Fans, starved of football over the summer clamour for the fixtures once released. Perhaps it’s only natural that Notre Dame fans get to be a little more excited than most this time of year.
Notre Dame, the grand ol’ lady of college ball is one of only six, but certainly the largest independent school in the country. With its own TV network (all games are produced by the school and carried by NBC – the only College to do so), the goings on in South Bend are broadcast the length of the country giving them a national exposure other schools can only dream of.
Of course it is a fine line to tread, being an independent school they need to ensure that the schedule they play is sufficiently arduous to keep the Play-Off committee happy. Lest they have the words “inconclusive body of work” ringing in their ears come December.
Aside from football, Notre Dame athletics participate in the Atlantic Coast Conference (“ACC”), so the Irish play five ACC football games per year. However the rest are up for grabs and it is these games that get the Fighting Irish fans licking their lips.
This years season opener sees the Irish host Michigan. A clash of the titans if ever there was. Undoubtedly two of the behemoths of the College game. And the Irish are Vegas favourites.
The game has been sold out since the schedule was announced and on resale sites nosebleeds are selling for $400+. The biggest “story” so far is that Notre Dame will play in green, something that happens rarely and only because Big Blue are coming to town. Throw in the pre game razzamatazz that College Gameday Live will bring, broadcasting live from South Bend it is shaping up to be a doozy of a Saturday afternoon. But will the game live up to the hype?
Both teams ended up having very different seasons last year. The Irish got off to a slow start but only narrowly missed out on a play off berth. Winning the Citrus Bowl was reasonable consolation. Michigan started well and then lost two QB’s to injury leaving them finishing the year with their third string QB. If you watched the excellent All or Nothing you know what a dramatic season it was.
As is always the case, expectations are high in South Bend. Head Coach, Brian Kelly is perennially under pressure and equally so this year.
This season sees QB Brandon Wimbush moving in to his sophomore year looking to cement his position as starter, inheriting the spot following Deshone Kizer’s move to the NFL and Malik Zaire’s transfer to Florida.
But 2017 was a difficult debut season for Wimbush. Inconsistency dogged his first year, culminating in a benching in the Citrus Bowl game. Wimbush was roundly criticised, including harsh words from his teammates, for performances which lacked focus and leadership. However he has worked during the offseason with QB guru Taylor Kelly to iron out these problems. But competition is fierce in South Bend and not only is Ian Book, who took over in that bowl game and who threw the game winning touchdown pass still gunning for QB1 status but the Irish also recruited the highly regarded 5 star Phil Jurkovec in the off season. Like most 5 star recruits Jurkovec is tipped for greatness. However, for the time being Kelly has said that Wimbush will be his starter.
While expectations are high, an Irish team without 2017 Seniors, the trio of NFL bound Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson and Josh Adams is going to be a tough act to follow. So you can see how all of the pressure is heaped on game one.
Play like a Champion today? Let’s see how game one goes. A defeat to the Wolverines would see an uncomfortable start for Kelly & Co. They may end up needing the luck of the Irish.
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