College football: Notre Dame-Michigan takes on urgency
Ann Arbor, Mich. • The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry has been kicked up a notch, putting Saturday's prime-time game even more in the spotlight.
Notre Dame opted out of a contract with Michigan last year. After the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish play the 17th-ranked Wolverines at the Big House, they're not expected to be back until the early 2020s at the earliest. The teams are scheduled to meet one final time in South Bend next year.
"I think there's a lot more hype around this game than there was two years ago with it being the last meeting in who knows how long," Notre Dame receiver TJ Jones said.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said four months ago that Notre Dame was "chickening out" of the series, and got laughs at a luncheon.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly raised eyebrows when he kicked off the week by saying the rivalry with Michigan wasn't historic or traditional, adding it is a regional game.
Kelly recanted the next day, saying it is "a great and historic rivalry," series with Michigan.
And a couple days later, he said the pressure will be on the Wolverines.
"They've got to win at home," Kelly said Thursday night. "For us, we're going to go up there swinging."
Here are other storylines to look for when Michigan hosts Notre Dame:
Home cooking • Hoke hasn't lost a home game in two-plus seasons of leading college football's winningest program, a fact that he insisted isn't a topic of conversation within his team. The Wolverines have won 15 straight since losing to Wisconsin on Nov. 20, 2010 at the Big House for their longest streak since winning 16 in a row from 2002 to 2005. In their last matchup with Notre Dame at home two years ago, the first night game in Ann Arbor, Denard Robinson threw two touchdown passes in the last 1:12 including one with 2 seconds left in a 35-31 win. Michigan has won three straight and six of seven against Notre Dame at home. "You've got to have a mental toughness to handle the road and you've got to go play to win," Kelly said. "â¦ We have to go to Michigan and go to win. "
Quarterback play • In last year's loss at Notre Dame, the Wolverines' leading receiver was Devin Gardner. Now, he's back at his natural position. Gardner has won four games as a starting QB, but none of them could be considered a signature victory. Beating Notre Dame, though, would instantly become a part of his legacy. "It's a big game on the biggest stage in college football," Gardner said. Tommy Rees became the No. 1 QB again for the Irish when Everett Golson was suspended from school for the fall semester. Rees made the most of the opportunity in the opener, throwing for a career-high 346 yards with three touchdowns.
Just for kicks • Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons has turned himself into an asset, matching a school record by making 14 straight field goals since a miss on Oct. 6, 2012, at Purdue. As a freshman, the Rich Rodriguez recruit was 1 for 5 on field goals. Gibbons will likely have a shot to break the tie with Remy Hamilton, who made 14 in a row in 1996.
The Irish, meanwhile, wouldn't say two nights before the game who will attempt field goals at Michigan Stadium. Nick Tausch missed a kick miserably from 39 yards in last week's victory over Temple, and Kyle Brindza couldn't connect on a 44-yard attempt.
Lewan vs. Tuitt • Two of the top picks in the 2014 NFL Draft Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt if he skips his senior season will likely have some head-to-head matchups. Scouts in the league will be watching. "I know he's going to bring his 'A' game; I definitely have to bring mine when I go against him," Tuitt said.
Saturday's college football TV schedule
• Florida at Miami, 10 a.m., ESPN
• Cincinnati at Illinois, 10 a.m., ESPN2
• SE Louisiana at TCU, 10 a.m., ROOT
• Oklahoma State at UTSA, 10 a.m., FS1
• Houston at Temple, 10 a.m., Altitude
• Norfolk State at Rutgers, 10 a.m., CBSSN
• South Florida at Michigan State, 10 a.m., ESPNU
• Eastern Michigan at Penn State, 10 a.m., Big Ten
• Middle Tennessee State at North Carolina, 10:30 a.m., KMYU
• Weber State at Utah, noon, Pac-12
• Oregon at Virginia, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 4
• San Diego State at Ohio State, 1:30 p.m., ESPN2
• Delaware State at Delaware, 1:30 p.m., NBCSN
• Toledo at Missouri, 1:30 p.m., ESPNU
• Utah State at Air Force, 1:30 p.m.,CBSSN
• Idaho at Wyoming, 2 p.m., ROOT
• Old Dominion at Maryland, 2 p.m., ESPNews
• South Carolina at Georgia, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
• Portland State at Cal, 3 p.m., Pac-12
• Syracuse at Northwestern, 4 p.m., Big Ten
• Louisiana-Lafayette at Kansas State, 4:30 p.m., FS1
• Texas at BYU, 5 p.m., ESPN2
• West Virginia at Oklahoma, 5 p.m., Ch. 13
• Colorado State at Tulsa, 5 p.m., CBSSN
• UAB at LSU, 5 p.m., ESPNU
• Notre Dame at Michigan, 6 p.m., ESPN
• Central Arkansas at Colorado, 6 p.m., Pac-12
• Washington at USC, 8:30 p.m., FS1
• Arizona at UNLV, 8:30 p.m., CBSSN
• San Jose State at Stanford, 9 p.m., Pac-12