Notre Dame football: Present urgency trumps history
SOUTH BEND - Perhaps awash in passion or maybe promotion, ESPN college football analyst and renowned Notre Dame football haranguer Mark May misremembered history.
Monday night, during the halftime show interrupting Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback/outfielder/relief pitcher Jameis Winston’s coming-out party against Pitt, May took issue with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s initial comments about the ND-Michigan football series being less traditional and historic than some of the other Irish rivalries.
In the process of countering Kelly, May waxed nostalgic about being hooked by the rivalry while growing up. But as @SandlapperSpike, among others, pointed out Monday night on Twitter; “Mark May just said he watched Notre Dame-Michigan growing up. May was born in 1959. ND and UM did not play between 1943 and (resuming in) 1978.”
Then again perhaps May didn’t technically grow up until he was a burgeoning All-America lineman at Pitt — or later.
Kelly, meanwhile, took a Mulligan of sorts on his Sunday comments.
“It’s a great and historic rivalry that we’ll be playing this Saturday, so let’s get that out of the way right away so we don’t have to answer any more questions about this rivalry,” Kelly said in advance of the 41st and penultimate rendition for the foreseeable future, Saturday night at Ann Arbor, Mich., (8 EDT; ESPN).
“We’re excited about the game, excited about playing it. This will be decided by the players on the field and the preparation that goes along with it, so we can stick to that and dispense with the nonsense.”
And it is nonsense in the immediate big picture. The heart of the matter is that Saturday’s winner will likely catapult into at least the periphery of the national title discussion. The loser has a tough road to redemption, particularly if it’s Michigan, which may not get a chance again to impress against a ranked team until November.
On Tuesday, Notre Dame (1-0) held at its preseason position in the AP poll — 14th — following a 28-6 dispatching of Temple, but slipped a couple of spots to 13th in the coaches poll. And the Irish are already behind a one-loss SEC team, Georgia (0-1) in both polls.
Michigan (1-0) remained No 17 in both polls after crushing former Kelly coaching stop, Central Michigan, 59-9, in amassing its highest point total in a season opener since it routed Ohio Wesleyan in 1905.
Another Ohio team, No. 3 Ohio State, should considering cheering for Michigan Saturday night just this once. The ND game isn’t just a critical game for Michigan and its résumé, but for the Big Ten and its overall conference profile as well.
Of the 48 non-conference games the Big Ten plays this season, only four are against teams ranked in the preseason top 25, and three of those involve Notre Dame the next three weeks (Purdue and Michigan State follow). The only other such game pits Nebraska against UCLA.
The Big Ten, meanwhile, plays more than 20 percent of its non-league schedule against FCS teams (10 games).
How does that compare to the other four power conferences?
•ACC plays 10 of its 56 non-league games vs. preseason top 25 teams and scheduled 14 games vs. FCS teams.
•Pac-12: Eight of 37 vs. top 25 and eight vs FCS.
•SEC: Eight of 56 the top 25 and 14 vs. FCS.
•Big 12: Two of 30 vs. the top 25 and eight vs. FCS.
Schedule-poor Ohio State this week underwhelmed at least the Sagarin computer, part of the BCS formula in the final season for that postseason format. The Buckeyes are 13th in the regular Sagarin ratings this week, 15th in the version that the BCS uses that strips out margin of victory.
The Buckeyes play Sagarin No. 86 San Diego State this week after the Aztecs were routed 40-19 by FCS Eastern Illinois a week ago; No. 59 Cal and No. 223 Florida A&M the next three weeks.
For the intraconference games to mean something, for OSU and all the aspiring national powers, the league needs to make a statement out of conference. And Michigan Saturday may be its best shot to do so.
•As expected, junior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (groin) practiced Tuesday after suffering a very mild strain Saturday against Temple. His availability for Saturday night’s game was never really in question.
•Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire, ND’s No. 3 option, did not receive clearance Tuesday to resume contact as he continues to recover from mononucleosis. Quarterback-turned receiver Luke Massa will spend his second straight week at his old position preparing to be ND’s emergency QB.
As for Zaire?
“He’ll be allowed to do some things cardiovascular, but right now he is not cleared for competition,” Kelly said.
•Kelly said he would eventually like to trim his five-man running back rotation to something more manageable, to give the running backs a chance to find their rhythm within game But all five have been so impressive in practice, Kelly is going to let it play out on the field.
“Later in the year last year we knew when we were going to close out the game, Theo Riddick was in the ballgame, and we’re not there yet,” he said. “We’re still searching for that. Everybody is going to have an opportunity to show that that’s their job.
“All of them are very versatile. They all can do the things that we’re asking them to do. We’re still searching for that guy to close out ballgames.”
•In the first set of national statistics released this season, Irish quarterback Tommy Rees ranked fourth in passing efficiency (239.0), behind only Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Rees’ Michigan counterpart, Devin Gardner is 46th (152.7)
Rees, ND’s No. 2 QB last year, didn’t have enough pass attempts to qualify for the 2012 ratings, but his 124.1 mark would have ranked him 78th. He was 54th in 2011, when he started 12 of 13 games for the Irish (133.37).
•A year ago, in Michigan’s 13-6 loss at Notre Dame, Gardner was Michigan’s leader in receiving yards against the Irish with 40 yards on three receptions as a starting wide receiver.
He’s back at his natural position, quarterback, and Kelly compared him Tuesday to former NFL star Randall Cunningham.
“He can throw it, he’s tall, he’s athletic, runs the ball very well,” Kelly said..
•Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons has converted 14 consecutive field goal attempts, tying a Michigan record held by Remy Hamilton. Irish kickers Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza, meanwhile. have missed three of the last five, dating back to last season, with each misfiring on their only attempts Saturday against Temple.
Kelly said a technical error by new holder, Luke Massa, contributed to Brindza being off-target.
•Michigan coach Brady Hoke has yet to lose a game at Michigan Stadium (15-0) and was the first Wolverine coach to put together undefeated home seasons in his first two years on the job since Fielding Yost in 1901-02.
•Michigan will be seeking its 400th victory at Michigan Stadium on Saturday night.
•The Wolverines are 14-8 when playing at a venue in which ESPN’s College GameDay is present, 8-2 at home with appearance No. 11 coming Saturday night. Notre Dame is 11-12 with GameDay hovering — 7-7 on the road, 4-4 at home and 0-1 at a neutral site.
•Kelly said Saturday was the first time in 23 years he didn’t call offensive players in a game in which he was coaching, handing them off to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin for the first time.
And how did that go?
“Like I said, I called all of the touchdowns; Chuck called all of the stalled drives.” Kelly said. “Procedurally, I thought very well. It was very clean. Didn’t expect to have any issues there and was very pleased. I thought Chuck called a very good game. ... and I expect it to be that way all year.”
•Notre Dame checked in at No. 10 in the first Sagarin computer rankings. Here’s how Sagarin sees the Irish schedule from toughest to easiest: 3. Stanford, 8. Oklahoma, 17. Arizona State, 19. Michigan, 24. USC, 35. Michigan State, 38. BYU, 58. Pitt, 60. Navy, 74. Purdue, 75. Air Force and 84. Temple.