September 6, 2013 at 2:28 am

Bob Wojnowski

Wojo's pigskin picks: Michigan looking to ruffle Notre Dame feathers one more time

Brady Hoke, left, says Notre Dame is 'chickening' out of the rivalry. Brian Kelly says a lot of things, many of them contradictory. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

It’s all Michigan’s fault, of course. If the Wolverines hadn’t kicked the shamrock out of the Irish a few times, they’d probably continue one of the great, historical, traditional, bloated, self-adoring rivalries in college football.

There’s a life lesson here, folks, delivered in a business envelope by Notre Dame: We’ll come to your house and lift your self-esteem, but not if we get shoved out with bruises in sensitive places.

Notre Dame is ending the series after 2014, with the final Big House meeting Saturday, and that’s too bad, although I think Michigan sort of understands the challenges of being a pompous diva. Where it gets nasty is with the underhanded “shenanigans,” an old Irish word that loosely translates to “Notre Dame’s coach is fibbing again.”

Brian Kelly began this momentous week by suggesting Michigan-Notre Dame was slightly bigger than Purdue-Notre Dame. His actual quote: “I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries.” By mid-week, Kelly had upgraded it to “a great and historical rivalry.” By game time, he’s expected to suggest Notre Dame and Michigan start their own conference and play each other multiple times per year.

Kelly likely was just sticking to the school’s spin, and also responding to the issue of being called a farm animal. During the offseason, Brady Hoke said Notre Dame was “chickening out,” based on the fact Notre Dame was chickening out. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick had slipped Michigan’s Dave Brandon a letter on the sideline before last year’s game invoking an out clause, also known as the “Denard Robinson clause.”

To Michigan’s credit, it attempted to rectify the situation. Robinson had 948 total yards in back-to-back victories, but was prodded to commit five turnovers and allow the Irish to escape with a 13-6 triumph last season. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to soothe bruised egos.

Michigan has won six of the past seven meetings in Ann Arbor, including a pair of 38-0 slobber-knockers and 38-34 and 35-31 gut-jigglers. So Notre Dame cleverly snuck into the Atlantic Coast Conference and declared no more room for Michigan. A series renewed in 1978 will end so Notre Dame can play Wake Forest and Duke. Michigan State is lucky it made the cut, considering it has been downright subordinate in beating Notre Dame.

The Irish needed to soften their schedule but didn’t need to make up reasons, apparently easy to do at a place that famously blurs reality and mythology. Don’t even get me started on Manti Te’o and his sock-puppet girlfriend, or the legend of that dweeb Rudy.

This is what makes rivalries great, the vitriol, the common goals, the stereotypes refined and regurgitated. Notre Dame long has tried to match its rival’s standard, from building a smaller version of the same stadium, to losing to Alabama (42-14) by almost the exact same score as Michigan (41-14). Michigan has the most victories in college football with 904, although approximately 497 came against Minnesota. Notre Dame is third at 866, with most coming against Army, Navy and Wabash.

So, so many stirring memories, from Bo Schembechler spittin’ bad words after Rocket Ismail returned two kicks for touchdowns, to Lou Holtz spittin’ nonsense every time he talked. So many thrilling plays, including Desmond Howard’s fourth-down touchdown catch from Elvis Grbac. Alas, Elvis is leaving the building and college football will weep for the loss of innocence, and yearn for a simpler time when there were no such things as “BCS computers” or “Boise State” or “Nick Saban.”

You know this is a classic non-regional rivalry when ESPN’s “GameDay” comes to town, although I need to refute a couple rumors: There are no plans to revive the series with Popeye’s Chicken as the sponsor, and Lee Corso is not expected to don a rooster’s head if he picks Notre Dame.

Frankly, it’s time we stop the name-calling. If the hen-pecked Irish want hand-picked opponents, and don’t want to play the Wolverines and don’t want to join the Big Ten and don’t want to get hit in the gizzards, that’s their right.

They are the proud Fighting Irish, although that’s not what the souvenir cups at Notre Dame indicated last week. Etched on those was “Figthing Irish,” and I don’t know if that’s a Fig thing or just the way Holtz used to pronounce it. But it’s a true story with actual photos on the Internet, not a fake love story involving a female impersonator.

It’s all part of the Norte Daem Figthing Irsih aura, and it will be missed. The game often comes down to magical moments, and now it’s Devin Gardner’s turn to try to disrespect Notre Dame’s defense. And it’s up to Michigan to turn Notre Dame’s offense into Tommy Rees’ pieces.

Since 1978, the series is 14-14-1 and has survived Bob Davie and Rich Rodriguez, as well as special uniforms with giant helmet clovers and yellow stripes in unusual places. Michigan fans are upset Notre Dame is downplaying the rivalry, and the hilarious irony is, now they know how Michigan State feels when Michigan pulls the same pretend act on them.

I’m sure Notre Dame will have fun picking on Wake Forest for the next 50 years or so. But first, one more visit to the Big House, and one more chance to lay an egg.

Michigan wins this one, 28-20.

The picks

South Florida at Michigan State: Mark Dantonio, confused and bored by his offense’s ineptness, revealed his new quarterback — Damion O’Maxwell. Someone better complete a pass because the Spartans can’t win every game 26-13. Michigan State 26-13

Southern Mississippi at Nebraska: For unknown reasons, the Cornhuskers continue to abstain from tackling. That’s OK, because Taylor Martinez is back for his 17th season at quarterback, something the NCAA plans to “look into.” Nebraska 45-28

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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