Big Game Hunting: Notre Dame, Michigan go nose-to-nose — but then, alas, back on hiatus

It will be intense. The Big House will be loud. The Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh need a high-profile victory in the worst way. The stakes are even higher for Brian Kelly’s Irish, who can’t lose again if they’re going to have any hope of returning to the playoff.

SHARE Big Game Hunting: Notre Dame, Michigan go nose-to-nose — but then, alas, back on hiatus
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book rears back to let one fly against USC.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book rears back to let one fly against USC.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

From 1978 to 2014, old lions Notre Dame and Michigan squared off 31 times. It wasn’t quite every year, but it was enough to create a rivalry that often was glorious.

Given the programs’ rich histories, the world just made a tiny bit more sense when the Irish and Wolverines were in each other’s way.

It still does — which is why so many followers of the sport were disappointed to see the temporary cessation of the rivalry in 2015. A home-and-home in 2018 (a 24-17 Irish victory in South Bend) and 2019 has been just what the doctor ordered, but then it’s back on hiatus.

When they’ll meet again is a mystery.No. 8 Notre Dame (-1) at No. 19 Michigan(6:30 p.m., Ch. 7) might be the last these programs see of each other for a long while.

It will be intense. The Big House will be loud. The Wolverines (5-2) and coach Jim Harbaugh need a high-profile victory in the worst way. The stakes are even higher for Brian Kelly’s Irish (5-1), who can’t lose again if they’re going to have any hope of returning to the playoff.

“Playing at Michigan is always a great challenge and one that are guys are excited about, [especially] being on national television,” Kelly said. “But it’ll be one where we’ll have to execute at a high level, play a physical game, certainly, and handle the elements. Certainly it will be loud, and certainly communication will be very, very important for us.”

Is he right? In a word: Certainly.

The Irish took advantage of an open week in the schedule by working on a nonverbal cadence to take into this game. Quarterback Ian Book and the offense learned the hard way in a loss at Georgia what havoc raucous, hostile crowd can wreak.

“We’re not going to make that same mistake twice,” Kelly said. “I think our guys are really tuned into understanding that the atmosphere will be loud and that you cannot be distracted if you are interested in executing at a high level.”

Look for an impressive bounce-back effort from Michigan receiver Ronnie Bell, whose late drop in last week’s defeat at Penn State was devastating. But the return to full health of Irish running back Jafar Armstrong is a bigger deal, giving the Irish the balance they need to keep the Wolverines — and the crowd — at bay.

Home teams have taken the last fives games in this series. That ends in 24-17 fashion, the win of the season for the Irish.

In other Week 9 action:

No. 13 Wisconsin (+14½) at No. 3 Ohio State(11 a.m., Fox-32): It’s hard to know just how damaging last weekend’s stunning loss at Illinois was to the Badgers’ collective psyche. It’s even harder to picture their defense running with receivers Binjimen Victor, Chris Olave and the rest of the Buckeyes’ skill players.

Count on the Badgers (6-1) to punch in at least a couple of touchdowns because running back Jonathan Taylor is that superb and quarterback Jack Coan has some quality targets. It’s those big plays when the Buckeyes (7-0) have the ball, though, that hit like lightning strikes. Call it 34-20.

No. 5 Oklahoma (-23½) at Kansas State(11 a.m., Ch. 7): You ready for some keen analysis? The Sooners (7-0) are a lot better than the Wildcats (4-2) at scoring touchdowns. The bullies of the Big 12 also are riding a seven-game winning streak in Manhattan. Still, this isn’t a pushover K-State squad. OU wins, K-State covers.

No. 9 Auburn (+11) at No. 2 LSU(2:30 p.m., Ch. 2): I don’t like to throw guarantees around, but this one’s different. You ready?

I guarantee the Tigers will win.

But seriously, folks. Auburn’s 6-1 Tigers have a defense the likes of which LSU’s 7-0 Tigers simply have not encountered. A key sack of hotshot QB Joe Burrow here, a turnover there — that’s all it takes for the Tigers to stay in this thing.

Wait, now I’m confused. Burrow (which really should be spelled “Burreaux”) and his boys squeak one out in OT.

No. 6 Penn State (-6½) at Michigan State(2:30 p.m., Ch. 7): The Spartans (4-3) already have failed big conference tests against Ohio State and Wisconsin. Why should they be able to go toe-to-toe with the Nittany Lions (7-0), who appear to have steel in their veins? A puncher’s chance doesn’t cut it this time, either — 24-13 for the visitors.

My favorite favorite:Texas A&M (-10) vs. Mississippi State(11 a.m., SEC Network): What we’ve learned about the Aggies is they’re a heck of a lot better at punching down than they are at punching up. Protect QB Kellen Mond at least a little bit and A&M pulls away.

My favorite underdog:Kentucky (+10½) vs. Missouri(6:30 p.m., SEC Network): If Sawyer Smith is back at QB, the switch flips and the Wildcats are a more dangerous team. Either way, Mizzou remains the team that lost on the road at Wyoming and Vanderbilt.

Last week:4-3 straight-up, 3-4 vs. the spread.

Season to date:40-18 straight-up, 32-25-1 vs. the spread.

THE LOCALS

ILLINOIS AT PURDUE

The facts:11 a.m., BTN, 890-AM.

The records:Illinois 3-4, 1-3 Big Ten; Purdue 2-5, 1-3 Big Ten.

The storyline: After last weekend’s upset of Wisconsin, Lovie Smith pulled all his players into a tight circle in the locker room to chant, “Two in a row!” Pretty modest, maybe, but following that one up with another “W” at Ross-Ade Stadium would be a real game-changer for the Illini. Among other things, it would put them in contention for a bowl and push the negative narrative about Smith’s four-year performance further to the side. Man, if only the Illini’s receiving corps weren’t so banged up.

The line:Boilermakers by 9½.

Greenberg’s pick:Illinois, 31-30.

NO. 20 IOWA AT NORTHWESTERN

The facts:11 a.m., ESPN2, 720-AM.

The records:Iowa 5-2, 2-2 Big Ten; Northwestern 1-5, 0-4 Big Ten.

The storyline:Iowa’s offense is so bad. How bad is it? It’s so bad, Northwestern’s offense isn’t even all that jealous. Will the first team to 10 points win the game? That’s a trick question — it’s quite possible neither team will hit double digits. But the Hawkeyes are likelier to avoid screwing up at least a few drives, and their defense is a pretty well-oiled machine. Sometimes, ugly is the only way to do it.

The line:Hawkeyes by 10½.

Greenberg’s pick:Iowa, 17-9.

AKRON AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS

The facts:2:30 p.m., ESPN3, 560-AM.

The records:Akron 0-7, 0-3 MAC; NIU 2-5, 1-2 MAC.

The story line:It’s Homecoming for the Huskies. It’s not that far from 0-for-the-season for the Zips. A walk in the park at Huskie Stadium? Please. Not only is NIU swimming in its own mediocrity, but its two-deep has been hit hard by a combination of injuries and suspensions. But, hey, did we mention that it’s Homecoming?

The line:Huskies by 24.

Greenberg’s pick:NIU, 26-20.

NO. 8 NOTRE DAME AT MICHIGAN

The facts:6:30 p.m., Ch. 7, 1000-AM.

The records:Notre Dame 5-1, Michigan 5-2, 3-2 Big Ten.

The storyline:It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Jim Harbaugh to say that it’s Year 5 at his alma mater and we really don’t know which version of his team is going to show up. The Wolverines tend to play a lot better at home, but this is still the same group that was toyed with by Wisconsin and pounded into a 21-0 hole by Penn State. Harbaugh’s team fought back impressively at Penn State and put itself in position to nearly tie it at the end. If the Irish have to face those fighters for four quarters, it’ll be hard to win.

The line:Irish by 1.

Greenberg’s pick:Notre Dame, 24-17.

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