Why Michigan Needs Notre Dame on the Schedule

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.

mich nd

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.

4 thoughts on “Why Michigan Needs Notre Dame on the Schedule”

  1. As an ND alumni, I am sad to see the ND/Michigan series end. Any ND alumni who tells you he could care less if full of it. It’s certainly not my favorite rivalry, but the series has been entertaining and competitive for two decades. Regardless of rank, most of the past 20 years worth of games have been close. I am less thrilled about continuing the Purdue series, but agree that there is more history there and it has been a longer series. Losing to Michigan can ruin the season for many ND fans, so the series must have some significance.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I won’t call out that ND fan by name, but he views USC as ND’s biggest rival and MSU to be bigger than Michigan. He asks himself, “In which game or two would a victory make your season?” He doesn’t think the outcome of the Michigan game determines ND’s season. With it being so early in the year, I disagree, but I’m looking at it from a Michigan perspective. And keep in mind that ND is dropping MSU (this year and next) and Purdue (after this season) too. They have loyalty to Navy, the two California schools, and now the ACC, but that’s it. And that’s find. A diverse, national schedule is what made ND into a power in the first place.

      1. Ha, I wrote that post (under an old handle)! I confirm that my favorite rivalry is USC, followed in no particular order by Michigan, MSU, FSU, Miami. The Michigan rivalry will be viewed similar to the FSU and Miami “rivalries”. Both were great, competitive, heated series while they lasted. I hope ND can play Michigan again, but a regular series will likely never happen. It’s tough for any school to schedule more than a few rivalry series (and most are in-conference series anyway). ND is unique in that it has more control over scheduling, although ND/ACC deal (“I’m not ACC, but my conference is”) will make it tough to keep more series alive. As you mentioned above, USC, Navy, and (potentially) Stanford will likely be the only series ND can keep on the schedule going forward.

  2. PS – in most years a victory by ND or Michigan in this game could make a break the season. I don’t think a loss this year would ruin the season for either team (although, it would certainly ruin it for me). An 11-1 ND team with victories over FSU, MSU, Stanford would likely make the playoffs. An 11-1 Michigan team with victories over MSU, tOSU, and a B1G championship would also likely make the playoffs. I guess what I’m saying is: see you in the playoffs Skunkbears!

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