Wolverines still see game with Irish as a big rivalry

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.

ANN ARBOR — A day after Notre Dame’s football coach described — and likely downplayed — the program’s rivalry with Michigan, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke expressed his own perspective on the rivalry. When Hoke was asked about how he interpreted Kelly’s comments, the third-year Wolverines coach declined to add fuel to the fire.

“It is for us,” Hoke said of the historic significance of the rivalry on Monday, during his weekly press conference at Michigan. “Everybody looks at everything differently.”

No. 17 Michigan hosts No. 14 Notre Dame at 8 p.m. Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the 41st meeting between the two teams and the final tilt between the Irish and the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

In a teleconference Sunday with reporters, Kelly said he didn’t regard the rivalry as a historic or traditional one for his school or for his program.

“I’ve seen it as one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played,” Kelly said. “For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time so I’ve always felt that the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game, but in the Notre Dame history books, this game has played itself.”

Michigan holds a 23-16-1 lead in the series, which dates back to 1887 — a point Hoke noted Monday — and went on hiatus twice, from 1910 to 1942 and from 1944 to 1978. Notre Dame will host Michigan on Sept. 6, 2014 in South Bend, Ind., before the series will be put on hold for at least five seasons.

“It must have some sort of national appeal,” Hoke said. “From the standpoint of coaching a lot of places, and maybe it’s just me, but I know one thing. When Michigan-Notre Dame is on TV, I was going to be watching it. And I know people out in Corvallis, Ore., were going to be watching that game, for one reason or another.”

Hoke also stood behind the comments he made in May about Notre Dame “chickening out” of the series.

“I said it,” Hoke said Monday.

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner didn’t hesitate to add superlatives to the matchup.

“It’s one of the biggest rivalries in college football, or else [ESPN’s College] GameDay wouldn’t be there,” Gardner said. “It wouldn’t be such a nationally televised game. It fits right up there at the top.”

It will soon disappear.

About a year ago, Notre Dame announced it would join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and men’s hockey. Notre Dame’s football program will join the ACC’s bowl rotation in 2014 and the Irish will have a contractual obligation to schedule five football games each season against ACC opponents.

"We're trying to do the best we can maintaining our independent status and our relationship with the ACC,” Kelly said. “We'd like to play everybody. Unfortunately we can't. There's going to be a little bit of hiatus on the game but we'll work hard to get them back on the schedule."

In May, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told WBBL-FM in Grand Rapids, Mich., that “it will be at least 10 to 12 years before we can get into any kind of rhythm with a home-and-home series against Notre Dame.”

Michigan cornerback Blake Countess briefly considered the impending end of what many consider one of college football’s storied rivalries, then succinctly put it in context.

"We just play who’s on they schedule,” Countess said. “If they're taking themselves off the schedule, then so be it. That game will be filled.”


JOHNSON OUT: Freshman running back Drake Johnson will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL on Saturday.

Johnson was listed at No. 2 at running back on Michigan's depth chart prior to Saturday's season opener against Central Michigan. Johnson had two carries for nine yards before he was injured in the second half of the 59-9 win over the Chippewas.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.