NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (1-0)
at MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (1-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan -3.5, Total: 51
No. 17 Michigan seeks payback on Saturday night when it hosts No. 14 Notre Dame.
These two schools have provided college football fans with some incredible games over the years, but this series will be put on hold after Saturdayís battle in Ann Arbor. Last season, these two teams played an ugly game that the Fighting Irish were able to win 13-6. The Notre Dame defense was huge in that game, forcing six Wolverines turnovers. However, Michigan still leads the all-time series with a record of 23-16-1, including 5-2 (SU and ATS) in the past seven meetings. After last seasonís national title appearance, the Fighting Irish were expected to once again be contenders in large part to sophomore quarterback Everett Golson. However, Golson was kicked off the team for academics, putting Tommy Rees was back at the helm for Notre Dame. In week one, Rees threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-6 win over Temple. The victory moved Reesí career record to 14-4 as a starter, and for a week, showed that the Fighting Irish may not miss Golson at all. While Denard Robinson was the stud quarterback for most of his career at Michigan, it was Devin Gardner who was taking the snaps at the end of the year. While Rees appeared to be in mid-season form in week one, Gardner had both positives as well as some negatives. In the Wolverines' 59-9 victory over Central Michigan, Gardner compiled 214 total yards and three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions. Like Robinson, Gardner is an exceptional athlete that can beat you with both the pass and run. Both teams have very good defenses, so the quarterback that plays the best may go a long way in determining which side is able to get a victory in this bitter rivalry. Although Notre Dame is 15-5 ATS (75%) as a road underdog of seven points or less since 1992, home favorites of 3.5 to 10 points coming off a 35-point win like Michigan are 65-30 ATS (68%) in the past 10 seasons.
Which school will prevail in this marquee matchup? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 regular season and bowl season. The experts dominated in the opening week of the college football season with a combined 69% ATS mark (11-5), highlighted by Scott's 4-1 ATS record and Brian's 3-1 ATS record with the lone blemish being Hawaii's backdoor cover with a last-minute touchdown versus USC. Dave started off his year 3-2 ATS in Best Bets, while Gary was 1-1 ATS.
In the win over the Wolverines last year, Notre Dameís offense also struggled, gaining only 239 yards from scrimmage. In that game, Rees completed 8-of-11 passes for 115 yards (10.5 YPA). One of the biggest reasons for Reesí success last week was the performance by receivers TJ Jones (6 catches, 138 yards) and DaVaris Daniels (69 receiving yards, two touchdowns). The pair did damage in both the intermediate passing game, as well as attacking down the field. With the ground game gaining 188 yards against Temple, the Fighting Irish have a balanced offensive attack that is capable of moving the ball in any way. Add in their stingy defense, and you have a complete team that is going to be tough to beat. While he had only one assisted tackle against the Owls, senior DT Louis Nix III is an absolute monster on the defensive line. Weighing in at 357 pounds, Nix forces teams to double-team him, allowing linebackers to pursue. He was a huge key to the success of Manti Te'o last year. ILB Dan Fox appears to be filling in the role of Te'o nicely, getting 10 tackles (5 solo, 5 assist) against Temple. However, the kicking game really struggled against last week, as both Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza missed their lone field goal attempt. If this game comes down to the play of the special teams, then the Wolverines may be in very good shape.
In their victory in week one, Michiganís special teams got the season started with a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown by Joe Reynolds. The Wolverines under Brady Hoke have become much more aggressive on special teams, and they will look to continue that success against the Fighting Irish. With Gardner being inconsistent throwing the ball against Central Michigan, look for Michigan to really establish the ground game. The Wolverines were able to rush for 242 yards, led by freshman Derrick Green (11 rush, 58 yds, 1 TD) and senior Fitzgerald Toussaint (14 rush, 57 yards, 2 TD). Toussaint rushed for 58 yards on 13 carries (4.5 YPC) in last year's loss at Notre Dame. Michigan's ability to run the football could open up opportunities for Gardner to go deep to playmaking WR Jeremy Gallon, who caught four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown last week. On defense, the Wolverines have a playmaker in junior cornerback Raymon Taylor. Against Central Michigan, Taylor had an interception, returning it for 54 yards, to go with four tackles (2 solo, 2 assist). He will be tasked with stopping TJ Jones, in what could be one of the most exciting matchups in the game. Senior LB Cameron Gordon was all over the field against the Chippewas, compiling two sacks and four tackles. If he is able to wreak havoc and force Rees to run around, the Wolverines will be in great shape. With the history of these two teams and the animosity due to the fact that Notre Dame has ended the series, expect the two teams to come out with a lot of intensity.