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Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry ending, just not yet

Michigan fans wave pom-poms before an NCAA college

Michigan fans wave pom-poms before an NCAA college football game between Michigan and Notre Dame, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Ann Arbor, Mich. This is the first ever night game to be played at Michigan Stadium. (AP Photo/Tony Ding) Credit: AP Photo/TONY DING

It's sad to see the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry coming to an end.

With a move to the ACC and new scheduling obligations, the Fighting Irish last year opted out of games against Michigan scheduled for 2015-17. The teams will meet next season in South Bend and then that’s it for now. The series could start up at some point in the future, but that’s undetermined.

But let’s be clear on something: this rivalry has not gone uninterrupted. Saturday night’s game will be the 41st in the series (Michigan leads 23-16-1). The series went on a long hiatus after the 1943 game and didn’t resume again until 1978. The teams met somewhat regularly from that point on with a year skipped here and there. Still, the teams have played regularly since 2002, and it’s been good for college football.

So you’ll want to tune in Saturday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN as the two historic rivals meet in Ann Arbor under the lights, perhaps for the final time in the Big House if the series isn’t restarted. There’s plenty at stake.

The No. 14 Fighting Irish and No. 17 Wolverines have BCS aspirations. But the rivalry ending has been the story this week.

When asked about the rivalry against Notre Dame on Monday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke called it “great for college football.”

“Coaching in a lot of places, and maybe it's just me, but I know that whenever Michigan and Notre Dame was on TV, I was going to be watching it,” Hoke said. “I know people in Corvallis, Oregon, were going to be watching it -- for one reason or another."

Michigan senior offensive lineman Taylor Lewan was also asked about the rivalry with the Fighting Irish.

"It's a huge national rivalry,” Lewan said Monday. “To be around that team and play that team … the idea of a rivalry and being there on Saturday, it's a phenomenal feeling. There are three big rivals, now it's coming down to two. I'm fortunate to be playing them my senior year, so that's huge. It's unfortunate [that it's ending], but I'm going to get over it."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly reportedly took some heat for downplaying the rivalry with Michigan during a teleconference with reporters on Sunday. Kelly then changed direction when he opened his Tuesday press conference.

“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. “We're excited about the game, excited about playing it.”

This will be just the second night game in the long history of the Big House. If Saturday night’s game is anything like the last time the teams played in Ann Arbor, then fans should expect a back-and-forth nail biter. Michigan rallied for a memorable 35-31 win over Notre Dame in 2011 – the first night game at Michigan Stadium.

Saturday night’s game will come down to the quarterbacks – Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees.

Rees, who played well in the 2011 loss with 315 yards and three touchdowns, can’t afford any turnovers against the Wolverines. Rees had three costly turnovers in the 2011 game.

Gardner, who played wide receiver in last year’s game, needs to beat the Fighting Irish with his arm and legs. Gardner had three touchdowns (one passing, two running) in last week’s 59-9 win over Central Michigan.

Michigan’s offensive line must also make Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Louis Nix III become non-factors.

What could be Notre Dame’s final trip to the Big House should be a tight game. Enjoy Saturday night. The rivalry is quickly coming to an end.

New York Sports