Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 3:39 AM
They’re not in the same conference, but the Michigan-Notre Dame game Saturday Night on NBC is basically for 2012 supremacy in the Midwest. It’s the Big 10 Championship game if Notre Dame had decided to join the Big Ten instead of the ACC!
Why do we say that?
*It looks to be a down year in the Big 10 this season. Michigan was supposedly the best in the group. A huge loss to Alabama and a nailbiter win over Air Force made it clear that this wasn’t the case…or that the Big Ten is so bad this year that their best team is WAY behind elites in other conferences.
*Michigan State was a logical choice to take Michigan’s place after a national TV win over Boise State. But, the Spartans lost to Notre Dame last week…and Boise State looked awful this past Thursday Night against BYU. Should the Wolverines fail to knock off the Irish…that gives Notre Dame a sweep of the Michigan schools.
*Ohio State isn’t eligible to win the Big 10 crown this year. They currently have the highest poll ranking of any team. But, last week’s survival against a mediocre California team suggests the Buckeyes are overrated in the polls. Would the true “Best in the Midwest” struggle at home vs. Cal?
This is it! Michigan vs. Notre Dame is basically the “Midwest Championship” game for the 2012 season barring any surprises in the latter half of the season. The polls will belong to the SEC, the Big 12, the Pac 12, Florida State, with “maybe” a spot in the Final Top Ten down the road for the winner of this game.
NBC is hoping Notre Dame impresses so that their slate of TV games this year will have added luster. The ESPN/ABC family of networks is desperately hoping Michigan can come through or their Big 10 slate is going to feel like the CUSA Game of the Week. Let’s crunch some numbers to see how things might play out.
MICHIGAN at NOTRE DAME (7:30 p.m. on NBC)
Las Vegas Spread: Notre Dame by 5.5, total of 49
The market is saying Notre Dame is about 2.5 to 3 points better on a neutral field with that posted pointspread. The Irish earned a lot of respect with last week’s road win at Michigan State. Many sharps had soured on the Irish after their tight win over boring Purdue. Now the team is seen as a force once again. Michigan will have to prove themselves here after missing Vegas expectations by so much in their first two games.
CURRENT AP POLL RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #11
It’s a telling comment on the state of college football right now that this will be one of the handful of games all season involving ranked teams who aren’t in the same conference. Hopefully there will be room for this rivalry to remaining prominent on the college landscape after Notre Dame fully commits to an ACC schedule. You can see that Notre Dame is knocking on the door of the Top Ten at the moment. A win here might move them in even if nobody above them gets upset. A loss, and it will be hard to take the Irish seriously as a true Top Ten threat even if they string together a lot of future wins down the road. Michigan’s reputation has fallen that far.
Michigan: Brady Hoke
Notre Dame: Brian Kelly
Both are in positions to succeed as relatively new faces for big name schools. Kelly’s life just got easier with the ACC commitment considering the number of disappointing programs in that league at the moment. Hoke has enjoyed immediate success rejuvenating a Michigan program that had fallen on hard times. It’s one thing to get things moving in the right direction…and it’s another to live up to the storied history at this university. Maybe the honeymoon is almost over for Hoke. Maybe it’s still in the early stages. Saturday’s result will tell us a lot about that.
Michigan: Denard Robinson
Notre Dame: Everett Golson
Robinson took the sport by storm when he was first given the reigns of the offense. But, as has been common with this style of quarterback…he’s lost effectiveness once defenses truly respected his threat as a runner. If you MAKE Robinson pass, he’s much less dangerous. You can expect some great plays…but it’s far from sure thing that the offense will sizzle through the evening. In fact, that relatively low Vegas total (for a Michigan game in recent years) suggests the market thinks Robinson will have trouble. Golson isn’t being asked to much lately. Coach Kelly is afraid of mistakes coming from too much aggression (which hurt the team last year). So far so good….if you like watching punts! Notre Dame won a grinder in East Lansing last week. They may go for that type of win again here.
LAST WEEK’S BOXES
MICHIGAN 63, MASSACHUSETTS 13
Total Yardage: UMASS 259, Michigan 588
Rushing Yards: UMASS 112, Michigan 294
Passing Stats: UMASS 15-30-0-147, Michigan 16-25-1-291
Turnovers: UMASS 1, Michigan 1
Third Downs: UMASS 41%, Michigan 64%
Vegas Line: Michigan by 45, total of 51
UMASS is awful this year, so Michigan basically drew a bye week. No reason to be too impressed with anything you see there…other than to remember that the Wolverines can crush untalented teams when they come across them. Note the big passing yardage on only 16 completions. It’s going to be much tougher to do that this week against a real opponent.
NOTRE DAME 20, MICHIGAN STATE 3
Total Yardage: Notre Dame 300, Michigan State 237
Rushing Yards: Notre Dame 122, Michigan State 50
Passing Stats: Notre Dame 14-32-0-178, Michigan State 23-45-0-187
Turnovers: Notre Dame 0, Michigan State 1
Third Downs: Notre Dame 7%, Michigan State 29%
Vegas Line: Michigan State by 5, total of 43
This is what we mean about a grinder win. Notre Dame couldn’t break 125 yards rushing or 180 yards passing. The passing numbers would suggest the game was played in a typhoon. Notre Dame was just 14 of 32 with a conservative approach! And they had only one third down conversion! You get the sense that Coach Kelly spent the offseason watching San Francisco 49ers game film. Great defense from the Irish, something they’ve shown every time out this season.
The stage is set stylistically. Notre Dame will go for a replay of last week. Michigan will try to break through early so they can force Notre Dame into a more wide open style of play. This is one of those games where Notre Dame & Under or Michigan & Over would make sense as parlay combinations. Whoever can impose its preferred style will get the win and cover while driving a certain kind of total. Michigan wants shootout with scoring boosts from Notre Dame turnovers. Notre Dame wants a wrestling match.
JIM HURLEY has been running through the possibilities with his team of experts all week. The computer simulations in particular have been looming large in the process. This game might show up as one of the day’s superplays…or may fit in nicely as part of a TV Triple Crown. Check the home page of this website or the “buy picks” page for more details on the Saturday ticket.
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Back with you Sunday with a stat preview of the much anticipated New Englnd/Baltimore game in the NFL. If you’re ready to dine all weekend on BIG JUICY WINNERS from HANDICAPPING’S MASTER CHEF, lock in now with JIM HURLEY!