Michigan and Notre Dame are two of the winningest programs in the history of college football. The first ever meeting between the two teams came all the way back in 1887 with Michigan prevailing. The latest game between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish came in 2014 with Notre Dame coming out victorious 31-0.
In that game, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner threw for 189 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson, on the other hand, passed for 226 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
But a lot has changed since then. That was Brady Hoke’s last season in Ann Arbor as Jim Harbaugh was hired in 2015. U of M also changed athletic directors in that time with Warde Manuel replacing Dave Brandon. Both coach and AD were instrumental in renewing this storied rivalry after a three-year hiatus.
As for the upcoming game Saturday, both teams have high expectations heading into the 2018 season. Notre Dame is ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll while Michigan is ranked 14th.
I think there are two keys that will decide the winner Saturday in South Bend. The first is the play of the quarterbacks. While most would say that QBs are almost always instrumental in the success of their team, both of these squads will ride or die with the play of their signal caller throughout the season.
I’ll first start off by looking at Shea Patterson, the Ole Miss transfer, who was named Michigan’s starting quarterback by Harbaugh recently. Patterson, a junior, had mild success last year in the Southeastern Conference. In seven games (he missed the rest of the season due to a knee injury), he threw for 2,259 yards with a 64% completion percentage. He also threw for 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Not the greatest stats, but respectable in his conference.
Next comes Brandon Wimbush, the senior for Notre Dame. In 12 games last year, Wimbush passed for 1,870 yards while completing 49.5% of his throws. But he is also a threat on the ground as well. Last season he rushed for 803 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns. But the thing many Notre Dame fans will remember about last season is Wimbush getting replaced by Ian Book, who led the Irish to a win over LSU, in last years Citrus Bowl.
Both of these quarterbacks come into this game with something to prove. Patterson wants to prove to himself to the university and fans that he can be “the guy” for Michigan as many believe the quarterback play has been what has been holding them back the last couple years. Wimbush wants to show that coach Brian Kelly made the right decision by naming him the starter and that the Citrus Bowl performance was a fluke. It’ll be interesting to see what QB out-duels the other come kickoff.
The next key to the game has got to be the defensive units for both teams. They are both projected to be some of the top defenses in the country this year, and with good reason.
Michigan returns nine starters on the defensive side of the ball that ranked 3rd overall in total defense. Players like defensive tackle Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush, and cornerback Lavert Hill are expected to lead the charge for the maize and blue. All three are potential All-Americans and NFL players.
Notre Dame returns nine starters on defense after ranking 31st in the nation in scoring defense last season. Their leaders include junior cornerback Julian Love and senior lineman Jerry Tillery.
This game will answer a lot of questions for one fan base and leave the other asking even more. Is Shea Patterson the answer? Should Brandon Wimbush be the starter? Is this Michigan defense as good as advertised? Can Harbaugh win a rivalry game? A big game?
So now for the prediction. I think this game will be a close one, a lot closer than some think. I believe Shea Patterson struggles early on and is rattled by the fans in South Bend. But, ultimately he will find his groove late and lead a scoring drive or two in the second half. I think Gary, Bush and the rest of that tenacious defense for Michigan will come to play and force Wimbush into a turnover or two late in the game as U of M starts the season 1-0.
Michigan 24, Notre Dame 17.