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Most of us have been there before. We have a nice relationship with somebody, share a few laughs and lovable memories we believe we will cherish forever. Then, out of the blue, that relationship is over. You go your separate ways and look for reasons to feel better about your future now that the other is removed from the picture, but deep down inside you are curious what they are up to. You secretly hope that you find happiness before they do and you may even look forward to the day when you can flaunt your new and improved self and life in front of the one who left you. It's petty, but likely true.
It may be safe to say that Brady Hoke is playing the role of the scorned lover right now. Notre Dame won the break-up.
Michigan's head coach, never one to shy away from taking shots at Wolverine rivals (for example, referring to Ohio State simply as Ohio), aimed his latest shots in the direction of Notre Dame by suggesting the Fighting Irish were "chickening out" of future games against the Wolverines.
"We are fortunate to have unbelievable rivalry games at Michigan," Hoke said to a group of Michigan supporters and alums on Monday. "The Notre Dame game, that rivalry, which they're chickening out of. They're still going to play Michigan State, they're going to play Purdue, but they don't want to play Michigan. I don't know how they made that decision."
Hoke was referring to Notre Dame's decision to opt out of future games while continuing to play games against Big Ten schools Michigan State and Purdue. Notre Dame will be joining the ACC as a full member in all sports except ice hockey and football, but the ACC membership will see the Irish schedule five ACC opponents each season in football. This means less room for some schedule flexibility in the future. Under the terms of the contract in place with Michigan, Notre Dame had the option to opt out of future games to be played in 2015 through 2017, and they informed Michigan of that decision prior to last season's Michigan-Notre Dame game in South Bend, Indiana.
It was, perhaps, destined to happen. Notre Dame and Michigan are two of the all-time leaders in football victories (Michigan leads all schools with 903 wins and Notre Dame is third among FBS programs with 865 wins -Texas is second with 866), so naturally any time these two historic programs get together it is going to draw a lot of attention to both schools. Those are the types of games that will be desirable in the new College Football Playoff era set to begin in the 2014 season. But Notre Dame does not need Michigan the way the Wolverines might need the Irish.
Notre Dame will be playing games against the likes of Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech as part of the ACC membership agreement, in addition to programs like Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Miami and Syracuse. In addition the Irish will continue with games against west coast programs such as USC and Stanford. And as Hoke mentioned, Notre Dame will continue to play games against Big Ten foes Purdue and Michigan State, each with a longer standing history with Notre Dame than Michigan. Notre Dame and Michigan have faced each other 40 times dating back to 1887, with the Wolverines holding a 23-16-1 edge. The Irish and Michigan State have a series dating back to 1897 and have played much more often than Notre Dame and Michigan. Notre Dame leads the all-time series with the Spartans 47-28-1 (76 games). Notre Dame has also faced in-state Big Ten rival Purdue even more frequently (84 games dating back to 1896). Notre Dame leads the series 56-26-2. Perhaps the series records is what led Hoke to suggest the Irish are chickening out of future games with his Michigan program, but the history is there for the Irish, Spartans and Boilermakers as well.
Is Notre Dame chickening out from playing Michigan? It would be easy for Hoke to think that, but the truth here is the Irish are simply setting themselves up for the best possible situation heading in to the new playoff model. Games against Michigan bring a nice spotlight, but the Irish do not really need that given they will have a presence on both coasts and in the heartland with their projected schedules against ACC, Pac 12 and Big Ten opponents. A game against Michigan would be nice to see continue for those who appreciate the history of the game of college football (I'm right there with you here), but it is an unnecessary game as far as the Irish are concerned.
Photo: USA Today Sports
Nobody should feel bad for Hoke though. While the loss of Notre Dame on the schedule does hurt Michigan, the Wolverines are attempting to do what they can with the schedules moving forward. A home-and-home with Arkansas is scheduled to begin in 2018 and a home-and-home with Virginia Tech is scheduled to kick off in 2020. Michigan is also lining up home-and-home with Utah starting in 2014 and will host Oregon State and BYU next year as well. Under the new Big Ten division alignments, the Wolverines will continue to play Ohio State annually and will now get their own opportunity to take advantage of east coast exposure with annual games against Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. It may not be quite as attractive as the national focus that can come with playing the Irish, but Michigan is not exactly about to collapse because the Irish are gone.
What Hoke will not mention is that future Big Ten scheduling may make it less feasible to continue with games against Notre Dame anyway. With the conference expanding to nine conference games, non-conference home games will become a premium for programs with 100,000 seat stadiums. Last season marked the first time since 1945 that Michigan played two non-conference games away from Michigan Stadium in the regular season (Michigan played Army in the Bronx in New York and played Navy in Baltimore in 1945). With uneven home-away conference scheduling beginning with the new nine-game schedule, Michigan may be reluctant to give up an extra home game every other year, which puts a bind on some scheduling possibilities, especially long-term deals with big name programs.