Friday, September 14, 2007

Notre Dame at Michigan: Remember the Titans


Let me tell you about the good old days. Once upon a time, college football powers Michigan and Notre Dame would get together and play a meaningful game. This was a contest on each school’s schedule that would go a long way in determining rank, bowl position, and their status in the chase for a national championship.

Oh … how times have changed.

Let’s fast forward to 2007, shall we? Both team’s seasons appear unreal. Both team’s records currently stand at 0-2. Due to a lower leg injury to senior signal-caller Chad Henne, both teams will be starting freshman quarterbacks this Saturday. Notre Dame is going with Jimmy Clausen, who will be starting the second game of his career at Ann Arbor after an “unhappy” debut versus Penn State and a 31-10 loss. Michigan will be looking to drop the hammer on the Irish with freshman Ryan Mallett, the heir apparent of the Maize and Blue.

Both are highly ranked and coveted recruits that are inexperienced and learning amongst live bullets. Clausen will be starting in his second hostile environment, while Mallett, who relieved Henne in last week’s loss to Oregon, will be in the comforts of the Big House. With another week of preparation for Clausen, head coach Charlie Weis is ready to force-feed his freshman a little more fire to fight with, by opening more of the playbook. Mallett is hoping to benefit from a week’s work with the first team and play much more relaxed than his spontaneous debut in Michigan’s second combustion of the season.

Let us remember as we watch these two shells of former national powers get it on this weekend, what once was. When these schools were factors in the national championship equation. The epic battles that have represented this rivalry will now be littered with losses and expiring expectations of the year 2007. Visions of victories this season have been replaced by lingering losses and retracted respect. The hallowed history that was once one of college footballs greatest has become an afterthought contest between two teams on the verge of an 0-3 hole. The names of the past (a short list), Joe Montana, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail, Rick Leach, Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard, and Charles Woodson were great, iconic players who have played in these games.

More questions than answers are what remain of this union of two teams who have exited the polls and significance in the college scene this season.

What is left? What will be gained? B ragging rights? A win in the series between the two tradition-rich schools? Will the winner have won anything but a little self-respect? What of the fan whose school goes 0-3 and has to do this all over again next week? Is this the beginning of a rivalry between two freshman quarterbacks that will entertain for the next three years? Is Lloyd Carr on the way out and his successor coming from “miles” away? Will the records of these two teams, who appear to be in full on rebuilding mode, discourage recruits from coming? Does a guarantee from star tailback Mike Hart mean anything to anyone?

You wouldn’t think a game between two 0-2 teams on a weekend in September would mean so much. Fact is, no matter the records, it means EVERYTHING.