Matchup: No. 14 Michigan (0-0) at No. 11 Notre Dame (0-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, Ind.
TV/radio: NBC, WWJ-AM (950)
Line: Michigan -1
Know the foe: After putting together a 10-win season a year ago, Notre Dame returns in 2018 with a defense that’s expected to carry the load. The Irish lost defensive coordinator Mike Elko this offseason, but brought back a ton of production. Linebackers Te’Von Coney and Drue Tranquill combined to make 22 1/2 tackles for loss a year ago. The Irish’s top four defensive linemen are back and while there are some new pieces in the secondary, this should be a stout group. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush returns after an up-and-down year, but he’ll have to find new weapons as Notre Dame replaces its top rusher (Josh Adams), receiver (Equanimeous St. Brown) and offensive linemen (Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey).
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Wimbush vs. Brown: Brandon Wimbush completed just 49.5 percent of his passes last season and struggled when Notre Dame encountered tough defensive units. This might be Don Brown’s best group yet. Brian Kelly’s not opposed to sitting Wimbush if he struggles, as he did in the Citrus Bowl in favor of Ian Book. Notre Dame believes Wimbush’s accuracy issues have been repaired, though Michigan returns every player from the country’s top-ranked secondary in 2018. Wimbush is a dual-threat quarterback who was the second-leading rusher on the team a year ago, but this could be the best defense he’s seen in college.
Offensive line: Notre Dame had two of the top best offensive linemen in recent program memory on the same unit a year ago with Nelson and McGlinchey. Both players were drafted in the top 10 last spring and anchored what was an outstanding front five. Tackle Robert Hainsey is back, as are guard Alex Bars and center Sam Mustipher. Still, when you lose players like that, they’re usually difficult to replace. Notre Dame’s offense was anchored by its line a year ago. If there’s a dip, with new contributors in the backfield and split wide, things could get interesting for Wimbush.
More of the same: What should have been considered an improving, young defense a year ago is now a year older and wiser. Notre Dame wasn’t dominant defensively last season, but it looks like the group could improve under newly promoted defensive coordinator Clark Lea. The system won’t change and the core remains intact. Given the amount of experience the Irish return in the front seven, coupled with Michigan’s murky offensive line situatuion, the Irish have to like that matchup.