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The Real Sibling Rivalry

September 6, 2013



We all know that when anyone thinks of Michigan and the word rivalry, all thoughts immediately turn to that school down south in Columbus.   There is no dispute in anyone’s mind who Michigan’s #1 rival is and always will be.  When it comes to figuring out who is #2 on that list is where it gets complicated.  Depending on where you grew up, who your neighbors were, or even how old you are, your vote will be cast for either Notre Dame or MSU.  But one other thing that most Michigan fans can agree on, especially in recent years o, is that when it comes to identifying our “sibling” rival, there is only one “little” brother.

At face value, that probably makes the most sense considering the proximity of the two schools, and that MSU is constantly trying to step out of Michigan’s shadow, much like any little brother.  Yet the more I think about it, and in light of Brian Kelly’s ridiculous comments this week, I think we’ve misplaced our “little brother” label.

Sure MSU can be like a little brother, if your little brother is 10 years younger than you and the coaches and teachers in your high school don’t even make the connection that you are related because you’re so different.

A real sibling rivalry usually occurs when siblings are close in age, compete closely against one another and where the older sibling eventually regrets teaching the younger sibling things that they can use against them.   Let’s see – Notre Dame started playing football in 1887, just 8 years after Michigan.  The all-time series record is 23-16-1 in favor of Michigan, but 14-14-1 since the series resumed on a regular basis in 1978.  And…Michigan actually taught Notre Dame how to play football way back in 1887, something we’ve regretted on more than one occasion.   It doesn’t get more sibling-esque than actually TEACHING the game to your rival!

Beyond that, there are many more similarities that make Michigan and Notre Dame seem more like family than either side would like to admit.  Michigan is the all-time leader in wins and winning percentage,  Notre Dame is #3 in wins and #2 in winning percentage.  Both schools have 11 national championships.   The games themselves have been incredibly competitive, with 18 of the last 29 games decided by a touchdown or less.

Like Michigan, Notre Dame is an excellent academic institution that attracts players from across the country for both its football prowess and its academics.   And though Michigan fans loathe to admit it, Notre Dame really does do things the “right” way when it comes to recruiting.  When a top player goes to Notre Dame, it’s not because of a duffel bag full of dead presidents.

And when it comes to that tradition thing, Notre Dame sizes up pretty well.  The Notre Dame Victory March  is easily the 2nd best fight song in the land after The Victors.  Notre Dame plays in a simple bowl stadium that looks a lot like a smaller version of the Big House.  The Irish have their own iconic helmets too, complete with real gold in the paint.

Though there are stark differences, looking at Notre Dame is a lot like looking the mirror for many Michigan fans.    Which is why I’ll be sad to see this sibling rivalry go away when it heads off into the sunset after next year.  After that, we’ll just be stuck with the redheaded step-brother MSU for family gatherings every fall.

Before that happens though, there is one more game to play in Ann Arbor.  Here’s a brief look at what you need to know before toe meets leather at 8 PM on Saturday.

Michigan Keys on Offense:

Last year Michigan actually moved the ball pretty well against a fantastic Notre Dame defense.  But for 6 turnovers, we likely would’ve come away victorious and we could have continued printing “Notre Dame Returning to Glory Since 1993 T-Shirts”.   The strength of the Notre Dame lies in a solid front line led by nose tackle Louis Nix.  Nix will be going up against the weakest part of either of our lines in Glasgow, Miller and Kalis.  Michigan has to neutralize the ND line and in particular Nix to give Gardner time to pass and open up the interior run game.  If that can happen, it should be a fun night.

The other key for Michigan is to try to exploit the youth and inexperience in the ND linebackers and secondary.   Gardner is good enough to take advantage of this if he has time.  Don’t be surprised to see one more Michigan tight ends roaming free 15-20  yards downfield with an ND linebacker or safety completely out of position as young players tend to be from time to time.

Michigan Keys on Defense:

Notre Dame found itself in a bit of pickle when Everett Golson decided to let other people take his exams for him.  First, it looked really bad.  Second, they have a spread running offense with a QB who is meant to  throw the ball.  After what I’m pretty sure was 7 years of college, Cierre Woods finally graduated.  Along with the departure of Theo Riddick, ND’s best back is USC transfer Amir Carlisle.  Carlisle is a fast and shifty guy, but not a bruiser.  I like the matchup with our front 7 against him, as long as we limit the missed tackles.

The bigger thing to worry about for Michigan is Tommy Rees, who also seems to have been in college is George W. Bush was President.  Rees as previously mentioned is not a dangerous runner, but he does have very accurate and capable arm when he’s not turning the ball over.  Going against a young Michigan secondary could be fun for an experienced player like Rees.  Michigan has to get pressure on him and Greg Mattison has to pull some of that Jedi Mind stuff to coax Rees into some ill-advised throws.

Prediction Time:

Whenever Michigan and Notre Dame get together, it usually ends up being a tossup, regardless of the records or relative talents of the two teams.  Trying to predict the game is even harder when the teams are fairly appear to be evenly matched like so many say they are this year.

Here’s what I do know:

Notre Dame lost large portions of one of the best defenses in the country including Heisman finalist Manti T’eo and his girlfriend (wait, she didn’t actually exist?).   They also graduated their starting running back and no longer have their starting QB from last year available. Michigan may have lost Notre Dame superman Denard Robinson, but ND found its kryptonite last year and as I keep saying, Devin Gardner is going to make people forget about Denard rather quickly if they haven’t already.  (Not really, we’ll always fondly remember Denard, but you know what I mean).   Why is any of that important?  Because I’m not so sure these teams are evenly matched.  I think Michigan has more talent and more cohesiveness.  It’s not a huge difference, but its an advantage.

Throw in the pomp and circumstance, the night game crowd, the fact that Notre Dame may look good on offense and defense but has some serious question marks on special teams, and this one is Michigan’s for the taking.

I think it takes Michigan a quarter or so to settle down, but eventually they take control in the second half.

Michigan 28 

Notre Dame 20

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