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Thoughts on A Rivalry and What it Does To Michigan's Future Schedules

In what has become an incredibly active week for Michigan and Big Ten football news, yesterday Michigan and Notre Dame jointly announced the extension of their contract until the year 2031. As pointed out by GeorgiaBlue in yesterday's comment section, reaction around the Mich'o'shpere has varied from site to site. Sean at Michigan Sports Center is frustrated, Joey at Straight Bangin' is annoyed, Brian at Mgoblog is confused, MVictors is alright with it, and I'm happy.

Hard to believe there are this many diverging view points on this subject, but there are. And all of the reasons for these differing opinions are valid.

Personal Sidebar No. 1

Before getting into the heart of the matter, let me make this disclaimer. I like the the Michigan/Notre Dame series. A lot. I have numerous friends who are Domers and I married a Notre Dame grad. So, I kinda joined the Opus Day club by default. I enjoy going to non-Michigan Notre Dame games, and have been to probably 7 Notre Dame games in South Bend over the past 4 years. It's a tremendous experience, and even better when you can sit back as an impartial observer and just soak it all in. The atmosphere in South Bend on game days is electric, regardless of whether Notre Dame is good or not. If you can go, even for a game against the service academies, it is a trip well worth your while.

On a more personal note, during the first year my wife and I dated we went to three or four Notre Dame games together. It was during those trips to South Bend that I learned how much she loved football and to a greater extent how much we loved each other (Michigan/Notre Dame game excluded. We're not married on that date. We hardly speak until the game's over.). Gentlemen, heed my words. When a beautiful woman tells you her perfect afternoon is tailgating, drinking beer and watching a live football game, marry her. As you can see, Notre Dame and Notre Dame Stadium have a special place in heart.

Notre Dame is for Lovers

When the resumption of the rivalry was announced, it was personally gratifying news because it means our children will be able to see a Michigan/Notre Dame game and see how much both schools mean to their parents first hand. They will also be able to root for Michigan and taunt their mother when Michigan wins. I've planned this out.

Back To My Original Point...

Many Michigan fans were excited by the potential shelving of the UM/ND matchup for a couple of reasons. The excitement ranged from being rid of Notre Dame altogether to the opportunity to play new teams.

In Support Of The Michigan Notre Dame Rivalry

There are large portions of the Michigan fanbase who would like to see Notre Dame disappear from the schedule entirely. The reasons range from being tired of playing them all the time to forcing them to join a conference to "not needing them" to disdain for Notre Dame fans in general. The late, great Bo Schembechler was one of the loudest voices calling for the end to the Michigan Notre Dame series. Back in August of 2006 Bo said the rivalry wasn't really there. He said it wasn't special anymore. That playing Notre Dame was like playing another conference team. He said Notre Dame was just clogging up the schedule when we could be playing someone like Texas. This is a sentiment I do not share.

I disagreed with Bo then as I disagree with him now.

I think Michigan should play Notre Dame every year. I think the two most storied football programs in college football history should meet every year. I think the early path to the National Championship should be determined by the outcome of our game in either Ann Arbor or South Bend each year.

Am I debasing the Ohio State matchup? Not at all. The UM/OSU match up determines who wins the Big Ten. More often than not it determines who has the opportunity to win a national title or who let one slip away. Look at how many times OSU came in undefeated and left empty handed. Look at Michigan's records in the early 70's or 2004. If you emerge with a victory, you're playing for a National Championship. If you lose, your rival spoiled your shot.

Because of Notre Dame's media and fan base cache, even with a two loss record they will always be in the Championship hunt. However, if one of those losses is to Michigan you can take the Irish out of that equation. If they beat us fine, they may have to play us again in the title game. If we lose to them and OSU, fine, let OSU or Notre Dame wear the crown. I want to know we played the best teams every year.

I want to beat both schools each year. I want to circle the ND game and the OSU game with the same amount of venom in my heart. If Bo wants another tough non-conf, make it a Texas, Georgia or Oregon in place of CMU or Ball State. Let Michigan play and beat the best. If Notre Dame couldn't find its ass with a map, both hands, and a chair, I'd say fine, let them go. That's not the case. They are considered among the country's elite and it's up to us to beat them.

The argument that we should get a "tougher opponent" on the schedule doesn't hold a whole lot of water for me either. All you have to do to see where Notre Dame is going in the next five years is look at their recruiting from this year. To date there are three 5 star commitments and four 4 star commitments out of the Hot 100 for 2008. Say what you want about their on field performance over the last few years, but they did win 10 games and go to a BCS bowl. Ball State did not. This is a tough opponent and a local one at that.

One argument that repeatedly comes up is Michigan fans saying they are fed up with Notre Dame fans. That they are sick of their sense of entitlement. Sick of how they carry themselves even when they suck. As a guy who runs a Michigan blog, goes to almost every game, and loves the school as much as anyone, I can only say this, "Are you friggin' kidding me?"

Every fan base has its share of expletive inducing fans. You know, the kind that ignore reality on the basis of blind faith and devotion. The kind that make you want to strangle and scream at them at the same time. The ones that make you say, "Thank god I didn't go there." Michigan has just as healthy a number of these morons in its fan base as Notre Dame. Seriously. Go on the message boards. Read and be afraid. For every logical argument there are plenty of "F-them!" comments.

Do you hate the other team? Yeaaaaaaaaaa!

It's a stones and glass houses issue for me. When we great every fan of the opposing team like we'd great a family member, then we can judge. Yes there are jackasses in gold and blue. Yes some of them annoy us more than others. But I have Notre Dame friends that will not go to Michigan games because of the way they were treated by Michigan fans. I have argued passionately that this is something we all have to work on. We cannot argue our own virtue and someone else's lack of civility out of the same side of our mouth.

If you love college football then you are a friend of mine on gameday, regardless of the team you root for. As I said before:

[It's] time to remember that this is a great game that we all love, just in different ways.

Before getting into the potential for other opponents, I do want to address the issue of Notre Dame joining a conference. You know this. I know this. Unless something catastrophic happens to either the Big Ten or Notre Dame, there is no chance of the Irish joining any football conference. Zero. None. Zilch. Would I like it? Sure. It'd be great to have Notre Dame on the conference schedule because it would free up a non-conference slot allowing us to play OSU, ND, Wisconsin and two good OOC foes a year. How great would that be?

But realistically, what good would canceling the series in an attempt to force Notre Dame to join the Big Ten do? Notre Dame can schedule just about anyone they want based on their National appeal. They just scheduled Oklahoma. It's not like booting Notre Dame from the schedule would affect either side. Michigan can schedule good teams and so can the Irish. To presume the Notre Dame will shrivel and die because Michigan doesn't appear on their schedule is ludicrous.

Thinks both sides would be fine without one another, but prefers to see them play on Saaaaturday...

The only reason to continue the series is because it's good for football. The two winningest programs in college football meeting every year to see who's got the inside track on a MNC.

So What About Other Teams?

There were plenty of people who were excited about the open schedule slot for the sole reason it presented the opportunity to schedule new teams and the prospect of an upper tier match up of MNC proportions. A lot of teams were thrown into the discussion including Texas, 'Bama, Cal, and, of course, Georgia.

Like many of us, Kyle was holding his breath that Georgia would get a phone call from Michigan and bring The Movement to fruition. As he points out, a matchup between UGA and Um would be of historical significance and allow you of the great fan bases in America to get together for one hell of a party. The recent news that the Notre Dame series was renewed seems to have taken some of the wind out of Kyle's sails and quieted the movement somewhat.

However, I say NSFMF!

A quick glance at Michigan's schedule reveals a twelve week schedule with 8 conference games dating from late September through November. This leaves four open weekends. Generally, Michigan likes to schedule a MAC snacky cake in October just to keep the boys fresh. This leaves three open slots for additional competition outside the conference ranks. Now that Notre Dame has secured the second week in September as a (basically) permanent date, there are two slots for prime competition.

There is a lot of hand wringing that Notre Dame's presence precludes the scheduling of another top flight opponent. I don't get this. In 2007 Michigan will play Notre Dame AND Oregon. Last year, with the late addition of a 12th game, Michigan played a game Vanderbilt team on basically a moment's notice. Michigan has played Notre Dame and a good Colorado team in the same year (1994, Damn You Kordell Stewart!), and in a year where there were only 11 games. While I understand the concern about a killer schedule prior to Big Ten play, this isn't something that has troubled Michigan's scheduling in the past.

It's been over a decade and I still hate this guy

Witness the trips to Colorado, to Washington, to Oregon, to UCLA, to Syracuse, and to Boston College. Hell, Michigan even made trip to Baylor. In 1995 Michigan played Boston College and Virginia in the same year. In 2002 Michigan played Washington and @ Notre Dame. Having one fewer game and Notre Dame on the schedule has never precluded Michigan from scheduling road trips and good opponents.

Notre Dame's presence on the schedule simply means there is a good non-conference team on the schedule for the foreseeable future. Regardless of how the season turns out, no one can say "Well, they didn't play anyone." The tired refrain of "Notre Dame isn't that good," whether recently true or not will not be the case in two to three years. As much as it pains Michigan fans to hear it, Notre Dame is, well, Notre Dame. They are one of the winningest programs in college football, have 12 titles, and are a team the rest of the country wants to play. Oklahoma now sits on their schedule alongside Michigan and USC. Conference or not, that's a tough schedule by itself. It should also serve as an example that you can schedule top programs every year.

Michigan has Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and to a lesser extent Iowa and Michigan State on its schedule for the foreseeable future. Should that preclude scheduling a home-at-home with Georgia, Texas, Bama, Florida State, Cal, Florida, Georgia Tech, or sharing some Cheetos with Fulmer and Tennessee? I don't think so. Michigan has a tradition of scheduling great opponents regardless of who's on the schedule. I can't believe for a second that Bill Martin, after the outstanding job he's done as Michigan's AD, would stop at Notre Dame.

Then whom shall we schedule?

Look above! There are plenty of teams in addition to the ones I just mentioned. I've got a preference for Georgia. I'd love to see a September game in Athens and to make the rounds in Atlanta to see where Smokey and The Bandit was filmed.

Kyle, you offered, and I'll gladly take you up on it when Michigan visits Georgia.

The possibilities for new opponents are almost endless. Pick a top tier team in the SEC, Big XII, ACC, Pac-10, hell, even the Big East, and insert them in the "We should play __________ because...." debate. Just because Notre Dame is on the schedule doesn't preclude us from playing them. With all the above taken at face value I remain excited about the renewal of the rivalry. If you're coming to the game this September, look for the Maize n Tailgate. Michigan or Notre Dame fan alike, I'll be glad to raise a glass with you.