We all know that when Michigan and Notre Dame plays it’s always a great game regardless of ranking. However, in the past few years it seems like every day going into Michigan week we are talking about being underdogs, and “how on earth are we going to beat this team.” Not this week Irish fans. This week Michigan fans and players will finally be able to see what it’s like to be the underdog, and while the underdog role can be very effective in terms of motivation, it’s always nice to walk around with your chest out a little higher than normal when you finally are the favorites going into a game with a hated rival. In fact, since 1994 Notre Dame has never been ranked higher than the Wolverines heading into this match-up, not once. Let’s take a look back at some things that have went down since 1994 between the 2 teams.
First off, the teams have played 7 times since then, marking a 7 game streak in which Michigan has been ranked higher coming into the game. Thankfully for the Irish, they have gone 4-3 in these games. What’s more amazing is that Michigan was ranked in the top 10 the past 7 times we have played them as well, going in order, #6, #5, #7, #7, #8, #5, #3. Oh, and just a tidbit, the Wolverines have been ranked in the top 10 going into the game against Notre Dame every time since 1986, a streak that will be broken this year. The last time Notre Dame was ranked in the top 10 against Michigan? 1994. Ever since that year, they have never gone into the game against the Wolverines no better than 15th.
Notre Dame has sent 3 different coaches to the sideline since the last time they were ranked higher coming into the game – Bob Davie who coached 3 games (1-2), Tyrone Willingham who coached 3 games (2-1), and Charlie Weis who has coached 1 game (1-0).
Since the last game in which the Irish were ranked higher than UM going into the contest, both programs have gone through amazing times, good and bad.
Since 1994 Michigan has won 5 big 10 championships, a national title, has appeared in a bowl game ever year since, and has crowned a heisman trophy winner. Notre Dame? They have not won a national title (or even come close to one), won 0 bowl games, and haven’t had a single player invited to the Downtown Athletic Club for the Heisman presentation.
On field problems for Notre Dame have not even been the worse challenges they have faced since last being the favorite against Michigan…the bigger problems have been off the field believe it or not.
In 2001 when the Irish were struggling with their football program, they turned to George O’ Leary… and we all know how that ended. He never coached a single game and is now the head coach at Central Florida.
It looked like Notre Dame had hit a new low during this. Hiring a coach and having him step down under a week later is something you don’t see in many schools, and something you don’t even think about at the University of Notre Dame.
So now the coaching search was on again, and the Irish hired former Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham. The fans were eating up this guy after just 8 games in which Notre Dame won all 8 to start 8-0, and then Boston College came to town and the rest is history. Nevertheless, Ty Willingham became the first ever Notre Dame head coach to win 10 games in his first year on the job, and was named coach of the year by many.
Expectations were great for the next year, and ND even started 1-0 before heading into the Big House. A 38-0 week 2 loss to the Wolverines sent the season into a downward spiral, sending the Irish into the New Year 5-6 and bowless. The next season wasn’t much better, as the Irish went just 6-5 and were manhandled by a hungry Oregon State team in the Insight Bowl. Willingham did manage to beat the Wolverines for one of his six wins that year, however, with a 28-20 home victory.
Notre Dame fired Willingham after that year, and as we all knew was going to happen, the race card got pulled out. The Irish were ridiculed everywhere for pulling the plug so early on a black coach, and when the white coach who was hired to replace him received a 10 year contract extension half way through his first year, the critics resurfaced.
Oh yeah, there was also that Kim Dunbar and Joe Moore scandals along the way as well. Allegations of age discrimination and minor NCAA infractions only added the off field troubles that have faced the Irish since 1994.
Explained above are arguably the darkest years in the storied Notre Dame football history. The University never felt so much embaressment on or off the field the past decade or so since being established in the 1800’s, and people still pull the race card when talking about this team from time to time. But now, the Irish are back, ranked #2 in the country, and with Charlie Weis leading the way, have one of the most clean, spotless programs in the country. Almost every student on the team graduates, and the only time the Irish pop up on ESPN is when they beat up on a team during a game.
Michigan has caught a very sleepy, distracted Notre Dame team for the past few years, but now they will be feeling the wrath of a very frustrated one. A team that has gone through more in the last few years than a usual team goes through in a century. Still the Irish have gotten the best of Wolverines four out seven times over the past 10 years. Ff I were Michigan though, I’d be very concerened about coming into South Bend as the underdog for the first time in such a long time, because for the first time in years, this team has its’ swagger back and plans on taking a decades’ worth of anger out on them this weekend.