DREW SHARP: U-M vs. Notre Dame lacks sizzle of MSU vs. Oregon

History doesn’t transcend college football as effortlessly as it once did, thanks to a growing audience of short attention spans that equate 10 years of tradition with 100 years. The immediate moment means more than the distant memory. The laurels of past achievement once displayed and strutted proudly no longer resonates as strongly within a college football populace increasingly adoptive of a “What have you done lately?” attitude.

The Michigan-Notre Dame series becomes the latest victim.

They’ll engage in what likely will be their last dance Saturday night in South Bend. Two of the oldest — and, yes, competitively diminished — national college football brands convene amid an atmosphere of animus that the series didn’t have to come to an abrupt halt at the Irish’s insistence.

“It stinks that this is the end,” Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner said Monday.

A reporter asked Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly during his Sunday news conference what he thought of the Michigan marching band playing “the chicken dance” song following last year’s renewal in Ann Arbor, a derisive dig at the Irish pulling out of the series.

“My thoughts?” Kelly said. “That’s their prerogative. They won the game. They can play whatever they want. We’re going to play the alma mater.”

But even the combination of rancor and rivalry isn’t enough to make this game the biggest college game in Michigan on Saturday night. The best Michigan-Notre Dame can hope for is Miss Miscongeniality. All eyes interested in this weekend slate’s impact on the beauty pageant that’s college football’s inaugural playoff will fixate on Eugene, Ore., and two top-10 teams engaged in making a statement more reflective of today and tomorrow than yesterday.

Michigan State-Oregon symbolizes what college football has become.

Michigan-Notre Dame symbolizes what college football once was.

Michigan State-Oregon represents the energetic new wave.

Michigan-Notre Dame represents the wheezing old guard.

Who cares about teams that basically haven’t changed uniform designs in decades? Within the changing college football demographics, it doesn’t matter that Michigan hasn’t altered its winged helmet or that Notre Dame hasn’t dulled the luster from its golden dome for decades — aside from the occasional single-game marketing ploys. There’s more intrigue today in what hideous sartorial combination Oregon and its Nike fashion designers will come up with for Saturday night’s game at Autzen Stadium.

Michigan State and Oregon are new bloods, having only emerged as serious threats to the status quo within the past 10 years. They’re interlopers, willingly trampling on convention. They’re the advocates of change, searching for their space amid the din of the likes of Michigan and Notre Dame adamant that there remains no substitute for those programs that bear the scars and scales of time.

But when was the last time Michigan and Notre Dame played a game with as much allure as the Spartans and Ducks?

It was 20 years ago when No. 3 Notre Dame played No. 6 Michigan.

Some rivalries are better left laid to rest.

Michigan won’t admit it, but Notre Dame’s spurning of the series two years ago was the best thing for the Wolverines. It forced a little more imaginative future scheduling. The Irish wanted out because of its new, limited connection with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Getting regular games with Florida State, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech can better help its positioning for playoff consideration as opposed to playing as many as three Big Ten opponents annually.

It’ll help Michigan moving on from Notre Dame, embarking down different paths. The Wolverines have some SEC and Pac-12 nonconference home-and-homes appearing in the next 10 years. Those games won’t inspire the impassioned parochialism of poultry references. But it’s at least an acknowledgment that Michigan finally understands that history has its limits in this strange new college football world.


Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply