NBC ran a short feature before last night’s Michigan–Notre Dame game, and again at halftime, that showed coaches and players weighing in on the end of this rivalry and what it means for both sides. From that, two arguments prevailed: Either Michigan holds close to its 24-17-1 record over the Irish, or Notre Dame escapes the series with a devastating 31-0 victory, shutting out the Wolverines for the first time ever in a rivalry that dates back to 1887.
Which is it? What will we remember as the years go by?
Quite honestly, had Michigan even scored in the double digits on Saturday, I don’t think this discussion is needed. The talk of the shutout streak goes out the window, Notre Dame just gets a win, and we can go back to talking about how much we hate Brady Hoke and Devin Gardner—just in case you’re not yet over the 2013 season.
But no. It can’t be that simple. Instead, Michigan is destroyed on the road for what seems like the 75th time since Hoke took over as coach, and there’s no shot for revenge on the Irish until the series kicks back up again, which can’t happen for at least 15 years. It’s a devastating snowball that continues to roll down a steep hill, and there’s no sign of it slowing up.
One case I think we can clearly make for Michigan here is the fact that the Wolverines managed to take six of the final nine games in the final stretch of the series. But when you break down the numbers in that time, it becomes less impressive. Michigan outscored Notre Dame 250-219 for an average rounded score of 28-24 in the Wolverines’ favor. Both teams were shut out once—Michigan beat Notre Dame 38-0 in 2007, and obviously Notre Dame beat Michigan 31-0 this year. So if you were thinking maybe this season’s game skewed the results, it’s working both ways, and actually more so in Michigan’s favor.
Now the question begs to be answered: Does it matter how you win? If it doesn’t matter how you win, a 6-3 record against the Irish since 2006 looks good, period. Because we’re Michigan fans, I think a good majority of us would say it doesn’t matter how we win, just as long as it’s a win. Why? Because we’re so desperate for a victory. Or at least one that matters. Would anyone care if Michigan beat Ohio State 3-0 this season? Nope, because: “A win is a win is a win.”
Expand this question to include the rest of the series, and you get almost the same result. With seven more wins than Notre Dame in all, Michigan undoubtedly has that working in its favor, plus-or-minus a few games that heavily favor one side or the other.
As I pointed out yesterday before kickoff, Michigan held a 6-3 record in games immediately preceding a hiatus in the rivalry—that record is now obviously 6-4. If you subscribe to the notion that those wins for Michigan meant more than your average victory over Notre Dame, then you’ve already answered this question for yourself. Notre Dame is walking away on top; you would’ve said the same thing about Michigan follow meetings in 1994 and ’99.
So let’s revisit the question: In 15 years (or any significant amount of time), when we think about the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, do we remember Michigan’s overall record of 24-17-1? Or do we still immediately think of Notre Dame’s 31-0 pounding delivered in the final matchup?