A historic rivalry will be renewed Saturday night as the Michigan Wolverines pay a visit to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. These two teams last met in 2014 when the Irish blasted the Wolverines 31-0. This year’s game is expected to be a little more competitive with the Irish listed as 1-point favorites with an over/under of 46.5 points.
Naturally, the Irish begin this season with national championship aspirations. Last year, Notre Dame improved from 4-8 in 2016 to 10-3, and similar improvement this season would definitely put them in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, they don’t have much margin for error, and opening up against Michigan provides an instant test for them.
Michigan also has aspirations to reach the College Football Playoff this year, although they have a little more work to do after losing their final three games in 2017 to finish the year 8-5. Jim Harbaugh has consistently struggled to win big games since coming to Ann Arbor, and this game against Notre Dame certainly qualifies as a big game. Of course, it’s also a great opportunity for the Wolverines to set the tone for the season if they can steal a win in South Bend.
New Kid on the Block
Michigan’s biggest problem last season was an inconsistent offense. Three different quarterbacks saw significant time, but none of them seemed to provide an answer at the position. In steps Shea Patterson, an Ole Miss transfer who has won the starting job out of training camp. Patterson was a big-time recruit coming out of high school and looked the part early last year at Ole Miss before missing the second half of the season due to injury. However, there are lingering questions about his supporting cast, including the Michigan offensive line.
Meanwhile, the Irish will return nine starters on their defense from last season. It’s a defense that has few weaknesses for the Wolverines to expose. The Irish are particularly deep on the defensive line, and considering the state of Michigan’s offensive line, Notre Dame could have a significant advantage in the trenches that could potentially hold up Patterson and the Michigan offense.
Old Kid on the Block
For the Irish, Brandon Wimbush returns as the starting quarterback despite being benched in last season’s bowl victory. Wimbush is great with his legs, helping to give the Irish a dynamic rushing attack in 2017. However, with running back Josh Adams taking off for the NFL and Notre Dame losing a couple of key offensive linemen, Wimbush is going to be asked to do more with his arm this season. That could be a problem after he completed less than 50% of his passes a year ago.
The Michigan defense isn’t likely to make life easy on Wimbush and the Notre Dame offense. The Wolverines had a top-5 defense in 2017 and return more than enough starters to give them an elite defense again this season. The Irish will have to be patient on offense and hope that the Michigan defense ends up making a few mistakes in the season opener that they can turn into points.
Flip A Coin
This game is essentially a pick ‘em, and really, it could go either way. However, it may not be a bad time to go against recent history. Both teams will be strong defensively, but Patterson may be the quarterback who’s more capable of breaking down a stout defense. Bet on Michigan +1 to beat Notre Dame on the road Saturday night.