While it’s never a good idea to root for Michigan as Greg pointed out yesterday, in a perfect world, Saturday’s showdown with Michigan would have ideally given Notre Dame a chance for a road win over a top 10 team. With the Wolverines dropping a potential game-tying touchdown with two minutes left before ultimately dropping the game, that opportunity no longer exists for the Irish. The pressure on Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is also mounting leading up to this weekend’s showdown.
Notre Dame’s schedule, on paper, looked brutal a couple of years ago when it was initially built. Georgia, Stanford, and Michigan on the road and USC and Virginia Tech at home mixed in with wildcards like Virginia, Boston College, and Duke. It had the makings of a murder’s row. Instead, the schedule has broken in a way in which 11-1 looks very possible – if not likely. The problem is there aren’t many opportunities left for statement wins for the Irish.
Michigan’s 21-28 loss last night to Penn State gave the Wolverines their second loss of the season already. Even if Notre Dame wins this weekend, that win will be over a team that won’t be ranked the following morning – assuming the Wolverines stay in the top 25 after their latest loss. We won’t know for sure how far they will fall until later today.
Had Michigan won last night, this weekend’s clash would likely feature two top 10 teams for Notre Dame’s first trip to Ann Arbor since 2013. The Irish will remain in the top and likely move up a spot thanks to Wisconsin’s surprising loss to Illinois, but at best, Michigan will probably be ranked around 22.
Notre Dame now walks into The Big House without a whole lot to gain – resume wise – and a whole lot to lose. Michigan playing at home, coming off a loss, is dangerous for Notre Dame. The Irish will almost undoubtedly open as a decent-sized favorite, but the Wolverines are going to be playing with nothing to lose. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has everything to lose with a chance to make their way into the top 4 over the next six weeks.
From Michigan’s perspective, the narrative could quickly change towards this weekend’s game being a referendum on the Jim Harbaugh Era. After Michigan’s latest loss, Jim Harbaugh remains the only coach in college football who hasn’t won as an underdog since 2015. He also still hasn’t beaten Ohio State or Notre Dame. No one is saying he is coaching for his job on Saturday, but his seat will be awfully hot if he’s sitting at 5-3 with Michigan State and Ohio State still on the schedule this year. Harbaugh has struggled against both the last four years.
The Harbaugh Era certainly hasn’t gone as Michigan fans imagined when they welcomed home one of their favorite sons almost five years ago. Last night’s loss to Penn State offered Harbaugh a chance to change the narrative around his tenure, but instead, it ended up being another lost opportunity for Harbaugh and his Wolverine program.
Add it all up, and you have a wounded team that could be very dangerous for Notre Dame. Teams in Michigan’s situation usually go one of two ways – they bounce back with their best game of the year, or they fold. We won’t know which route Michigan goes until the ball is kicked off on Saturday night, but the way they came back from a 21-0 deficit to make it a game last night is something for them to hang their hat on throughout the week.
This weekend could have been a clash of top 10 teams fighting to stay in the playoff conversation. Instead, the focus now will be on whether or not Notre Dame can remain in the race or if Michigan can ruin the Irish’s season the same way their’s was destroyed last night.