Take Two: Benefits of ND-Michigan hiatus
September, 3, 2014
The Notre Dame-Michigan series goes on pause Saturday night, most likely for a while. Some are sad to see the annual game go, but there are positives for both sides.
So which team benefits more from the series ending: Notre Dame or Michigan?
Reporters Matt Fortuna (Notre Dame/ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) debate.
Take 1: Matt Fortuna
We can probably agree that each side will blame the other for ending this series. We can probably agree that the losing side of Saturday's game will end up doing most of the complaining. But if we're looking at who benefits more from this rivalry ending, it has to be Notre Dame.
Brian Kelly wouldn't say that ending the series with the Wolverines is a good idea. What Kelly did say was that not playing Michigan "opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us."
First things first, though: Notre Dame's scheduling concerns. The Irish now have five mandatory ACC games a year. They have their three non-negotiable rivalry games in Navy, Stanford and USC, the latter two ensuring one trip to California every year. That leaves them four games a year in which to get creative, and they have done what they can within that framework to not abandon some of their Midwest rivalries (Michigan State, Purdue) in the Big Ten.
There is also a future series with Texas and one with Georgia, both later this decade.
For Michigan, losing Notre Dame means adding a neutral-site game with Florida in 2017, a home-and-home with Arkansas in 2018-19 and a whole lot of meh. Yes, Virginia Tech, UCLA and Oklahoma all make for enticing opponents, but they are very far down the line, and it would be foolish to think Notre Dame doesn't have a comparable slate of games it is looking into. This is a Notre Dame program, after all, that opened its 2012 season in Ireland and had once discussed playing a game against Stanford in Japan.
Notre Dame is set up for the immediate future with one of the nation's most appealing annual slates. With the way Michigan has started to schedule, the Wolverines might not be far behind in the next decade.
It would be great if they can find a way to play again, but both have already gained plenty on their own. And if you're going to blame Notre Dame for ending this late-summer classic, then you have to credit the Irish for all of those attractive future opponents, too.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
I'm worried about you, Matt. You and Brian Kelly already have the same stylist, and while those blazers are fashion-forward, no matter what anyone tells you, I'm concerned that being around him has brainwashed you about who really benefits from this series ending. It's Michigan. Hands down.
There are several factors that go into scheduling, but the top priority always should be the new playoff. Notre Dame and Michigan can exalt the past all the way, but if both don't start making the playoff relatively soon, they will become less and less nationally relevant.
While you're right that Notre Dame's scheduling gets trickier with the ACC partnership, the Irish will have a playoff-worthy schedule every year, barring all hell breaking loose around the country. They'll almost always get credit for playing Stanford and USC. Not all of the ACC games will help Notre Dame's playoff cause, but Florida State and/or Clemson will in most seasons. And if other programs rise up (North Carolina, Duke, Miami, etc.), the Irish will get a bump. I really think the playoff comes down to the one-loss and two-loss teams with the strongest résumés. Notre Dame is in that category with or without the Michigan series.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, desperately needed more diversity in their schedule (diversity that Notre Dame naturally has as an independent). Don't gloss over future opponents such as Florida, Arkansas, Washington, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. Many of these games don't happen if Notre Dame remains an annual opponent, especially with the Big Ten adopting a nine-game league schedule in 2016.
Beating Notre Dame hasn't helped Michigan's national profile in recent years. The Wolverines should get a bigger playoff boost from beating some of their future opponents.
Coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon make it clear that Notre Dame is at fault for ending the annual series. But in terms of reaching the playoff, Touchdown Jesus might have provided Michigan a blessing in disguise.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Iowa 24 Pittsburgh 20 Final Eastern Michigan 14 11 Michigan State 73 Final Western Illinois 7 Northwestern 24 Final Southern Illinois 13 Purdue 35 Final Bowling Green 17 19 Wisconsin 68 Final Maryland 34 Syracuse 20 Final Utah 26 Michigan 10 Final Rutgers 31 Navy 24 Final Massachusetts 7 Penn State 48 Final San Jose State 7 Minnesota 24 Final Texas State 35 Illinois 42 Final Indiana 31 18 Missouri 27 Final Miami (FL) 31 24 Nebraska 41