Does Harbaugh to Michigan really matter for Notre Dame?


Michigan is in the process of finalizing their deal to make former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh their head football coach. After a mutually agreed upon divorce that feels like a satire on the life and times of Silicon Valley high society, Harbaugh will return to his alma mater to take on the reclamation project of returning the Victors to victories.

Give Michigan brass credit. They went all in on securing Harbaugh, spending the past few months orchestrating the hire of a NFL coach who up until this season had done nothing but win football games at a historic pace.

But for all the flowy wordplay that’ll be dedicated to the hire, a few things require stating:

1. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is about money. Nearly $50 million to a coach from a state that just had its biggest city go through a bankruptcy. This is a bank-breaking, logic-defying deal.

2. Michigan just guaranteed that money to a coach who nearly got traded last year, a fairly emphatic statement on just how difficult Harbaugh is for bosses, colleagues and a work environment that had only seen success with him at the helm.

3. The brand of football that Harbaugh’s team played took a significant step backwards in 2014, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick going from transformative player to serious question mark in one calendar year.

With that out of the way, let’s get serious. This is a grand slam hire.

Replacing Brady Hoke with Jim Harbaugh is like swapping out that finger-painting from your five-year-old nephew with a Jackson Pollock original. So while it might have pushed college football a few steps closer to the apocalypse with the financial implications, it’s a deal nearly every Michigander is celebrating for good reason.

Now on to Notre Dame. While the two schools haven’t found the time to reboot their rivalry after the Irish pounded one of the first nails into Brady Hoke’s coffin this September, the Harbaugh hire hasn’t gone unnoticed by Domers.

Harbaugh’s move to Ann Arbor could change the gravitational force in Midwestern recruiting. It’ll give Michigan a head coach that can walk into the same living room as Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer and come out looking like the most accomplished of the three.

In the coming days, we’ll find out how Harbaugh plans to build his coaching staff. If the Michigan brass was willing to roll out $8 million for the guy wearing Walmart khakis, what are they willing to give his assistants? Expect some big names to come soon, as the coaching staff will storm out of the gates hoping to salvage the 2015 recruiting class.

Does that mean taking dead aim at some Irish recruits? Of course. And that has some Irish fans expecting the worst. (That seems to be the default setting.)

But while the Irish used to look at Stanford’s defense as the archetype, Brian VanGorder is recruiting to a different mold. That means some overlaps, but hardly a hunt for the same lumbering and lanky edge players that the Cardinal terrorized Notre Dame with.

Offensively, Harbaugh’s first order of business is finding a quarterback. The last time people thought Shane Morris was the answer was when YouTube clips of his junior year in high school were stuck buffering on Internet Explorer. But for better or worse, there aren’t too many similarities between Brian Kelly’s preferred offensive system and the one Harbaugh’s running.



For all the talk Hoke made about a power-running, Michigan offense, Harbaugh’s actually established it. But at Stanford, he found Andrew Luck. In 2009, Harbaugh and Luck went 8-5, turning Toby Gerhart into a Heisman Trophy finalist. The head coach rode a 12-1 2010 to the NFL, turning down the Wolverines to create the mess he’s now cleaning up four years later.

Harbaugh’s hiring has certainly shaken up the Big Ten. While Urban Meyer has managed to get his team into the College Football Playoff, the rest of the conference has shown itself to be second rate. Harbaugh will begin his climb to the top in a conference that’s never been shakier.

With no football to be played until September, Michigan is the king of this offseason. That means no more picking on the guy at the office from Detroit, who will spend the next nine months with a little more pep in his step — because Michigan actually landed their man.

Harbaugh’s return to the college scene adds another A-Lister to a part of the country where most are running from. But until the two teams restart their rivalry on the field, it should be business as usual for Notre Dame football.


Live Blog — Notre Dame vs. Michigan


Here we are.

On a beautiful evening for football, it’s finally time for Notre Dame and Michigan to actually play football. That means after a long week of talking, hypothesizing and over-analyzing just about every subplot known to man, we can finally watch the Wolverines battle the Irish on the field of play.

As usual, we’re here for the live blog. In a heated rivalry game, it’s likely to get a little intense in here, so consider this the friendly reminder to keep your heads and actually try to enjoy things. Keep it clean, don’t get snippy and let’s have fun watching together with a few thousand of our favorite internet friends.

Again, if you’re looking to watch the game, CLICK THIS LINK. Otherwise, enjoy the final scheduled chapter of Notre Dame and Michigan.


Pregame Six Pack: Waving goodbye to the Wolverines


With an online vigil of Irish fans still holding out hope for the university to decide the fate of DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams, the crazy week leading up to the final scheduled meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan continues to take its share of twists and turns.

With fans clinging to every 140 characters Tweeted, and every emoticon blasted, the university process is still a mystery to all that are curious: Players, families, fans, and benefactors alike.

With some late-night tweets from DaVaris Daniels sparking hope, Brian Kelly has moved forward, all while keeping the door open for the marooned five.

“If I got them back tomorrow, they’d play on Saturday,” Kelly said Thursday after practice. “I can get them ready. They’re physically conditioned… If we were hypothetically to get that call, they’d been running out of that tunnel on Saturday.”

That call hasn’t come. Or at least not yet. And after talking to more than a few people in and around the program, it’s not expected, either. So with a primetime broadcast on NBC set to begin at 7:30 ET, the Irish will move on and do battle with the players they have, a modest favorite in a game that’s rarely gone according to plan.

With Michigan head coach Brady Hoke playing coy about his shaky offensive line rotation and the health of some key contributors, it’s clear that just from the level of interest, there are early season football games, and then there is Notre Dame vs. Michigan.

With a primetime kickoff and plotlines befitting an Emmy-winning drama, let’s get to the pregame six pack. As usual, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers or miscellaneous musings to get you ready for one last battle between college football’s two winningest programs.


When the guy with his name on the building doesn’t know what’s going on, it’s pretty clear that the university process is remarkably buttoned up. 

When tech mogul Tom Mendoza, whose name graces the No. 1 undergraduate business school in the country, doesn’t know any more about the academic proceedings than the thousands of other Irish fans burning up messageboards and chat rooms for even third-hand rumors of good news, it’s a pretty good sign that the process is going to play out in the manner that the university administration sees fit.

So while that’s incredibly frustrating for those who can’t think of anything more important going on this week under the Golden Dome than the football game in Notre Dame Stadium, it speaks to an academic process that’s been in place for a long time, and a system that Kelly seems comfortable with.

“I had put it behind me really, whether it was two weeks, three weeks or a month,” Kelly said. “I have not had expectations really one way or the other.

“I have dealt with this situation, when I first heard of it, with maybe blinders on. In that I’ve focused on the guys that I have. I miss the guys, I care about them, but I really have a responsibility to the guys on my team.”

That’s as good of a look into the coach’s psyche. And also a sign that maybe the Irish head coach understands this university far better than many give him credit for.

So while many fret about some alleged injustice being put on the in-limbo players, it’s also a reminder that the blame for this delay isn’t on any academic bureaucracy, but rather the five students who put themselves in the situation to begin with.


With three new coordinators, both coaching staffs are grinding the film room a little bit harder. 

We talked with former quarterback Tommy Rees about the preparation that goes into getting ready to play Greg Mattison. But Mattison is the only holdover of the coordinators involved in this game, forcing both Michigan and Notre Dame’s staff to dig for clues with Doug Nussmeier, Mike Denbrock and Brian VanGorder now in charge of their respective units.

When asked about what to expect on Saturday night, Brady Hoke made it clear that things on the defensive side of the ball are going to be quite different for Notre Dame.

“I don’t know if there’s a whole lot, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that you would think will be the same,” Hoke said. “Offensively, Brian’s going to run his offense. I guess we’ve got the other new coordinator, so he’ll do his thing.”

Hoke talked about the challenges that come with trying to gain insight on VanGorder’s schemes, especially with only a spring game and the season opener as clues.

“You look at (the Rice game), Coach VanGorder’s different stops at different places,” Hoke said. “Believe me, we’ve broken just about everything down that you can break down. I’m sure they’ve watched out spring. We’ve watched their spring. So, are there things that I’m sure they haven’t shown yet? No question about it.”

Kelly echoed those thoughts on Thursday evening, when talking about preparing for Doug Nussmeier.

“We’re watching a lot of Alabama film,” Kelly said. “But they’ve got a lot to defend with us as well and with Brian. So they’re watching some NFL film. It works both ways.”


As Friday’s announced Ohio State game showed, don’t expect the Irish to waste much time worrying about the loss of Michigan from their schedule. 

Notre Dame’s well-timed announcement that they’ve added Ohio State to the schedule in 2022 and 2023 didn’t go unnoticed. In addition to filling Irish fans with glee, it caught the attention of Wolverines fans as well. And maybe even the ghost of former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.

“Let me tell you, Bo would really be ticked off,” former Michigan running back Harlan Huckleby told the Detroit News. “He would be like, ‘Let’s put a foot up their butts and twist it.’ He’d be like, ‘We need to put a good (expletive)-whipping on them and take that to your new rivalry. Let’s give them a good-old fashion Michigan butt-whipping in their home and in their backyard.’ That is what people are always going to remember.”

Of course, Bo wasn’t around to see the way Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon took the news when Irish AD Jack Swarbrick delivered Brandon the letter officially stopping the automatic rollover renewal of their series while the Irish figured out their ACC commitments. Brandon’s “interpretation” of how this all went down hasn’t sat very well with anyone inside the athletic department.

With rumors of expanded conference play in the Big Ten creating whispers that maybe nobody from Jim Delany’s conference would be able to fit the Irish into their schedule, the fact that Urban Meyer and Ohio State AD Gene Smith added a home-and-home with Notre Dame had to feel good for Swarbrick. It might even explain why Notre Dame played a little flexible with their usual rule of not acknowledging scheduling moves until a full season is completed.


With another big game under the lights, Notre Dame is all in on this recruiting weekend. 

For as important as the game on the field is, the Irish staff will have one of their biggest recruiting weekends of the year taking place. Seven official visits are set for this weekend, with commitments Jalen Guyton, Tristen Hoge, Prentice McKinney and CJ Sanders joined by these elite targets: middle linebacker Tevon Coney, defensive end Porter Gustin and running back Soso Jamabo. All three recruits are significant needs on Notre Dame’s board.

There’ll be plenty more unofficial visitors with commits Miles Boykin, Nick Coleman, Micah Dew-Treadway, Nicco Fertitta, Elijah Taylor, Brandon Tiassum, Jerry Tillery, Trevor Ruhland and Justin Yoon in town to mingle with current players and recruits.

The Irish staff won’t just be entertaining recruits from this cycle, a large group of 2016 and 2017 targets will also be making unofficial visits. At the top of that list is quarterback Malik Henry, one of Notre Dame’s priority targets and a recruit trending towards the Irish of late.

Other elite underclassmen include Top 100-type players like Wisconsin lineman Ben Bredeson, Illinois defensive end Josh King, tackle Tommy Kraemer, tight end Jake Hausmann, wide receiver Austin Mack and quarterback Shea Patterson. All told over 30 prospects from the ’16 and ’17 classes will be taking in the big game, putting a big priority on making sure Saturday night is a good show.


It might be over simplifying things, but shut down Devin Gardner and Notre Dame should win the game. 

For Notre Dame to beat Michigan, they’ll need to reverse some mind-boggling trends that have taken over the series versus the Wolverines. First, they’ll need to hold onto the football. It’s not a surprise that the Irish are 1-3 under Brian Kelly when you consider they’ve turned the ball over 12 times in that span, throwing nine interceptions and losing three fumbles.

But taking care of their own business is a given. Figuring out how to slow down Devin Gardner is the key to the Irish defensive attack.

Gardner’s played impressive football of late, throwing 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions in his last nine games. That doesn’t include his impressive performance last season against the Irish, where he threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns, all while leading Michigan in rushing.

But a look at his 2013 splits shows a significant statistical difference when Gardner plays on the road. Gardner completed 66.8 percent of his passes at home. That number dropped to just 51.7 on the road. Gardner threw for 2,089 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions at home. He threw for just 871 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions on the road.

In an environment that should be as rowdy as Notre Dame Stadium comes, it’ll be up to Gardner to find a way to play composed football. He’s done it against Notre Dame, but not necessarily on the road, where the Wolverines finished 2-4 last season.


Don’t look now, but Brian Kelly’s home field advantage is starting to take shape. 

You may not have noticed, but the Irish have been playing some very good football inside Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish have won 14 of their last 15 home games, falling only to Oklahoma over the past two seasons. And with the FieldTurf installation dramatically improving team speed, the Irish have already seemingly practiced more inside their home stadium in the past few weeks than they did in past seasons.

That’s put Kelly and his team into a sound headspace heading into a game that doesn’t necessarily bring back the best of memories (more so for Irish fans than players). After imploring his team to play fast, physical and with great energy last week, Kelly raised the stakes, hoping his team adds great mental focus to their agenda Saturday night.

“We’re going to have to blend both the mental and the physical on Saturday against Michigan,” Kelly said. “For us to beat Michigan, we’ve gotta be on our assignments and makes sure we’re doing the little things the right way.”

That means trusting an even younger roster with a group of players who aren’t expected to still be held from competition. (Note: Notre Dame’s never called the suspended. Sure it’s semantics, but it’s worth noting.) But Kelly believes that the way his young team is developing, they’ll be ready to play their best football when the lights go on and kickoff at 7:42 p.m. rolls around.

“There’s a good deal of guys on this team that have played in big games. At home, I think gives me confidence,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve won 14 out of 15 games at home. I think there’s a confidence factor. We’ve got some offensive weapons that can make plays. Then defensively, we showed that we can do some things effectively against the run. In big games like this, you’ve got to be able to hold your own against the run and you’ve got to put some points on the board.”

The last time Michigan came to Notre Dame Stadium, it took defensive heroics from Manti Te’o and company to turn a chilly September evening into Denard Robinson’s nightmare. The Irish formula will certainly be different on Saturday, with Golson asked to carry the weight. If you look closely at Kelly, you get the feeling that he feels both his team and his quarterback are ready.


For Notre Dame, battle with Michigan filled with familiarity


There will be no secrets between Notre Dame and Michigan Saturday night. Entering the fourth matchup between these two coaching staffs, even a game featuring three new coordinators won’t likely bring any true surprises.

“I think we all know the kind of game that we’re going to play here with this opponent,” Kelly said on Tuesday. “Each team knows each other very well.”

So while Pat Fitzgerald takes the Cal bloggers and beat writers to task for not divulging the Bears’ secret plans for a second quarterback, the formula seems quite obvious for both teams.

For the Irish, it means finding a solution to quarterback Devin Gardner and his tight end turned wide receiver Devin Funchess, who connected for three touchdowns last week.

“We’re playing an offense with Gardner and Funchess, a 1‑2 combination that is very dynamic,” Kelly said. “Funchess being on the perimeter is the a matchup problem, and he will be a matchup problem for everybody he plays this year. We will have to find ways obviously to slow him down, and he’s going to be difficult, and Gardner has played great against us. ”

Calling Gardner’s play in 2013 great might be an understatement, especially after the Michigan quarterback almost single-handedly dismantled the Irish defense, throwing for four touchdowns while leading the Wolverines in rushing in their 41-30 win.

With Brian VanGorder presenting a much different scheme than Bob Diaco, Kelly talked briefly about the need to slow down Gardner. A week after scheming to keep Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson in the pocket to lessen his threat running the football, VanGorder will need to dial something up tactically different than the Irish’s game plan in 2013, as Kelly acknowledged the multiple ways that the senior quarterback can hurt Notre Dame.

“I would think we would have a little bit more and a variety of schemes for Gardner because he can hurt you obviously running the football and throwing the football,” Kelly said.  “We’re going to have to have a comprehensive plan for him.”

Whether that comprehensive plan includes players like KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams still remains to be seen. Kelly had no update on the five suspended players on Tuesday morning, with the status quo still all we’re told.

That means the Irish are not only practicing without the five suspended players, but also meeting without them, a decision that could change depending on the timetable for any discipline according to Kelly. But mental reps this week — especially with VanGorder likely heavily scheming to take advantage of a susceptible offensive line — are at a premium, and if Russell or Williams is expected to play this weekend, understanding their responsibilities will be key.

So will shoring up any other communication issues. While the game Notre Dame played last week was remarkably clean for an opener, a few communication breakdowns in the secondary turned into big plays for Rice, with the Irish head coach tabbing poor communication for three explosive plays.

The remedy for that has been sought not just on the practice field, but in the meeting rooms as well.

“We have to be more demonstrative and take more control back there,” Kelly said. “We aren’t standing back there like we are during practice, and I think Coach VanGorder, if you were here at our meetings yesterday, made it clear during the meetings how he wants those guys to communicate.

“I was in the quarterback meeting room and I could hear our safeties communicating very well during film study.”

The storylines are plentiful this week, but Kelly did his best to make sure he wasn’t one of them, begging out of a question that asked if there was any upside that comes with the Michigan series ending.

With a huge weekend on tap both on the field and off the field in recruiting, perhaps the only thing controversial Kelly did was select his plaid sport coat, the spoils of victory from a summer golf tournament among old coaching friends.



Spring Preview: Michigan Wolverines


September 6, 2014. Mark the date in your calendar.

Notre Dame’s last shot at vengeance against Michigan, the foil to the Irish over the last handful of seasons, with almost every loss being more painful than the next. Because just as the modern “kinda rivalry” escalates in hatred, it will take a break.

Athletic directors Jack Swarbrick and Dave Brandon couldn’t find common ground to continue the series, so it’ll take a break until at least 2020, far too long for football fans getting used to seeing these two programs duke it out in early September.

While Brady Hoke and the Wolverines have had Notre Dame’s number in early September, they’ve struggled once the calendar hit October. After winning 11 games in his first season in Ann Arbor, Hoke has stumbled in his next two seasons, losing 11 games the last two years. He’s made changes on his coaching staff, letting go of veteran offensive coordinator Al Borges this offseason, though he’s still got question marks all across his program.

To get us up to speed on the Michigan program, Adam Biggers from Maize N Brew was kind enough to give us a spring update. In an offseason of critical importance to the Wolverines, Biggers gives us a really interesting look at a program that appears close to a tipping point.


After winning 11 games in his first season, Brady Hoke has put together disappointing back-to-back seasons in Ann Arbor. He made a big change in the offseason firing Al Borges and bringing in Doug Nussmeier.

Can you give Notre Dame fans a “Hot Seat” check? Is it possible Hoke gets fired after this season? 

This season is without question a make-or-break year for Hoke. Some have viewed Nussmeier’s hiring as Plan B—should things go south for Hoke, who probably has to win at least eight or nine games, including a win over a rival (ND, MSU, OSU), to save his job.

Hoke’s a likable guy who treats his players well, according to what I’ve seen and heard. But Rich Rodriguez was a nice guy, too. Wins matter. But so does development. If the team doesn’t mature—particularly the O-line—and fails to notch victories over quality competition, then we could easily see Hoke depart. Michigan fans are getting restless.

Doug Nussmeier’s hiring was one of the biggest splashes of the offseason, though some reports had him leaving Alabama regardless. What’s expected out of Nussmeier? Is this Hoke doubling down on the power football that he promised to bring with him to Ann Arbor?

Honestly, I think the hiring of Nussmeier was a bit premature—but it was necessary. Al Borges (OC) couldn’t get a hold on the running backs, and an awful O-line didn’t make things easier. Really, it’s a wonder that Darrell Funk (OL) didn’t lose his job before Borges got canned. But that’s how it goes. Dave Brandon, the AD, and Hoke needed someone who’d bring the familiar smash-mouth attitude.

Nussmeier proved himself at Alabama and, believe it or not, has similar talent to work with in Ann Arbor. Unrealistic, maybe, but Nussmeier is expected to get this show on the road TODAY. Blame his past success for that. He can’t fall into the “youth” excuses, which have been quite common with Hoke. Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are too talented to rot in a dreadful backfield. Nussmeier won’t let that happen.

It’s tough for Nussmeier to do anything without his quarterback situation figured out. Is this Devin Gardner’s job still? Is Shane Morris a viable option? Was it an open competition during spring practice?

Gardner is competitor and intelligent student of the game. But he’s far from ideal for Nussmeier’s system. He’ll get his shot, but don’t count on his senior status being enough to cement the job. Morris could easily press for the role. That being said, it’s obviously Gardner’s job to lose. The future seems bright for Wolverines quarterbacks. Michigan and Gardner are probably hoping the “future” is next year. Morris got the nod in the BWW Bowl, but that’s been about it. After him, it’s Wilton Speight, a true frosh, and Russell Bellomy…

The offensive line will need to replace Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. The running game was a mess last season. What’s going to make it improve?

Well, that’s the big question. Any suggestions on your end?!

Erik Magnuson generated a little buzz prior to injuring his shoulder—he actually played with a bad shoulder for the latter half of 2013. He’s expected to make a full recovery and compete for the LT position. He’ll probably win it, but Mason Cole, a true freshman, may push for the job. At the very least, he’d serve as a quality No. 2. As for Schofield at RT, the Wolverines have a few (hopefully) interchangeable parts: David Dawson, Logan Tuley-Tillman, Ben Braden, Ben Pliska, Kyle Bosch and a few others. I’m expecting a carousel this fall.

Improvement will come as continuity develops. I know it sounds cliche, but I these guys have to genuinely like each other in order to put their bodies on the line each week (during games and practice). I don’t believe everyone was on the same page in 2013, especially the O-line.

What’s Greg Mattison working with this season? He loses a few key pieces on his defensive line and in the secondary, but returns a lot of talent as well. Is this a group that’s expected to anchor the team?

If Jabrill Peppers is as-advertised, the Wolverines secondary will get a huge boost—and it’s already pretty solid without the 5-star super recruit.

The defensive backs will most certainly anchor Mattison’s defense, which has great depth at linebacker—and Jake Ryan making his return from an ACL injury—and two possible stars up front: Ondre Pipkins and Willie Henry. And then there’s always Brennen Beyer, who can play DE and OLB. Michigan’s defense was ranked No. 13 in total defense this past season (yeah, I couldn’t believe it either–but it’s true!)

Just how crazy do you think this year’s Notre Dame-Michigan game will be? After holding court and winning both night home games in Ann Arbor, both teams will get a very big test in the season’s second weekend. Does this one mean more considering the indefinite break in the series after this year?

This one is megalithic!

The end. Over. Done with. For college football’s sake, these guys need to iron out a deal and keep this seasonal rivalry intact. Saturdays aren’t Saturdays if you can’t watch Notre Dame vs. Michigan. I’m hoping that this game excites the powers that be to the point where they immediately announce the Irish and Wolverines will play FOREVER.

Jokes aside, this game is important, historical and a bit sad. Let’s hope it’s not the last.


For more coverage on the Wolverines, check out Maize and Brew and give Adam a follow on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.