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COLUMN

Notre Dame coach speaks the truth regarding series with Michigan

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For more on college football, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tom101010

Complexities to keep teams apart on the field in the future

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 2:16 am

It's Notre Dame with the shiny helmets.

It's Michigan with the, ahem, unique helmets.

It's national powers.

It's tradition.

It's Rocket Ismail.

It's Desmond Howard.

This college football series has been huge over its 126-year existence and Saturday (8:12 p.m., ESPN) it will be again.

Heck, ESPN's "College GameDay" is making an appearance at the game for Corso's sake! How can this not be a great matchup?

Any reference to diminishing the significance of this rivalry is pure “nonsense,” and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly acknowledged such on Tuesday.

The fourth-year Fighting Irish coach found himself in a bit of a publicity quagmire when his respectful and accurate description of the series between the two elite programs over the weekend was stretched beyond measure by many and a pseudo-controversy erupted.

"I really haven't seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries," Kelly said on a conference call Sunday. "I've seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.”

How dare Kelly speak the truth.

“It's a great and historic rivalry that we'll be playing,” Kelly reiterated Monday. “So let's get that out of the way right away so we don't have to answer any more questions about this rivalry.

“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.”

There he goes again with another accurate assessment.

Regardless of what Michigan coach Brady Hoke sought to create with critical comments about the series being put on hold last spring, the truth is that these two programs have had many great battles. However, in meeting just 41 times over 126-year period, it isn't of the magnitude of some of Notre Dame's more storied rivalries, such as USC (85 games between the two programs). Playing Michigan rates closer to the Fighting Irish dueling Miami (Fla.), which they have done just 25 times.

It's still fantastic football. It just isn't Notre Dame vs. USC.

This topic has been fueled by the fact that the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish (1-0) won't play the 17th-ranked Wolverines (1-0) again perhaps until 2020.

With Notre Dame needing to schedule five teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference; holding onto its series with USC, Stanford and Navy; and continuing its alumni-friendly game in the Shamrock Series, finding openings in future schedules – given the number of teams that want to schedule Notre Dame, as well as receiving national exposure, enhancing recruiting needs and maintaining some level of scheduling sanity for the success of the program – has become monumentally challenging for Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and Kelly.

“We're trying to obviously keep a national perspective on it,” Kelly said of Notre Dame's future games. “We want a program like, Michigan is coming up. But Texas is coming on. So I think you're going to be trading a national profile programs for that.

“I think we're also looking at areas where our Shamrock Series can be touted or played geographically, whether that be on the East Coast or in some areas that geographically make sense to us.

“And then I think finally where we can bring this schedule together in balance and still give us the quality schedule that when the (playoff) committee looks at a schedule in whole and decides who of those four (teams) or maybe down the road eight teams relative to playoffs, that they can look at our schedule and say, that's a deserving schedule.

“We have to balance all those things together.”

Critics of Notre Dame should try walking in the shoes of Swarbrick and Kelly in completing this "balance." Do they understand which teams want to play Notre Dame in the future?

All of them.

Does Michigan realize who considers the Fighting Irish a "rival"?

Every team Notre Dame ever plays does.

In the past, Notre Dame has often found itself with a murderer's row of games on its schedule and that won't make sense as they vie for one of the four coveted playoff spots in the future.

It's easy for the Wolverines to be critical of Notre Dame's scheduling preferences; they now will get to play Indiana and Maryland on an annual basis forever. And that doesn't even include their three non-Big Ten Conference games against midlevel opponents - in the Big House.

That's five games where Michigan will hardly be challenged. And I haven't even addressed possible future games with Minnesota, Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa and Purdue.

That isn't nonsense. That's the truth and the Wolverines fans and their coach need to comprehend that.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.