NOTRE DAME — As Notre Dame prepares to make its final scheduled trip to Michigan, head coach Brian Kelly rectified his stance on the importance of the rivalry.
“It’s a great and historic rivalry that we’ll be playing this Saturday, so let’s get that out of the way right away so we don’t have to answer any more questions about this rivalry,” Kelly said moments into his Tuesday, Sept. 3, press conference. “We’re excited about the game, excited about playing it. This will be decided by the players on the field and the preparation that goes along with it so we can stick to that and dispense with the nonsense.”
The “nonsense” to which Kelly was likely referring was the national media backlash over a comment he made about the teams two days earlier, saying he didn’t see Michigan “as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries.”
Discussion about the significance of the rivalry stems from the Irish taking their final trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the foreseeable future. The two teams will take an indefinite hiatus after 2014 to make room for Notre Dame’s new deal to play five ACC teams a year.
While Notre Dame loses Michigan, it picks up a four-game series with Texas to be played in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020. Rotating games against college football powerhouses will allow Notre Dame to retain its status as a national recruiter and will look good on a résumé when it’s time for the NCAA to decide which teams make the cut for the playoffs.
“So I think you’re going to be trading a national profile programs for that,” Kelly said. “I think we’re also looking at areas where our Shamrock Series can be touted or played geographically, whether that be on the East Coast or in some areas that geographically make sense to us. “And then I think finally where we can bring this schedule together in balance and still give us the quality schedule that when the committee looks at a schedule in whole and decides who of those four or — maybe down the road — eight teams relative to playoffs, that they can look at our schedule and say, that’s a deserving schedule. We have to balance all those things together.”
Kelly also addressed the comments Michigan head coach Brady Hoke made at a luncheon in May. Hoke had told a group of Michigan alumnus that Notre Dame was “chickening out of” the series with the Wolverines.
“I know Brady,” Kelly said. “He’s never been one to show disrespect to anybody or anything. It’s really for me about two programs that share a border, that it makes sense to play. I get that. There’s so many complexities with our schedule and our agreement with ACC that it’s difficult and frustrating. I can see the frustration would be there.
“(Hoke) is a first-class guy. There’s nothing there, other than he’s done a great job at Michigan, and I know he wants to continue to play Notre Dame. We’d like to oblige him, but right now it’s difficult with the commitments we have.”
While the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry’s longevity can’t compare to teams like Navy, Michigan State or Purdue, the Wolverines are typically considered Notre Dame’s second biggest rival behind USC, helped in part by nail-bitingly close games between the two teams over the past four years.
Even players, who are often conditioned into a “it’s just another game” mentality, open up about the significance of playing teams such as Michigan and USC.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that played there two years ago,” Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees said after the win over Temple. “We know Michigan is a rocking place and a rivalry game, everyone’s going to be up for it.”
Senior receiver T.J. Jones can’t imagine life after the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry is put on ice indefinitely after 2014.
“The Michigan rivalry has become part of playing at Notre Dame,” he said. “It’s one of those things you look forward to. And I’ve never thought about Notre Dame in the past — before I even got here — as not playing Michigan.”