Saturday marks the last time for the foreseeable future that Michigan will play Notre Dame. Over the next two seasons, Michigan plays Utah, Oregon State, UNLV, BYU, Hawaii, Central Florida, and Colorado out of conference. As Jay-Z said, “When you’re used to filet mignon, it’s kind of hard to go back to Hamburger Helper.”
The cancellation of a series between the two most successful programs in college football history is good for nobody. But it’s particularly bad for Michigan. The aforementioned nonconference opponents don’t inspire excitement like Notre Dame. Later years look more promising: Florida shows up on Michigan’s schedule in 2017, followed by Arkansas the two years after that, and UCLA. Oklahoma appears eventually, though many of the players in that game are currently in second grade.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, has scheduled four games against Texas starting next season. Other future opponents include Georgia and Ohio State. From a competitive and entertainment standpoint, ND will be fine. I’m less sure about Michigan. ND was a perfect opponent for many reasons, but one was that they were regularly overrated by fans and media, so a win against them “counted” for more than it should have. This is not a knock against ND—many people probably see this as a good reason to schedule Michigan, too.
So why is Notre Dame dropping Michigan? Their new five-games-a-year deal against the ACC handcuffs them a bit in their scheduling, but in the end it came down to a preference for maintaining older rivalries while adding some fresh blood.
Notre Dame and Michigan first played in 1887, when Michigan’s team travelled to South Bend to literally teach Notre Dame the game of football, but they played just twice between 1909 and 1978. Notre Dame has played more than twice as many games against Purdue (85) and almost twice as many against Michigan State (76) than it has against Michigan (41). They’ve played Navy uninterrupted since 1927. ND insists on playing in California every season for recruiting purposes, so even though Stanford isn’t a natural rival, they’re staying on the schedule with Southern Cal. That doesn’t leave many openings, and Michigan becomes a casualty.
I’m especially bummed. My parents, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles all went there for at least part of their college education. This game is just as fun for me as Michigan-Michigan State and even Michigan-Ohio State, and I’ll miss the family trash-talking. I attended eight straight Michigan-ND games starting in 2004, which culminated in the first ever night game at Michigan Stadium and third straight meeting in which Michigan won in the final 30 seconds.
I have no doubt these two iconic programs will meet again, but probably not for at least 15 years. Fans my age have come to expect Michigan and Notre Dame to play every year, but that simply hasn’t been the case. One longtime Notre Dame fan summed up the attitude of many Irish fans when he told me he doesn’t have a problem with the series ending. Michigan fans feel differently. We don’t want Hamburger Helper.