The Wolverine

2018 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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32 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY JOHN BORTON S ome rivalries are driven by hate. Some draw their fuel from confer- ence, and ultimately national, su- premacy. When Michigan and Notre Dame take the field, pride takes center stage. The two sto- ried programs chest thump like King Kong, always seeking to one-up the other. Michigan players taught Notre Dame the game. The Wolverines have won more contests than any program in the history of college football. U-M owns the series lead (24-17-1), and wrested the all-time winning percentage leadership away from the Irish after many years. Notre Dame boasts the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus, more modern-era national championships than Michigan and the most recent dagger — a 31-0 win in the last game played between the teams, in 2014. There are all sorts of analytical storylines regarding the Wolverines and the Irish taking the field under the lights in South Bend Sept. 1. They include … • Who wins the battle of what are predicted to be superior defenses? • Can Notre Dame turn the home-field ad- vantage, under the lights, into some "Irish magic?" • Will Michigan find a way to tie the series in games played at Notre Dame at 10-10-1? • If junior transfer quarterback Shea Patter- son wins the starting job, how does he and a revamped Michigan offense hold up in a stiff opening-game challenge? • Does Irish QB Brandon Wimbush hold off challenger Ian Book, who rallied Notre Dame past LSU in the Citrus Bowl? If you're into breaking it all down, those questions only scratch the surface. If you're a former All-American captain who battled to a win over Notre Dame in a national champion- ship season, you say forget all that. Jon Jansen hears the words "Notre Dame," and immediately begins breathing irregularly. Ask him his emotional response to Michi- gan's 2018 opener, and he unleashes. "We're going to kick the crap out of 'em," Jansen barked. "We're going to mow 'em down. We're going to go into South Bend and the police escort is going to make the way to the stadium. There won't be a person in our way. When we hit the field running, we're going to mow 'em down." He's out of eligibility, of course. Otherwise, he'd love to take the field one more time. That's the sort of passion this rivalry stirs, although there's no conference positioning on the line. It's about pride, and perhaps even greater positioning on the national stage, es- pecially this season. So Much On The Line Like with most Michigan-Notre Dame showdowns, a lot will be riding on the out- come, for both programs. Athlon Sports has Michigan pegged at No. 5 nationally in the preseason, Notre Dame at No. 15. Jim Harbaugh's crew, of course, is coming off three straight hugely disappointing losses to end the 2017 season. The Wolverines held leads at Wisconsin, at home against Ohio State and in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, but couldn't hold onto them. With a revamped offense and a defense po- tentially even better than the one that finished No. 3 nationally in total defense in 2017, the Wolverines are gaining some preseason respect. But a setback in the opener would represent a huge blow for their early momen- tum and longer-term hopes. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is coming off a solid 10-3 season, with its Citrus Bowl vic- tory over LSU. But the Irish are only one season removed from a disastrous 4-8 ef- fort in 2016 and haven't dropped fewer than three games in a season since making it to the national championship contest (and getting blitzed by Alabama, 42-14) in 2012. A win for either team provides rocket fuel in the polls and confidence entering rigor- ous schedules down the line. A loss means a scramble to recover. Michigan needs this one, Jansen acknowl- edged. "You're setting yourself up for a very spe- cial year," he observed. "If you can win those non-conference games, and then you get into your conference and start doing well, you're talking about Big Ten championships. You're talking about playoffs. "You're talking about a lot of things that people dream about. Notre Dame is one of the non-conference games that will always be a high-profile, big win for either team." The question some pragmatists ask is sim- ply this: in an era of the College Football Playoff, where one extra loss could keep a program on the outside looking in, why play it? Lou Somogyi, a Notre Dame grad and se- nior editor for Blue & Gold Illustrated, cover- ing all things Irish, understands. He's exposed to both the pride and the wariness on Notre Dame's side of the rivalry. When it comes to playing Michigan early, he pointed out, there is no consensus. "It is kind of a split thing," Somogyi said. "So many love it because it's what they grew up with. It's a great thing to look forward to at the start of the season. "So many others say, 'Why the hell do we need Michigan? We already have USC. We have Stanford. With the ACC contract, there's a good chance we play either Florida State, a Clemson, a Miami. Now we have SEC teams.' "You look at 2019. Notre Dame travels to Louisville, travels to Georgia, travels to Mich- igan, travels to Stanford. That's just the road games. Then you have USC, your archrival, at home. It's sort of like, why was Michigan necessary?" The answer, for Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick, involves "markers." As an independent, Notre Dame is looking to show how it stacks up against various confer- ences in its quest for the College Football Playoff, Somogyi explained. "Hey, we've played an SEC team, whether it's Georgia or Vanderbilt this year, Arkansas and Texas A&M in the future," Somogyi said. "You have the Pac-12 represented, with USC and Stanford. You have the ACC, obviously, very well represented, with Notre Dame play- ing five ACC games as a partial member. "And then you need a Big Ten marker as well. This past year you had Michigan State, the next two years you have Michigan, they have Ohio State in '22 and '23, Michigan comes back later, they play Wisconsin in '20 and '21, one in Soldier Field and one in Lam- beau Field. It's important from that perspective. "Having these name opponents from each of the major conferences to serve as a marker "There is emotion when these two teams play, because of how successful these programs have been and how much pride the people who wear the maize and blue, or the Golden Domers, have in their program. When you win that game, you're jacked up. You're excited. When you lose it, you're as low as you can be until you get out to practice the next day." FORMER U-M ALL-AMERICAN AND CAPTAIN JON JANSEN ON THE RIVALRY WITH NOTRE DAME Jim Harbaugh quarterbacked Michigan to a 24-23 win in South Bend in 1986 and will try to do the same as head coach in 2018. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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