The second week of the 2011 college football season means that one of college football’s best rivalries will be renewed when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (0-1) travel to Ann Arbor, MI to take on the Michigan Wolverines (1-0) of the Big 10 (8:00pm ET). This will be the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium. The Irish come in reeling after dropping out of the top 25 with their 23-20 loss to South Florida at home in a game delayed twice by severe weather. Michigan also dealt with torrential rain and severe weather last week at home in a storm-shortened affair, but they fared much better in a 34-10 romp over Western Michigan, easily covering the 14.5 point line.
ND head coach Brian Kelly wasted no time shaking things up after the disappointing performance last week, naming Tommy Rees the starter at quarterback for the Irish after he replaced Dayne Crist at halftime of the opener. Rees went 4-0 as a starter down the stretch last season and threw for 296 yards with a 70.6% completion percentage in the second half last week. He also threw two costly interceptions, and the Irish repeatedly shot themselves in the foot last week in the red-zone with both Crist and Rees under center. This week they need to take advantage of all scoring opportunities in the hostile environment of the Big House. New Michigan Coach Brady Hoke will be at the helm for his first ND-Michigan contest with a re-built defensive unit that faces its first real test in this game. Brandon Herron scored two defensive touchdowns for the Wolverines last week on a 94-yard interception return and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Michigan has been lacking those types of big plays on defense in the past, and if they can continue to make them in this game it bodes well for their chances. QB Denard Robinson is the key on offense for Michigan; he had 502 yards of total offense in last year’s win over ND. Hoke cannot expect that type of production this time around, and others will have to step up to fill the void.
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Notre Dame vs. Michigan Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish -3.5
@ Michigan Wolverines +3.5
Over 55.5 (-110)
Under 55.5 (-110)
Notre Dame vs. Michigan Pick:
The Wolverines are 11-27 ATS in their last 38 games overall. The under is 7-2 in ND’s last 9 games as a favorite, and 15-7 in their last 22 road games. Michigan won 28-24 last season in South Bend, covering the 3.5 point line. Michigan has won 4 of the last 5 meetings with the Irish head-to-head. Michigan leads the series 22-15-1 in the 38 meetings the two storied programs have had.
With a wealth of offensive talent on both sides of the field, a Notre Dame defense that had no answer for Denard Robison last season and a Wolverine defense that has not yet fully transitioned to Hoke’s system, this could be an environment conducive to a very high-scoring game. Rees or Christ, whoever the trigger-happy Kelly decides is the QB, will have ample help in RB Cierre Wood (104 yards on 21 carries in the opener) and WR Michael Floyd (12 receptions 154 yards and 2 TDs last week). The Irish hurt themselves with 5 turnovers and 8 penalties last week; they should improve in both areas this week and put up more points with better red-zone efficiency. Kicker David Ruffer had an off week as well, missing two field goals after making the first 23 of his career. The Irish will not lose focus in this game the way they did against USF, and the points will come in bunches against a porous Michigan defense. Michigan will be able to put up points as well, although Robinson will not run wild to the same degree that he did last year as Michigan is no longer running the Rich Rodriguez version of the spread offense and ND will not be caught off guard as they were in 2010. If you are looking for high-scoring, exciting football tune in this Saturday night to the shoot-out at the Big House and be sure to take the over.