How impactful are B1G-Notre Dame games?

July, 5, 2012
7/05/12
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It's Blue Ribbon week here at ESPN.com, and each blogger is picking an impact game(s) that affects the league he or she covers. In case you missed my picks, check 'em out for both the Leaders Division and Legends Division.

Colleague Matt Fortuna, who runs the Notre Dame blog, made his pick for the Irish on Wednesday. He selected Michigan-Notre Dame (Sept. 22 in South Bend) as the top impact game for Brian Kelly's squad. Although Notre Dame plays a treacherous schedule with several blockbuster matchups this fall -- USC, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Stanford -- Fortuna makes a good case for why the Michigan game means so much for the Irish.
Michigan has tortured Notre Dame lately, and the Irish will be out for redemption after last year's home night contest against USC -- their first in 21 years -- went anything but according to plan. It will be a big recruiting weekend. If history is any indication, it won't lack for drama, either. For the Irish to take the next step in Year 3 under Brian Kelly, they won't find a bigger momentum boost than taking down the Wolverines in prime time.

This got me thinking about the Big Ten's matchups with Notre Dame and if they have more impact for one side or the other. While my impact game picks intentionally were intradivision matchups, had I expanded the question to include overall schedules, I don't know if I would have included any matchups against the Fighting Irish. Playing Notre Dame just doesn't mean what it used to for Big Ten teams.

It begs the question: How important is the Notre Dame game to the three Big Ten squads -- Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue -- that play the Irish this season?

Michigan

The Notre Dame contest looks like the third or fourth most impactful game on Michigan's schedule this season. There's The Game against Ohio State, which always ranks No. 1. In terms of the Big Ten landscape, the Michigan State game also is huge for the Wolverines. And in terms of making a splash nationally that Michigan is indeed back, there's no bigger game than the opener against Alabama.

Michigan-Notre Dame always moves the needle nationally, and the nighttime atmosphere in South Bend will be electric. The game carries importance for the Wolverines, but not as much as it has in years past. Beating Notre Dame is always big for recruiting and because of the teams' rivalry, but how many Michigan fans would rather see the Maize and Blue beat Alabama?

Michigan State

Beating Notre Dame always ranks high on the wish lists of Michigan State fans, but how meaningful is this year's matchup with the Irish? It's a home game, which always carries some weight, but Michigan State's biggest game undoubtedly takes place at Michigan. It's a rivalry game, a conference game and a division game, so it deserves top billing. Other Big Ten games -- Nebraska, Ohio State -- also resonate for the Spartans. But the Notre Dame game might not even be Michigan State's top nonleague contest. The Spartans open the season with a Friday night clash against Boise State. Sure, the Broncos are reloading a bit, but any win against Chris Petersen's squad resonates nationally, especially for a Michigan State program striving for more respect around the country.

The Spartans will be out to avenge their loss last year in South Bend, but their game against Notre Dame probably ranks third or fourth on their schedule in terms of impact.

Purdue

Here's the difference between Purdue and the Michigan schools. Both Michigan and Michigan State have had success against Notre Dame in recent years, but those wins haven't really helped the Wolverines or the Spartans in the bigger picture because Notre Dame has been average. Purdue, meanwhile, has dropped four straight against the Irish and six of its past seven. The Boilers lack a signature nonleague win under Danny Hope, and looking at this year's schedule, Notre Dame is by far their best opportunity.

While several of Purdue's Big Ten matchups could carry more weight, the Notre Dame game is up there for the Boilers, who could set the tone for a breakthrough season with a Week 2 win in South Bend.

Final analysis

Notre Dame's downturn since the start of the 2007 season has decreased the impact of its matchups with Big Ten teams. Although Big Ten teams want to beat Notre Dame, they also want the Irish to have a successful season, which boosts the value of those head-to-head wins. The ideal scenario took place in 2006, when Michigan crushed Notre Dame in South Bend, but Notre Dame still went on to finish 10-2 (No. 11 in the final regular-season polls).

Too often in recent years, a Big Ten victory against Notre Dame hasn't meant much because of the Irish's middling results. Perhaps that changes this year, but right now, it looks like two of the three ND-B1G matchups -- ND-Michigan and ND-Michigan State -- mean more to the team in South Bend than the ones in Ann Arbor or East Lansing. After all, both Michigan and Michigan State could be in the preseason top 10.

It's no secret why Michigan recently announced a two-year break in its Notre Dame series (2018-19), and Michigan State will take two-year breaks with Notre Dame in 2014-15, 2020-21 and 2025-26. The Purdue-Notre Dame series isn't going anywhere, and other Big Ten squads remain interested in scheduling the Irish. Northwestern plays Notre Dame in 2014 and 2018, and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recently tweeted about wanting to play the Irish.

Notre Dame games certainly have their pluses, but in terms of impact, there are also better opportunities out there.

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