The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is back, but not necessarily for good
Thursday’s long-expected announcement of the renewed Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry brought back memories.
I remember how much hype there was in 2005 after Charlie Weis went into the Big House and knocked off No. 3 Michigan in his second game. I remember when Tate Forcier became an overnight celebrity in Ann Arbor when he threw a game-winning touchdown pass in the final 11 seconds to stun the Irish back in 2009. I remember sitting in my buddies’ living room and watching that thrilling 2011 game that ended with three touchdowns in the final 72 seconds.
I remember watching Denard Robinson celebrate the victory by singing the Michigan fight song in front of a record-setting crowd and thinking what I’m sure others were as well.
“Now that’s a rivalry.”
So you can imagine my excitement when it was announced on Thursday that Michigan and Notre Dame would end their brief hiatus and play again in 2018 and 2019. That’s must-see TV even when they aren’t ranked. Given the promise both teams have with their current head coaches, they’ll likely be as relevant as ever when that time comes. I had the obvious “it’s good for college football when these teams face off and they’re at their best” thought.
But then I had a different one. There’s no guarantee that this rivalry is indeed back for good.
Sure, Michigan was willing to throw out the Arkansas contract and fork over a cool $2 million to fund Bret Bielema’s international satellite camp. But the Wolverines aren’t in a position to do that beyond 2019.
What do you do when someone says they don’t want to hang out with you anymore? You make other plans. Michigan and Notre Dame made other plans.
Look at Michigan’s non-conference meetings scheduled from 2020-27:
- 9/5 — at Washington
- 9/12 — vs. Ball State
- 9/19 — vs. Virginia Tech
- 9/11 — at Virginia Tech
- 9/18 — vs. Washington
- 9/10 — vs. UCLA
- 9/2 — at UCLA
- 8/31— vs. Texas
- 9/6 — at Oklahoma
- 9/12 — vs. Oklahoma
- 9/4 — at Texas
Are you sensing a trend?
Every year beyond 2019, Michigan has a headliner home-and-home non-conference game (UCLA and Washington are both likely top-20 teams to start this year). And, just in case you forgot, Michigan plays in the toughest division in college football.
If you think the Wolverines are going to want to add Notre Dame every one of those years, you’re crazy. That wouldn’t make any sense in the College Football Playoff era. Everyone figured out that you only need one legitimate non-conference game to solidify a spot among the top four. Having two non-conference headliners would be overkill. Michigan knows that.
Is there a possibility that Michigan could give a team like UCLA the Arkansas treatment? Definitely, but the Wolverines aren’t about to gut all of their non-conference contracts just because it’s Notre Dame. Nobody will want to set up a matchup with Michigan again if that happens.
On the flip side, it doesn’t make much sense for the Irish, either. From 2021-25, Notre Dame already has an average of nine games booked. They could cancel a contract or two, but why would they?
RELATED: Arkansas AD Jeff Long is disappointing in Michigan for canceling series
Notre Dame’s schedule is loaded. I mean, it’s really loaded. In 2022 alone, they have games against Ohio State, Stanford, USC, Clemson and North Carolina. Why make their already challenging road to the College Football Playoff even tougher?
Notre Dame was willing to make the move for the 2018 and 2019 seasons because they only had five games scheduled each year. It gets complicated after that.
The unfortunate reality of Michigan and Notre Dame’s brief breakup — whether there was “chickening out” or not — is that there was a ripple effect beyond the years that they didn’t play. Contracts are now done earlier than ever. No playoff contender wants to be left scrambling for a worthy non-conference opponent. Michigan and Notre Dame both realized that years ago.
Maybe they’ll overcome a few hurdles and set up another home-and-home sometime within the next decade. Just don’t expect this rivalry to happen every year like it did from 2002-14.
This rivalry is entering a new era, and frankly, it could be one of its best yet. But in all likelihood, it won’t become an annual non-conference tradition like it once was.
Enjoy it while it lasts.