Thursday, September 13, 2007

Something's Gotta Give | by Brian

Glenn "Bo" Schembechler
"He Kicked it to Rocket"
Before we begin this preview, I would ask that you all please rise, and gentlemen remove your caps, as we observe a moment of silence for former Michigan head footbawl coach Bo Schembechler.

Bo made no secret of his loathing for Notre Dame, and his feeling that they shouldn't be on Michigan's schedule. "They need us more than we need them," he once famously grizzled. So the old man no doubt rolled over in his grave upon the recent extension of the series through the 2031 season.

And now, my Notre Dame/Michigan Preview, a.k.a, Charlie Goes America All Over Michigan's A** (in honor of Thursday's season premiere of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia):

This Is a Big Game, We Swear

With the Irish and Wolverines both sitting at 0-2 for the first time ever, it would be easy to assume the entire sporting viewership would consist of haters eager to feast on pure, delicious schadenfreude, but to do so would be to ignore one of the sport's best rivalries. While this game doesn't have national championship implications, it's still a clash of two programs which boast the following proud histories:

--- The two programs rank first and second all-time in both wins and winning percentage.

1987 Heisman's Trophy winner Tim
Brown (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
--- Notre Dame is, almost without dispute, the Team of the 20th Century, revolutionizing the game with the forward pass. Michigan has a claim to the almost-as-impressive title Team of the Late 19th Century, revolutionizing the game with helmets made of tanned cowhide; but in my opinion, the Elis of Yale were the finest Footed Ball squad of the era, and I will exchange fisticuffs under Queensbury's Rules with any scabrous roustabout who says otherwise.

--- The schools have combined for an impressive ten Heisman's Trophies; winners in the recent past include Notre Dame's Tim Brown and Michigan's Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. However, Notre Dame is inarguably carrying the weight in this tag team, contributing seven bronzen stiff arms to Michigan's three. They need our trophies more than we need theirs.

Talented Michigan Team an Imposing Test for Young Irish

It's a minor miracle that the Wolverines have lost their first two games given the vast array of talent assembled by head footbawl coach The Embattled Lloyd Carr. Despite the setbacks, the team remains focused, putting on their uniforms one pad at a time, more often correctly than not.

--- Running back Mike Hart is poised for a breakout year. Hart is one of the top backs the Irish will face all season. He is also a sage non pareil. After correctly noting two years ago that Michigan doesn't "ever lose 3 games in a season," this week he handed the media a guarantee that his Michigan team would beat Notre Dame this week, that Britney's next album would signal a rebound for the embattled diva, and that the subprime mortgage crisis would be resolved by a gradual resetting of interest rates over the next two years.

Ryan Mallet breaks the huddle,
flanked by left tackle Jake Long
--- Quarterback Chad Henne is poised for a breakout year. But not this week, as he is listed as out with an injury (Henne, out-- leg, ennui). Instead, it will be a matchup of highly touted freshmen quarterbacks, as Top Jimmy squares off against the dangerous Ryan Mallet, who you may know better as Paul Bunyan. This conceivably could be the first battle in a four-year rivalry between the two young stars. Clausen has been praised for his poise and overall development well beyond his years, while Mallet was expected to launch the first Space Shuttle mission to Ursa Minor with his folklorish arm strength, prior to the NCAA ruling it would violate his amateur status.

--- Mario Manningham is poised for a breakout year. He eviscerated Notre Dame's secondary last year with the heartless accuracy of an evil droid surgeon, but look for a slowdown in production this year, due to the fact that the first ball he catches from Mallet will undoubtedly kill him. The setback will allow Notre Dame to shift from man coverage on him to a soft zone.

--- Steve Breaston is poised for a breakout year. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Unfortunately, if the long-anticipated breakout season which Michigan fans have promised for about four years running is to take place this year, it will occur not at Ann Arbor's fabled Great Big House, but at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, where Breaston helps distribute bobbleheads on Fan Appreciation Night.

---Scouts drooled over the talent on the Michigan defense last year, making a complete mess of their BlackBerries. Of course, that is why five of last year's defensive starters are now in the NFL as opposed to playing for the Wolverines. But certainly, second-year defensive coordinator Ron English will get the most out of the remaining talent, right? Right? He is poised for a breakout year, assuming he isn't fired before kickoff.

Evidence That Michigan Does Educate Some of Its Football Players

Having allowed 64 points in their first two games, and ranked 100th in the nation in rushing defense, it would be easy to look at Notre Dame and assume that the defense, under new coordinator Corwin Brown, continues to be a weakness. However, the fact is that Brown has done a solid job keeping the team in both games into the second half and getting the most out of an undermanned defense, especially with an anemic offense which has kept the Irish defense fatigued and consistently facing a short field. Brown has also been widely praised for his recruiting acumen, and is a major factor in Notre Dame's promising recruiting push so far this year.

On Saturday, Brown returns to his alma mater, where he played defensive back for Schembechler and his successor, Gary Moeller, from 1989 to 1992, serving as a captain as a senior. He is poised for a breakout year, assuming Michigan doesn't attempt to hire him before kickoff. Needless to say, he is no stranger to the Notre Dame/Michigan rivalry. In fact, Brown factored into two of the most famous plays in the history of the series. One can only hope that his players fare better in the coming years than he did in these two plays (Brown is #20):

At Least Thor Didn't Steal His Helmet Design From Princeton

The superhero which is most like
Delaware wears a similar helmet
Last year, some enterprising internet so-and-so decided to write a column comparing major college footbawl programs to the comic book characters that best described them. Not being one who shies away from stealing an idea, we will now give Michigan and Notre Dame the superhero treatment:

The Wolverines are like Thor: nobody really cares about them outside of their hometown or surrounding area, and both wear ugly helmets in which they take disproportionate amounts of pride.

The Irish, on the other hand, are like Wolverine: lionhearted, indestructible, and just a little dangerous.

The Blind Oracle Looks to Make It 3 For 3

For the second straight week, The Blind Oracle At Bristol used his unique abilities to forecast the outcome of Notre Dame's game with disturbing accuracy. Let's see what he has to say for this week's matchup:

"From beyond the veil, a presence seeks to keep the weasel from combat, but the Hart wants what it wants. The gathering blue throngs, a hundred thousand strong, impose their will. The masters of motion are the masters of their fates. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Wolverines. Michigan beats Notre Dame 35-10."