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Old 09-11-2004, 05:16 AM   #1
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Default NOTRE DAME +12½ over Michigan

NOTRE DAME +12½ over Michigan

The eighth-ranked Michigan Wolverines will invade South Bend, Indiana on Saturday for a meeting with long-time rival Notre Dame. The 2003 edition of the Big Ten bullies was a strong one, as Lloyd Carr's troops went 10-3, beat bitter rival Ohio State, won the Big Ten title and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time in six years. One of their biggest wins of the season was a 38-0 thumping of Notre Dame in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The squad was expected to be tested in the 2004 opener by Miami-Ohio, but what began as a close game last weekend ended in a lopsided 43-10 triumph for Michigan. The Fighting Irish find themselves in the rare role of a big home underdog. After surprising the college football world in 2002 by starting the season 8-0 and finishing with a 10-3 mark, the Irish completed a dismal '03 campaign with a losing record of 5-7, marking the 10th straight year the team did not finish in the top 10. Third-year head coach Tyrone Willingham, who entered this new season with his share of critics, saw his team drop a 20-17 decision at BYU in their opener last weekend.

True freshman Chad Henne was solid in his first start as the new leader of the Wolverine offense last week. He got the call in place of the injured Matt Gutierrez, and will be the starter here as well. It's hard to imagine the Michigan defense playing much better than it did against the RedHawks last Saturday. They forced a staggering seven turnovers, including five interceptions.

After averaging only 20 points per game last season, the Fighting Irish were eager to get off to a good start offensively against BYU. Unfortunately, the squad had to play without the services of starting tailback Ryan Grant, who was held out of the contest with a sore hamstring. Without him, Notre Dame's ground attack was completely ineffective, posting an embarrassing total of 11 yards on 21 attempts. It is clear that Grant is desperately needed by his team, and he should be ready to go here. In 2002 when Julius Jones was ineligible due to academics, Grant racked up over 1,000 yards for the Irish, so he has the goods. More pressure will be on sophomore QB Brady Quinn to perform. Against the Cougars in the opener, he completed 26-of-47 passes for 265 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions but missed some open receivers at key times. Notre Dame posted four sacks last week, but allowed the Cougars to connect on 22-of-33 pass attempts for 263 yards, including a couple of big plays that factored prominently in the final outcome. Still, the defensive unit did produce plenty of positives. The Irish yielded a total of just 22 rushing yards on 35 attempts and limited the Cougars to 20 points, giving Quinn and the offense a chance to win the game.

Nobody is giving the Irish a fighting chance, but we are. With Ryan Grant back in the lineup, the rushing game should improve dramatically, which will open things up for the passing game. Notre Dame will be at an emotional frenzy for this game and should play their best game of the season. Perhaps 2 seasons. They were thoroughly embarrassed by their showing at Michigan last year and have been pre-occupied with getting revenge in the off season. It’s little wonder they could not find a way to beat the Cougars in BYU, who were looking for some revenge of their own. There is no doubt Notre Dame was looking ahead to this game and past BYU last week. After all, they rescheduled the BYU game for one reason – to play a game before meeting Michigan. This week we fully expect to see the real Fighting Irish, while Michigan will show they are human after all.

Notre Dame will get pressure on Michigan’s young QB(s) and make some big plays. The crowd will be a tremendous edge here as well for Notre Dame. Michigan has shown us their Jekyll and Hyde sides before, where they get a big win at home in which they look like they could wipe out an NFL team, and then go lay an egg on the road. Last year, for example, after crushing the Irish they waltzed into Eugene, Oregon and crashed with a thud. Michigan is 2-12 ATS in their first road game of the season and 0-6 ATS on the road off a double-digit SU win vs. a non-conference opponent. In “marquee matchups” pointspreads posted before the season started, Michigan was about a 4 point favorite for this game. The line is now in double digits, but this is a case of public over-reaction in our estimation, which provides us with great line value here. Even including last year’s unusual blowout, the favorite in this series is just 3-15 ATS. We look for a return to that form here, as Notre Dame stays within a FG of Michigan, giving them a chance to pull of a huge SU win.
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