Normally the Maize ‘N Blue announcing it’s non-conference schedule isn’t exactly nationally relevant news, however what came out on Wednesday is an ambitious slate of games in 2014-2016 and with Tuesday’s playoff announcement it is a big deal. However, it also served as the announcement that one of college football’s best rivalries – Michigan vs. Notre Dame, will be put on hiatus for the 2018-2019 seasons and may resume after that.
That game isn’t just regionally relevant, it’s more often than not had national ramifications to it. Canceling a series that is so high profile takes some guts, but it’s not something that hasn’t been done in this series in the past.
Following the 1943 meeting when #1 Notre Dame took down #2 Michigan 35-12 in Ann Arbor this series was put on hiatus by Michigan. The series wouldn’t return for another 35 years. So, fast forward to today and call me crazy, but a statement from the schools telling us “both schools intend to resume the rivalry in the years following” isn’t exactly as iron clad as the AD’s of both schools want us to believe.
Some have started blaming the impending Pac-12/Big Ten scheduling agreement for this hiatus and it may be part of it, but let’s also look at the fact that Notre Dame could equally be preparing themselves for changes down the road (aka being forced into conference affiliation of some sort) as the new playoff system will be well underway. I do hope to see the series continue sooner than later because the history between these two is so deep and the games so meaningful for one or the other, or both more often than not.
Having said all of that Michigan does have to be applauded for stepping up it’s game in terms of non-conference opponents in the future. In 2014 their schedule features games against ND and Utah. 2015 sees a trip to Salt Lake City to take on Utah, then games against ND, Colorado, and UNLV – three BCS level opponents outside of the Big Ten is unheard of these days. 2016 has dates with Colorado and Notre Dame in it.
It’s a smart move on so many levels. Let’s remember 2014 is the start of the new playoff system and a lot of chatter amongst chatterers like us is that Strength of Schedule could well be part of the package of things the selection committee will consider. For that reason alone having at least two mid-level to possibly very good teams on your schedule hedges your bets and Michigan is definetly ahead of the curve on that one.
Not only that, but Michigan is giving themselves a chance to get as familiar as possible with potential opponents for the Pac-12/Big Ten series well in advance. Coaches are creatures of habit and playing the home & home against Utah allows the Wolverines and Brady Hoke the chance to figure out what it would be like to play out West as well as travel out there ahead of possibly having to do it just two years later.
Michigan’s announcement could just be the start of a trend once all the details of the new playoff system and it’s inner workings are ironed out, so keep your eyes peeled for more “BCS” non-conference matchups being announced in the future.