Why I’m buying Michigan’s chances of knocking off Notre Dame in South Bend
By the time we’re done watching our 12th hour of college football on Saturday, there will be a growing fear across the country.
Man, Michigan is for real.
That’ll be the opinion after the Wolverines stroll into South Bend and take care of Notre Dame. I’m all in on that happening.
I’m not going to cite some historical stat about Michigan having a 24-17-1 advantage in the series, or how “it’s a revenge game” after the 2014 debacle. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Michigan players who were even on the travel roster for that game. And no, I don’t care that the home team won 4 straight games in the rivalry.
No matter what you hear — I’m guessing Lee Corso will spout one/all of those stats on College GameDay — history isn’t going to decide Saturday’s showdown.
There are a few keys that will ultimately get the Michigan hype train rolling in a hurry.
Before you tell me that I’m too high on Shea Patterson and that I should look at his numbers in raucous road venues, save your breath. I am indeed high on Patterson, though I’m not banking on him putting up 40 in South Bend. That’s the beauty of his new situation in Ann Arbor. He won’t have to.
This could be a very average game from an offensive standpoint and I’d still like Michigan’s chances. Considering the Irish return more defensive production than any team in America, there’s a decent chance that unit will know what it’s doing, even without defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
But you know what doesn’t sound like an encouraging possibility? Notre Dame’s ability to score against that Michigan defense.
I’ve been saying all offseason that not enough people are paying attention to the fact that the Wolverines return the 15th-most defensive production from last year’s group, which ranked No. 3 in FBS in total defense. Besides the valuable Mo Hurst, this is basically Don Brown running it back with a group that’s led by All-America candidates Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich in the front 7. That’s a scary thought.
Call me crazy, but I have a feeling the Michigan defense will perform even better with rest just from even mediocre quarterback play, which it didn’t have last year.
And on the flip side, there are questions galore about this Notre Dame offense. Gone are bulldozing offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, both of whom were top-10 picks in the NFL draft. Without them, Notre Dame’s offensive line has a combined 65 starts. That’s from a group that lost offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who left to take a job with the Chicago Bears.
Also gone is the underrated Josh Adams. All he did was rush for 1,430 yards and fuel the entire offense.
Ah, but let’s not talk about what’s gone from Notre Dame’s 2017 offense. Instead, let’s talk about what’s back. Specifically, Brandon Wimbush. You might know him as the quarterback who completed less than half of his passes for 6.8 yards per attempt. Sure, he’s talented and he has rushing ability.
But man, Brown feasts on one-dimensional offenses.
And to be honest, there’s no guarantee that Notre Dame even has one dimension against that Michigan defense.
There’s one other factor that I can’t shake. Maybe this is just a gut feeling, but I tend to favor Jim Harbaugh over Brian Kelly. I just think Harbaugh is the better coach. Period. Does the better coach win every game? No, but I like those odds with ample time to prepare.
With Patterson in the fold, this 2018 Michigan team is finally Harbaugh’s vision. It’s easy to forget that loaded 2016 team was mostly Brady Hoke’s players. Maybe I’m letting that skew my optimism for what I think Michigan will be in 2018, which is, a really strong football team that’s in the Playoff hunt.
To get into the hunt — “in the hunt” is a top-10 team in my opinion — this is the hurdle that Michigan can and will overcome. We saw last year what the Notre Dame win in South Bend did for Georgia. Michigan is obviously in a different spot because unlike Georgia, it actually has a daunting conference schedule, but don’t underestimate what a win like this could do for Harbaugh’s squad.
He and every Michigan fan/player/coach are sick of hearing about the 1-5 mark against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. That one win, of course, was against MSU during its dumpster fire 2016 season.
This Notre Dame game should be added to that group. It might not be of Ohio State-level importance, but this is huge in turning around the national perception that Michigan is overhyped. I don’t think that’s lost on Harbaugh, and I definitely don’t think that’ll be lost on his team, which talked like it had a chip on its shoulder all summer.
That carries into Saturday. In yet another monumental rivalry game for Michigan’s national brand, finally, it works out in Harbaugh’s favor.
I’m not afraid to admit that my confidence is through the roof on the Wolverines’ chances in South Bend. And if Michigan lays an egg?
Well, Freezing Cold Takes knows where to find me.