Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and quarterback Denard Robinson celebrate Saturday's victory over Connecticut. Will they be celebrating again after facing Notre Dame (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
This college football weekend is so big, it deserves one of those snappy slogans ESPN loves to make up. You know, like "Statement Saturday!" "Revenge Regurgitated!" or "Michigan and Notre Dame Aren't Dead Yet!"
With so many good games, there's no time to waste, which means if you came here looking for waist jokes about the former Notre Dame coach, move along. Please. How pathetically predictable do you think I am? (Note: Keep your answers to 450 words or less.)
This is what makes this sport so fascinating, worth every dollar you spend on that extravagant tailgate party, including the box of wine and cousin Leo's "special" brownies. Just a few days ago, we watched pesky Boise State rally for a stirring victory over Virginia Tech, impressive enough to consider granting Boise big-boy status.
First, we need to see what the traditional big boys display in their showdowns. You have Penn State-Alabama, Miami-Ohio State, Florida State-Oklahoma, and of course, Idaho-Nebraska. You have Michigan State against Florida Atlantic Coastal School For The Nimble, reportedly to be played at Ford Field (see your ticket-broker for great deals!)
And you have Michigan-Notre Dame, two humbled powers trying to rebuild the haughty reputations that have thoroughly annoyed the rest of college football for nearly a century. I'm not here to overreact to big opening victories. Nope, not me. I'm merely saying the Heisman people should take that tainted trophy away from Reggie Bush, pack it in bubble wrap and ship it off to Michigan quarterback Denard "Untied Shoelaces" Robinson.
In case you missed it, he ran all over Connecticut in a performance so dominating, some have upgraded the Wolverines' expected record from 6-6 to 16-0. Now, they head to Notre Dame Stadium, where the Irish are trying yet again to Restore the Glory, after a mere two-decade hiatus. Speaking for many, many fans, I say it's good for the sport when the Wolverines and Irish are actually competitive. And now I'll duck while I get pelted with bottle shards and rotten fruit.
Maybe Rich Rodriguez has been sand-bagging all along, smiling wearily while secretly putting together the type of offense that made him such a hotshot coach at West Virginia, where his name no longer can be uttered in the company of women and children.
This is huge, and not just because Rodriguez is 1-6 against Michigan's traditional rivals (Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State, Toledo), 1-8 on the road, and 9-16 overall. It's especially large because he's facing another new-age coach, Brian Kelly, who's trying to install his own fancy-schmancy spread offense.
Rodriguez and Kelly don't use Xs and Os. They use asterisks (*s), ampersands (&s) and expletives ($%*s). Kelly wants to sling the ball, like he did at Cincinnati, Central Michigan and Grand Valley State. Rodriguez wants to hand the ball to his quarterback and request he run toward the end zone.
The nation can get all tingly about Miami and Ohio State, but when you have tattered prom queens like Michigan and Notre Dame desperately trying to gussy themselves up, that's compelling. For years, the Irish have produced the most-outdated, overblown NBC programming that didn't include Jay Leno. Their reputation dropped to the point where the Big Ten wouldn't even get down on one knee while begging them to join.
Remember when the Irish handed Charlie Weis a fat 10-year contract extension midway through his first season? By that reasoning, if Kelly beats Michigan, they at least ought to refurbish the Notre Dame coach's office and clean up those nasty barbecue stains.
You can bet Kelly will have his quarterback, Dayne Crist, throw often against a Michigan secondary so depleted, I could say the nickel back is a walk-on named Edgar Hoogencrantz and you wouldn't know if I was lying. (I think I am).
This could be momentous for Rodriguez, who might start 5-0 if he beats the Irish. It's clear, Michigan's hopes rest in the thinnest margins, tied together by a shoelace or two. Robinson can't carry the ball 29 times for 197 yards every game, no way, although he could carry it 28 times for 187 yards. OK, that's not realistic either.
The Wolverines are noticeably amped up. The Irish are noticeably slimmed down. Two old-school rivals are about to show how far they've come -- and how far they still have to go. Notre Dame 31-24