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ESPN College GameDay adds fuel to rivalry

Andrew Owens | Thursday, September 8, 2011

All conversations about the greatest programs in college football begin with Notre Dame and Michigan. They have combined for 22 national championships and 10 Heisman trophies and have been home to iconic figures such as Knute Rockne, Joe Montana, Bo Schembechler and Desmond Howard.

It seems like every time the two schools take the field against one another, something special happens. In 1989, Raghib Ismail returned two consecutive Michigan kickoffs for touchdowns en route to a 24-19 win. In 1994, Michigan kicker Remy Hamilton’s last-second field goal put the Wolverines over the top. On their way to an 8-0 start, the Irish defeated the Wolverines 25-23 in 2002 without scoring an offensive touchdown. Most recently, Denard Robinson’s 502 total yards of offense were too much for Notre Dame in a 28-24 Michigan win.

In recent years, the nostalgia has faded away and the dark reality of unsuccessful seasons has set in.

The programs’ struggles have led to coaching changes and the subsequent optimism surrounding Irish coach Brian Kelly after a 4-0 finish in 2010 and Wolverines coach Brady Hoke, who has been deemed a “Michigan Man” by Wolverine faithful.

This year, Notre Dame is 0-1 and desperately needs a victory before its season unravels. For Michigan, a win is needed to gain some respect and show they are a legitimate contender in the Big 10. Rather than jockeying for position atop the polls and aiming for championship berths, the programs are looking to restore their respective glory.

This season, ESPN College GameDay is traveling to Ann Arbor for the Notre Dame-Michigan matchup, the first game under the lights in Michigan Stadium history, as the two schools celebrate one of the most enticing matchups on the college football calendar.

Irish sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees leads the 2011 version of Notre Dame into the Big House with the team coming off a devastating loss to South Florida Saturday. Rees replaced senior Dayne Crist in the second half of the 23-20 loss and completed 24 of 34 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Rees stepped in at quarterback after Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury for the second consecutive season in 2010. As a freshman, he led the Irish to wins in their final four games, including victories over Utah, at USC and against Miami in the Sun Bowl.

In the final four games of 2010 and the second half against South Florida Saturday, Rees showed poise and composure, and he will need to show those traits in Michigan Stadium this weekend if the Irish are going to win and get their season back on track in their push for a BCS berth.

Fans interested in learning more about ESPN College GameDay can find more information by visiting College GameDay on Facebook or following @collegegameday on Twitter. The Observer will also be tweeting live from Ann Arbor all weekend at @NDObsSports and @ObsSportsEditor.