University of Michigan player Roy Roundtree, 12, hauls in the game-winning touchdown catch in front of University of Notre Dame player Gary Gray, 4, with seconds left in the game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011.
The Blade/Andy Morrison
ANN ARBOR — It's arguably one of the more storied rivalries in college football, and a September rite of passage.
All eyes seem to be on the mystique surrounding two historically top programs, and among the Michigan team, there's a certain type of energy and anticipation that comes in the days leading up to the game against Notre Dame.
"You look forward to games like this," offensive lineman Taylor Lewan said.
As the No. 18 Wolverines (2-1) prepare to complete their nonconference schedule Saturday against No. 11 Notre Dame (3-0), this time of year could be the barometer for Michigan.
The Wolverines struggled against No. 1 Alabama in their season opener, faced one of the country's more complex offenses against Air Force in the second game of the season, then routed Massachusetts in their third game.
Those three games didn't necessarily define the Wolverines. But Saturday's could.
"I think we'll know more about us as a football team in the next two weeks," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke, whose team has a bye Sept. 29 before opening its Big Ten schedule Oct. 6 at Purdue.
There's no clock that's counting down the days, hours, and minutes until Michigan's annual contest against the Irish — unlike the digital one that hangs in Schembechler Hall to remind the Wolverines of the regular-season finale against Ohio State.
Instead, there's chatter. The Wolverines discuss the series and its legacies.
During a rainy contest in 1989, Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail returned back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns in a 24-19 win over the Wolverines in Bo Schemechler's final game coaching against the Irish.
Ten years later, Michigan earned a 26-22 win on Anthony Thomas' touchdown with 1:38 left, and the Irish were unable to keep up with the clock on their final drive.
A year ago, quarterback Denard Robinson finished off Michigan's final drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left for a 35-31 win, Michigan's fifth win over the Irish in six years.
Still, Lewan spoke in blunt terms about last year's win over Notre Dame.
"The first three quarters of last year, we played awful," said Lewan, whose program leads the all-time series 23-15-1. "We can't come out like that. We're a different team, and they're a different team."
But the days leading up to the annual tilt — again under the lights and again in a nationally broadcast game — bring a certain sense of anticipation among Michigan's players.
In a typical game week, many of Michigan's players may resort to using company lines about treating each week of preparation like any other week or how each team is like any other team they will face.
In the days leading up the Michigan-Notre Dame game, there's a heightened sense of anticipation inside the Michigan football facilities, among the players and even across campus.
"You don't treat this game like just another game," defensive lineman Craig Roh said. "It's Notre Dame. This is the peak of college football right here. There's definitely a focus. I'm not saying there isn't a focus for the other weeks, but there's a focus and an energy because Notre Dame's a very good team, and we need to bring our best football to beat them."
NOTRE DAME ABSENCES: The South Bend (Ind.) Tribune reported that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o will play Saturday against Michigan, but he will return to Hawaii during Notre Dame's bye week to be with his family after the death of his girlfriend and his grandmother. Te'o played Saturday in the 20-3 win over Michigan State. His girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died Sept. 12 after a long battle with leukemia. His grandmother died the day before.
Also, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said senior safety Jamoris Slaughter will miss the remainder of the year with an achilles heel injury.
MICHIGAN INJURIES: Hoke said the availability of defensive end Brennen Beyer (knee) and tight end Brandon Moore (knee) is questionable for this weekend, while defensive tackle Richard Ash (undisclosed injury) and linebacker Desmond Morgan (head) "should be" available. Of fullback Stephen Hopkins (undisclosed injury), Hoke said, "he may be ready."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.