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2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 53 and Devin Gardner are Heisman winners against Notre Dame, and maybe second team the rest of the year." Hoke isn't in a joking mood when it comes to the Irish, his much quoted quip aside. He carries a number of good memories over which teeth are ground in South Bend. "I think 2011 was pretty special," Hoke said. "We gave it up late defensively, Jeremy Gallon catching the pass, and Denard coming up and winning the football game. "The '97 game, with three turnovers in the red zone, and the defense playing their hearts out to win the football game 21-14. Last year was pretty special — part of it because of the atmosphere, that crowd in Michigan Stadium, with 115,000. It was great. Then how the game wound up at the end, with us on the right side of it." Meanwhile, the 1994 showdown didn't make up for all the kicking-game agony vis- ited upon the Wolverines by the Irish. But it certainly got one back, and Hamilton will never forget. Michigan had to scramble just to get in position for Hamilton's kick, and its success took a few folks by surprise. "I started to try to warm up, and Big Jonny [Falk] had packed away the kicking net," Hamilton recalled. "I was like, all right, I'll get over here and start doing some stretches. Next thing you know, there was another nice pass down the middle to Jay Riemersma. I re- member Coach [Lou] Holtz calling a timeout, which gave me a little more time to warm up." Hamilton wound up with enough time, and connected on an all-timer. "As soon as I kicked it, I just started jump- ing up and down," he said. "Then I got tack- led. There were fans in my face. It was hard to breathe, because you were so excited, and there were so many people on top of you. To this day, it still gives me chills talking about it." 'The Ultimate Barometer' Michigan-Notre Dame has for many years delivered a clear indication of how life might go in any given season for the Fighting Irish, Somogyi pointed out. "There was always so much hand-wringing in September, because you knew the Michi- gan game set the tempo," he said. "Bo often emphasized, 'Look, if we lose to Notre Dame, we can still win the conference.' That was still something to shoot for. "But for Notre Dame, when the series was resumed in '78, it was like if you lose that early game, this will be really tough to bounce back from. The goal, since they weren't in a conference, was the national title. "Back then, they had a right to look at a national title all the time, unlike today. It was always such a pivotal test." Somogyi has crunched the numbers, and in seasons in which the Irish have beaten or tied the Wolverines over the past four decades, their winning percentage is .770. When they have lost to Michigan, it's .550. Notre Dame has never finished in the top 10 in those years including a loss to Mich- igan, except in 1978. It has never lost fewer than three games in those seasons. "It's the ultimate barometer," Somogyi said. It's not like one of those things where you say, 'Well, you lost to Michigan, but you can still win out the rest of them.' It's sort of just sets the tempo. "Even this year, I think there's an attitude of: 'If Notre Dame beats Michigan, they can get back to a major bowl game. But if they lose to Michigan, they'll lose four games.' It's always such an upper or such a downer." The results aren't nearly as dramatic on the Michigan side, perhaps in part because of the Big Ten carrot. In fact, the Wolverines have won seven Big Ten titles in years that included a loss to the Irish and another in a season featuring a tie between the teams. They finished ranked No. 5 in the polls after tying the Irish in 1992, and No. 7 in the Associated Press poll following a 1990 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame. After the losses in 1988 and '89, the Wolverines wound up Big Ten champs, as well as No. 4 and No. 7, respectively, in the AP poll. The game still gives Michigan a strong feel for what's ahead, many stressed. "You see where you are, how you match up," the elder Irons stressed. "Notre Dame is, traditionally, going to be a great, funda- mentally sound team. They play with a lot of pride. That's always been a difficult game to play in." "That game, as much as any game that's played, took on a national appeal," Hoke said. "That game, early in the season, gave you a chance to gauge every year what kind of team you were going to have, because of the traditions both schools have had in football." For the time being, it's going away, along with so much early-season focus. "To me, college football didn't start until that game was played," Hamilton said. "As a player, that's what we worked for during the summer. As soon as the bowl game was over, we were talking about Notre Dame, the pre- season rankings, if we got by that game. Then you've got a shot at the national champion- ship. Everything started with that game." ❏ 48-53.End Of ND Rivalry.indd 53 6/18/14 3:50 PM

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