Which game should you pay attention to in Week 2 of the college football season? This one.
In Week 2 we have no shortage of quality matchups. The South Carolina vs. Georgia game was certainly high on my list, but the Florida @ Miami game, as well as the West Virginia @ Oklahoma also peaked my interest.
But this week's Game of the Week is special because of one big thing: rivalry.
The No. 14 Notre Dame travel to No. 17 Michigan for what should be a fantastic battle between two battered and bruised programs.
These two schools have met each other 40 times since their feud began in 1887 (although things didn't heat up until the late 1970s), with Michigan leading the series 23-16-1.
Most recently the Fighting Irish got the better of the Wolverines, beating them 6-13 in 2012. Before then Michigan had won their last three meetings. So, let's take a look at this fantastic matchup.
14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ 17 Michigan Wolverines
LIVE on ESPN via Foxtel, 10 a.m. Sunday September 8.
The Fighting Irish come into their Week 2 matchup after beating Temple 28-6 in Week 1. Having dropped in the rankings this preseason after a troubling offseason that saw their quarterback get suspended and numerous recruits walk away, Notre Dame have had a rough 2013 thus far.
They're looking to bounce back this season, and must consider a win over their old rivals to be a vital first step.
Notre Dame now have senior Tommy Rees
behind center after losing 2012's starting quarterback Everett Golson to suspension
. To his credit, Rees did just fine against Temple in Week 1, completing 16-of-23 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
Questions linger about who will step up on offence this season, after losing Tyler Eifert to the NFL there doesn't appear to be a legitimate No. 1 receiving option on the Irish's offence. This year, it seems coach Brian Kelly will be forced to spread the ball around a little more. If there were an early favorite for the job, it would be senior T.J. Jones
, who had six catches for 138 yards in Week 1.
Notre Dame will also split up carries on the ground. The team has a nice stable of running backs as the offense will most likely feature the running game heavily. It's this rushing attack that might represent Michigan's greatest challenge on defense.
Notre Dame have an aggressive defense, and their front seven is genuinely menacing, highlighted by returning starters Louis Nix
, Stephon Tuitt
and Prince Shembo
. This unit should be every bit as good as it's seventh-best rushing defense in 2012. The unit has also improved their secondary, and the defense in general represents a major challenge for both Michigan's running and passing games.
Michigan are coming off of a 59-9 smashing of Central Michigan in Week 1, which is pretty much exactly what's supposed to happen when Michigan play Central Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off a lackluster 2012 campaign, that saw them finish with an 8-5 record (6-2 in the Big Ten) and lose to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. They were ranked No. 24 on the AP poll by the end of the 2012 season, but after their strong start saw that rise. The Wolverines are also a very young team, and 38 of the team's 68 players last week were either freshmen or sophomores.
Since hiring head coach Brady Hoke in 2011 the Wolverines have had success at home with a perfect 15-0 record in the Big House. They'll be looking to keep the trend going against their rivals this weekend.
Make no mistake, the Wolverines are a running offense, and carried the ball 47 times against Central Michigan last week. Quarterback Devin Gardner
completed 10-of-15 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran seven times for 52 yards and two further touchdowns on the day. The junior is by all accounts a dual-threat QB but needs to limit his turnovers when facing Notre Dame this week, that's how Michigan lost to the Fighting Irish last season.
Supporting him will be freshman running back Derrick Green
and senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint
. It was surprising to see the freshman get so many carries last week (11 touches for 58 yards and a touchdown) and he has been moved to No. 2 on the team's depth chart since. Look for the 5-star prospect to get the same amount of work against Notre Dame.
Helping the running backs will be a solid, but not spectacular offensive line. That said, it's not without its talent, as senior left tackle Taylor Lewan is a quality player and should see plenty of runs in his direction.
The fact is Michigan's passing attack will take time to mature and develop. With Gardner having a slow start in last week's game there's going to be some more mistakes before there's any big plays. Most notably the young quarterback needs to improve his reads and vision, until this happens, it's unlikely the passing game will be much of a threat to Notre Dame.
The Wolverines have a solid defense, and after limiting Central Michigan to only nine points in their first game they have a good chance of keeping the Notre Dame offense at bay. They'll look to limit the run game early to keep the Irish one dimensional. Look for sophomore safety Jarrod Wilson
to continue his fine form from Week 1 after being rushed into the starting lineup.
Notre Dame would seem to have the edge in this game. They have a much stronger run-defense and both teams will look to establish dominance on the ground early. That said, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is a genuine wildcard in this matchup. If he shows improvement passing the ball and starts picking apart the defense, the Irish could suddenly find themselves in hot water. This is a classic matchup that'll be won in the trenches, look for both teams to put on fantastic displays.
: I'm a Michigan fan, but they're a young team and might be a year or so away before coming into their own. I'll give it to Notre Dame
this time, 27-24