By RALPH D. RUSSO
In a sense, Michigan coach Brady Hoke was right when he said Notre Dame was “chickening out” of its rivalry with the Wolverines.
No, the Fighting Irish are not literally scared to play Michigan, but if the Wolverines weren’t generally so good Notre Dame might not have pulled out of the series between two of college football’s most famous teams. As is the case with all heavyweight programs, Notre Dame needs to manage the difficulty of its schedule and guarantee regularly playing seven home games.
The Fighting Irish (1-0) visit the Big House on Saturday, their last scheduled trip to Ann Arbor. Michigan (1-0) plays at South Bend, Ind., next season, and then the rivalry takes an indefinite hiatus.
It’s a rivalry that is both historical and significant — and really cool. Winged helmets vs. golden domes.
But when Notre Dame agreed to play five games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents per season, starting next year, it needed to clear some space — and Michigan got the boot.
“It’s just there’s so many complexities with our schedule and our agreement with the ACC that it’s difficult and frustrating,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “I can see the frustration that would be there.”
Why Michigan and not Navy or Purdue or even Michigan State?
To be fair, there is a lot of history with those rivalries. The Irish have played the Midshipmen more (86 times) than even Southern California (84).
They’ve played Purdue 84 times as well and Michigan State is next on the most-played list at 75. Michigan’s 40 is behind Pitt (68), Army (50) and Northwestern (47).
Just as important: Notre Dame doesn’t necessarily need another heavyweight on its schedule.
Next season Notre Dame plays the usual suspects: Stanford, USC, Michigan. No Michigan State. The deal with the ACC added Louisville and Florida State. There is also a road game against Arizona State that the Irish couldn’t get out of, plus Northwestern and North Carolina.
You never know for sure how tough a schedule will be until it plays out, but that has potential to be one of the most difficult in the country.
As much as programs and conferences are looking for ways to bulk up their future schedules, they are doing so carefully. Notice how much discussion has gone on in the Southeastern Conference about possibly playing nine league games and eliminating cross-division rivalries.
Not wanting to give up home games is one of the reasons Florida so rarely plays Miami. The Gators visit the Hurricanes on Saturday, and have no plans to play again.
What Notre Dame is doing with Michigan is similar and understandable, but hopefully it won’t be permanent.
No. 6 South Carolina (plus 3) at No. 11 Georgia
Jadeveon Clowney gets chance to catch his breath … GEORGIA 27-23.
No. 14 Notre Dame (plus 3½) at No. 17 Michigan
Under the lights, Wolverines protect the Big House … MICHIGAN 23-20.
No. 12 Florida (minus 3) at Miami
Fourth regular-season meeting since 1987 … FLORIDA 31-21.
No. 15 Texas (minus 7) at BYU
Cougars offense was washed away by Virginia rain, should be better at home … TEXAS 24-20.
West Virginia (plus 20½) at No. 16 Oklahoma
Sooners rediscovered their defense last week … OKLAHOMA 45-21
Washington State (plus 15) at No. 25 Southern California
Whoever is the quarterback for USC needs to play better … USC 35-17
Syracuse (plus 12) at No. 19 Northwestern
Wildcats came back from California banged up … SYRACUSE 30-24.
No. 2 Oregon (minus 22) at Virginia … OREGON 38-14.
San Diego State (plus 28) at No. 3 Ohio State … OHIO STATE 41-17.
San Jose State (plus 26½) at No. 5 Stanford … STANFORD 35-14.
Virginia is coming off a soggy victory against BYU, and could probably use another rain storm to help slow down the Ducks. San Diego State is coming off a surprising loss to Eastern Illinois, but should be better. San Jose State hung tough with Stanford last season and has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in David Fales.
UTSA (plus 26) at No. 13 Oklahoma State … OKLAHOMA STATE 52-14.
South Carolina State (no line) vs No. 4 Clemson … CLEMSON 54-14.
Sam Houston State (no line) at No. 7 Texas A&M … 62-20.
Eastern Kentucky (no line) at No. 8 Louisville … LOUISVILLE 48-14.
UAB (plus 34½) at No. 9 LSU … LSU 41-3.
Tennessee Tech (no line) at No. 21 Wisconsin … WISCONSIN 45-6.
Southern Miss (plus 28½) at No. 22 Nebraska … 42-10.
Buffalo (plus 27½) at No. 23 Baylor … BAYLOR 52-16.
SE Louisiana (no line) at No. 24 TCU … TCU 56-14.
Record straight: 22-2; vs. points 10-10.
Best bet: 1-0.
Upset special: 0-1.