Michigan-Notre Dame seems so last century now.
The game burnished reputations, showcased a handful of top NFL draft picks and often signaled whether either Midwestern power was likely to land a spot in the national championship picture. But the meeting of the sport’s two winningest programs in South Bend this weekend will resemble something closer to “Extreme Makeover: College Football Edition.”
Neither has been relevant the last few years and both are in the midst of rebuilding. On the admittedly slim evidence of Saturday’s openers, each suggested a change of fortune may be in the offing.
“We’ve been through a lot. It’s been tough on the coaches. It’s been tough on the players,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said after the Wolverines pounded visiting Connecticut.
“This is just one win,” he added, “but I’m going to let our players enjoy it.”
“I took on the challenge at Notre Dame because I want to see this program back to where I believe it should be,” said coach Brian Kelly after a convincing win over Purdue in his first game in charge of the Irish, “and that’s amongst the elite in college football.”
While their problems have been similar, the programs have gone about rebuilding differently.
The Irish have been impatient. Kelly is their sixth coach since the start of the decade _ counting George O'Leary, who never coached a game, and Kent Baer, who served in an interim role for a bowl game after Ty Willingham was fired _ and the lack of continuity has shown on defense.
But against Purdue, the rigorous offseason conditioning program Kelly installed yielded immediate dividends on defense _ four sacks and two interceptions by a team that was losing the turnover battle regularly. And Notre Dame’s ground game was just as tough, piling up 153 yards with Armando Allen and Cierre Wood taking turns slicing and dicing the Boilermakers’ defense.
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said something similar about Michigan’s quarterback, the breakout star of the opening weekend.
“Denard Robinson is going to make people look bad,” he said.
Robinson’s debut couldn’t have come a moment too soon for Rodriguez. Michigan has always taken the long-term view, and Rodriguez‘ predecessor, Lloyd Carr, held the job for the 13 seasons before that. Rodriguez was brought in to update the offense, but the results were so poor in his first two seasons that more than a few high-profile programs wouldn’t have kept him around for a third.
Throw in run-ins with the NCAA over practice time _ a first for the Wolverines’ football program _ and Rodriguez‘ continued employment prospects were dimming. But his Michigan higher-ups weren’t the only one counseling patience. Rodriguez told anyone willing to listen that the spread offense that worked so well at every one of his last stops would succeed in Ann Arbor once he had the personnel in place. And Robinson turned out to be just the guy.View Entire Story
By Elaine Donnelly
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