’s final chance to establish supremacy over Michigan
Reports: WR Michael Young to transfer from Notre Dame

OUTSIDE READING:
Notre Dame WR Braden Lenzy sprinting into opportunities in Irish offense
Tales from the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry: What it’s meant and what’s next ($)
Father’s voice drives Ade Ogundeji as he makes his mark at Notre Dame
Para-Commandos details