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Michigan vs. Notre Dame Preview: A win over the Irish could soften some narratives

The only cure for what ails Michigan is winning, and a win over the Irish would be even sweeter.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan football welcomes Notre Dame to Ann Arbor for the final scheduled time between the two teams in one of college football’s most historic non-conference rivalries. The two programs mirror each other in a lot of ways, from their profiles, or classic helmets, or, heck, even the stadiums that they play in.

It may not be Michigan’s top rival. It may not even be second or third. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque matchup in college football than when these two teams meet on the gridiron.

Both teams come into this game looking to notch a signature win on their resumes, but for different reasons. For Notre Dame, a victory keeps their College Football Playoff hopes alive, while the Wolverines are simply trying to win a rivalry game, play for some pride and close out the 2019 on a much higher note than it has begun.

The one-loss Irish might currently have the best “loss” in the country after losing on the road at Georgia and the only thing that stands in their way now ahead of an advantageous schedule from here on out is Michigan. The Wolverines have not lost at home to Notre Dame since 2005 and have won the last four meetings in Ann Arbor between the two teams and seven of the last eight at home in the series.

The Wolverines opened this week as four-point favorites, but the betting lines have swung in favor of the Irish with most sports books as of Thursday afternoon having the game either set as a pick’em or Notre Dame as a one-point favorite. That could wind up being an important distinction, as Michigan is 0-9 as an underdog under Jim Harbaugh with the most recent setback coming last weekend at Penn State.

The Wolverines have by and large won these types of games at home, as they are 7-3 against ranked teams under Harbaugh at the Big House. All three of those losses, however, came against teams ranked inside the top ten (No. 7 Michigan State and No. 8 Ohio State in 2015, No. 8 Ohio State in 2017). The win came against No. 8 Wisconsin in 2016 by a score of 14-7.

You know most of the other stats, namely that Michigan is 1-10 against top ten-ranked teams under this current staff, as well.

The Notre Dame team that comes into Ann Arbor this time around is different than the one Michigan saw last year when it opened the season in South Bend. The biggest difference comes in the form of quarterback Ian Book, who is much more of a pocket passer than Brandon Wimbush, the player Michigan saw back there last year. Book took over the job from him early in the season and has not looked back, as Notre Dame has lost to only Clemson in the College Football Playoff last year and Georgia this season since then. Book this year has thrown for 1,419 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. He does have the ability to pop a run, but he by and large is someone that does his damage through the air.

Miles Boykin and Alize Mack are two weapons gone from last year’s team, but both Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet have stepped in nicely and are two of the team’s top targets in the passing game. The straw that stirs the drink of it all is the offensive line, which leads the nation in pass blocking efficiency.

Don Brown’s defense, namely up front, is going to have its hands full, but the Irish have a quarterback who’s not quite as mobile as the last guy (though he can still run) and do not have a KJ Hamler-type of offensive game-breaker like what they saw last week. The ingredients feel there for a bounce-back effort, but this is still a tough draw. Notre Dame’s wideouts and tight ends are big and physical, which provides a different type of challenge for the Wolverines’ secondary. Hopefully the officials let the boys play because there are intriguing matchups all over the field.

Michigan’s offense might have a chance to keep rolling, as well. It seems late last week they started to figure out the passing game (assuming the wide receivers catch the football) and if you flip on the tape of Notre Dame’s game against USC, you’ll find that the Trojans were able to move the ball by exploiting some one-on-one matchups in the passing game. That could be music to the ears of a wide receiver room that no doubt knows it needs to have a better week to put the Penn State game behind them.

Michigan wins if: The eliminate the idea of a slow start from their brains and continue to make strides like we saw last week offensively. That’s exactly what doomed them in this matchup last year and a quick start under the lights in your own building could be a heck of a way to get things going. With the offense continuing to trend upward, this has the chance to be a game where an impressive effort isn’t too little, too late and results in a victory.

Notre Dame wins if: Michigan starts slow and the turnover woes and miscues return. The Wolverine defense should be able to slow them down, but if they cannot get pressure on the quarterback and limit big plays like the ones that sunk them last week in Happy Valley, they will wind up being a team that gets pushed over as another one of their rivals charges toward a College Football Playoff appearance.

Prediction: Michigan 27, Notre Dame 21

I expect the Wolverines to come out and play loose in this game and ride a hot start out to a win. All of the pressure is on the Irish this week with virtually nothing standing in their way the rest of the season. Will this fix Michigan’s season or some of the narratives surrounding the program? Not totally, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. A win would cross off three boxes in the form of a top-ten victory, a rivalry game and their first as an underdog under Harbaugh.

Winning out completely might be the only thing that saves the season in the eyes of a lot of the fans and getting this one keeps the chances alive for at lest another week. If they lose this one, it feels like they’re likely looking at 8-4.

Game Info

Teams: No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-1) at No. 19 Michigan Wolverines (5-2, 3-2 B1G)

Date: Oct. 26, 2019

Location: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Television: ABC (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Maria Taylor on the television call)

Radio: 950 AM in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, see affiliate stations here

Spread: Notre Dame -1, over/under set at 50 points

What are your predictions for Saturday night’s game? Sound off in the comments below with your score and why.