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Notre Dame, Michigan to resume football series in 2018

| Thursday, July 7, 2016

Four years after their last meeting, college football’s two winningest programs are set to resume their rivalry in 2018.

Both the Notre Dame and Michigan athletic departments announced a resumption of the football series between the schools Thursday, with two meetings scheduled. The two teams will open the 2018 season at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018, before a return game the next year at Michigan Stadium, set for Oct. 26, 2019.

Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick noted the return isn’t a return to an annual series, though the two schools will look to schedule future contests where possible.

“Today is a great day for Notre Dame, Michigan and college football fans across the country,” Swarbrick said in a press release. “Shortly after Warde Manuel was hired as Michigan’s athletic director, he and I began working to make this renewal of the series possible. That we could get games on the schedule as soon as ’18 and ’19 required a lot of work by our staffs and some great cooperation by the Big Ten, ACC and other schools that were on our future schedules.

“While the schedule commitments of both Notre Dame and Michigan make an annual series impractical, we’re optimistic that additional games can be scheduled in the future.”

Former Irish receiver Will Fuller leaps to haul in a touchdown pass from former quarterback Everett Golson during Notre Dame’s 31-0 win over Michigan on Sept. 6, 2014 at Notre Dame Stadium.Zach Llorens | The Observer
Former Irish receiver Will Fuller leaps to haul in a touchdown pass from former quarterback Everett Golson during Notre Dame’s 31-0 win over Michigan on Sept. 6, 2014 at Notre Dame Stadium.

The series between the Irish and Wolverines is one that’s often hard to contextualize, unique among college football rivalries. Michigan is credited with “teaching the game” to Notre Dame, visiting in November 1887 for Notre Dame’s first intercollegiate football game, and dominated the early days of the series, winning the first eight contests.

However, Notre Dame took the 1909 game 11-3 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a game that changed the face of the rivalry for more than a generation. After the loss, amidst a dispute over player eligibility at Notre Dame, Michigan head coach Fielding Yost refused to play Notre Dame. Yost also worked to keep Notre Dame out of the then-Western Conference (now the Big Ten) and led an attempt at a conference-wide boycott of Notre Dame. The move led Notre Dame to begin series with Army, Navy and USC, contests that allowed the program to become a national football powerhouse, rather than a regional team.

Legend has it that the 1909 win inspired Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish” moniker, too, with the Detroit Free Press writing, “Eleven Fighting Irishmen wrecked the Yost machine this afternoon.”

The Irish and Wolverines met once again in 1942 and 1943 — No. 1 Notre Dame downing No. 2 Michigan 35-12 in that second meeting — before being embroiled in a national title debate in 1947: The Irish were voted champions by the Associated Press at the close of the regular season, but an unofficial post-bowl vote had the Wolverines top.

But after that 1943 meeting, it took another 35 years for the rivalry to finally return on a semi-permanent schedule. From 1978 — the “reunion” game — through 2014, the series only skipped four years — 1983, 1984, 2000 and 2001 — before Swarbrick cancelled the series in 2012. The University’s move to the ACC, and agreement to play five football games each season against members of the conference, is often cited as a key reason for the cancellation.

Though Notre Dame lost its last four trips to Ann Arbor, the Irish exited the series in 2014 on a high note, downing Michigan 31-0 at Notre Dame Stadium. And while Michigan leads the all-time series, with 24 wins against Notre Dame’s 17 (the teams tied in 1992), the series has been even since its resumption in 1978, with each side claiming 15 wins.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has spoken out repeatedly about a desire to resume the series — doing so most recently last month — while Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh did this June as well. The game in 2018 will be the first time the Irish have faced a Harbaugh-coached team since 2010, when the former San Francisco 49ers head coach was at Stanford.

“I’m excited to see Notre Dame and Michigan, two brand-name programs, get back together on the football field,” Kelly said in the press release. “Both programs have a long and storied history of success. We’re talking about the two winningest programs in all of college football.”

In December, The Observer sat down with Swarbrick, asking him about a potential resumption of the Michigan series.

“There’s no question that we would welcome the opportunity to play Michigan again. Brian has been clear about that, and Michigan is as well,” Swarbrick said Dec. 16.

The resumption follows the March announcement that Notre Dame’s hockey program is set to leave Hockey East for the Big Ten, starting in 2017, a move that publicly signaled the ongoing détente between the two schools. Additionally, fans got to see a minor resumption of the rivalry this March, when Notre Dame beat Michigan 70-63 in the first round of the men’s basketball NCAA tournament before the Wolverines downed the Irish in overtime, 3-2, to open the NCAA hockey tournament.

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