ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry has been kicked up a notch, putting Saturday’s prime-time game even more in the spotlight.
Notre Dame opted out of a contract with Michigan last year. After the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish play the 17th-ranked Wolverines at the Big House, they’re not expected to be back until the early 2020s at the earliest. The teams are scheduled to meet one final time in South Bend next year.
“I think there’s a lot more hype around this game than there was two years ago with it being the last meeting in who knows how long,” Notre Dame receiver TJ Jones said.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said four months ago that Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the series, and got laughs at a luncheon.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly raised eyebrows when he kicked off the week by saying the rivalry with Michigan wasn’t historic or traditional, adding it is a regional game.
Kelly recanted the next day, saying it is “a great and historic rivalry,” series with Michigan.
And a couple days later, he said the pressure will be on the Wolverines.
“They’ve got to win at home,” Kelly said Thursday night. “For us, we’re going to go up there swinging.”
Here are five things to watch when Michigan hosts Notre Dame:
HOME COOKING: Hoke hasn’t lost a home game in two-plus seasons of leading college football’s winningest program, a fact that he insisted isn’t a topic of conversation within his team. The Wolverines have won 15 straight — since losing to Wisconsin on Nov. 20, 2010 — at the Big House for their longest streak since winning 16 in a row from 2002 to 2005. In their last matchup with Notre Dame at home two years ago, the first night game in Ann Arbor, Denard Robinson threw two touchdown passes in the last 1:12 — including one with 2 seconds left — in a 35-31 win. Michigan has won three straight and six of seven against Notre Dame at home. “You’ve got to have a mental toughness to handle the road and you’ve got to go play to win,” Kelly said. “You have to have a mental attitude. We have to go to Michigan and go to win. We’ve got to be the aggressors.”