Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
The ESPN College GameDay crew isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to starting the 2018 season off right.
No, the hyped pregame show isn’t stopping in the SEC, either—it’s going to South Bend in a move both gleaming with nostalgia and capitalizing on the hype of a long-awaited showdown between the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines and No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
ESPN College GameDay got its start 25 years ago in 1993 when the Fighting Irish hosted Florida State, where Lee Corso got his prediction right by rolling with Notre Dame.
Fast forward all these years later, the crew (Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard, David Pollack and Maria Taylor) gets to soak in a must-see rivalry that hasn’t taken place in years.
College GameDay Week 1 Info
Date: Saturday, September 1
Time (ET): 9 a.m. to noon; game is at 7:30 p.m.
Location: Notre Dame Stadium
Watch: ESPN, Game on NBC
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Tony Ding/Associated Press
Michigan and Notre Dame have a storied rivalry that has seen 42 showdowns, but they haven’t played since 2014.
Blame Notre Dame, at least partially, for using a provision in the agreement that should have had both sides playing each other through 2031, canceling the series in search of better competition.
Then Jim Harbaugh arrived at Ann Arbor.
“I think it’s great for college football,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said, according to Stats LLC (via ESPN.com). “Notre Dame football and Michigan football is really a great rivalry. I think everyone wanted to see it happen, and I’m really happy we are able to get that done.”
With the formalities out of the way, the two legendary programs can get down to business in what figures to be a defensive-minded battle.
The Wolverines, after all, return 10 starters on the defensive side of the ball compared to nine for Notre Dame. And outside of all the talent on both sides there, Michigan is breaking in a new starter under center, while Notre Dame has something of a committee approach ready to go.
For Harbaugh, the future is now with Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, who a year ago with the Rebels completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Often considered what has been holding Michigan back, the Wolverines have faith in a quarterback who excelled by comparison:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Shea Patterson threw for 8 more touchdowns and 1 fewer interception than every Michigan quarterback combined last season. https://t.co/wSBG91hRzZ
Kelly will counter with Brandon Wimbush, a run-first passer who completed 49.5 percent of his passes last year with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions, adding another 803 yards and 14 scores on the ground. He’ll be flanked by more of a traditional passer in Ian Book.
While a committee approach sounds iffy, Kelly at least admits this year needs to be more about tailoring the offense to his starter’s strengths:
Pete Sampson @PeteSampson_
Brian Kelly asked if Brandon Wimbush is still the guy or if Ian Book has closed the gap. Said game plan set to Wimbush’s strengths and “we’ll play them both if we need to.” Wimbush will start.
A year ago, the Fighting Irish needed Book to come off the bench and spark a Citrus Bowl triumph over LSU.
For both teams, the hope is stronger play from under center can lead to a better complementary offense for elite defensive units. It’s a trial by fire for both under the bright lights of the biggest Week 1 event.
Tony Ding/Associated Press
It’s fitting this game in which both sides are trying to reinvent themselves on one side of the football has huge national title implications right out of the gates.
This early in the season, consistency might be the biggest factor. Michigan isn’t experimenting with swapping quarterbacks in and out based on results. Rather, they’re rolling with one player while an elite defense led by a strong pass-rushing duo of Rashan Gary and senior Chase Winovich give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.
While this one might take place in South Bend, it’s hard to shake the feeling the Wolverines are the better squad going into the encounter. The better defense usually wins encounters like this, which gives Michigan the edge. One forced turnover on an offense still trying to figure out how to maximize one of its two quarterbacks is all it takes.
Prediction: Michigan 17, Notre Dame 13