By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – Regional or national rivalry, Michigan-Notre Dame is indisputably one worth watching, at least according to the ESPN College GameDay crew, who sets out to cover the most exciting game every weekend.
“I’m a college football junkie, so you put Notre Dame and Michigan on a field, I’m happy,” analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “That’s all I can tell you. I don’t know if it’s a regional match-up. To me it’s a big game. We probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t a big game. Miami’s playing Florida, Georgia’s playing South Carolina, [and] here we are, and Brent [Musberger] and I are calling this game. I don’t know who’s calling it what. I just know that when it comes to me as a fan of the game, this game is one of those games every year that you’re excited to go and watch,”
Herbstreit said that while watching a Michigan-Notre Dame game from four or five years ago on ESPN Classic, it seemed – despite the excitement – like a game one might classify more as regional. With the recent ascension of both programs, however, that is changing, and the national appeal is growing.
“We’re seeing both these teams with new leadership heading into a stratosphere that’s back to the elite,” Herbstreit said. “Let’s face it: Brady Hoke’s in the middle of taking Michigan to become a top five type of program, and Brian Kelly got to the national championship a year ago, so these teams are rubbing elbows with the big boys, and that’s I think the direction, as long as they’re able to hold onto these two head coaches, that’s the direction that they’re going to be going.”
For that reason, Herbstreit and fellow GameDay member Desmond Howard are disappointed to see the rivalry go on hiatus. Howard, who before his pro career played wide receiver at Michigan and won the Heisman Trophy, says the loss of the Michigan-Notre Dame series is a blow not just to fans of those teams but fans of the sport in general.
“It’s too bad,” Howard said. “It’s too bad not only for both programs but for college football. If you ask anyone, national writer who covers college football or anyone national television who covers college football, they’ll tell you, Michigan versus Notre Dame is just great for college football, period. It’s not just for both programs. There are people who are not affiliated with either fan base who just love to see that game because they love great college football rivalries.”
Herbstreit and David Pollack of College GameDay both pointed out that the dissolution of the Michigan-Notre Dame series mirrors what is happening to traditional rivalries across the country. With Texas A&M moved to the SEC, the Texas A&M-Texas rivalry is no more. With Nebraska departed to the Big 10, its old match-ups with Big 12 teams like Texas and Oklahoma have vanished. Apparently, Notre Dame joining the ACC has the same sort of impact.
“Rivalries are changing every day,” Pollack said. “It’s just part of what happens. I’d like to see this game every year. I could do without Notre Dame-Purdue. I know that’s probably a bigger rivalry, but I’d rather see Notre Dame-Michigan if you’re going to ask me as a fan. We want the best games. We were here two years ago and we were in South Bend last year. We’re used to seeing this game, so it’s fun to see it. It is what it is.”
Regardless of the future of the series, the implications of Saturday’s game are huge. Two Top 25 teams meeting in the second week of the season sets the stage for what kind of a year these programs will be expected to have.
“It’s huge,” Samantha Ponder said. “To have a big non-conference match-up like this at the beginning of the season is a huge gauge for how good you can be the rest of the year. No matter what anybody says about whether or not it’s a ‘real rivalry’ and the tradition that’s there, they’re two good football teams, and you’ll know how good after this game.”