No school represents college football the way Notre Dame does, and the Fighting Irish open the 2018 season with one of the most anticipated games of the season. The Irish and Michigan Wolverines both have CFP aspirations this year, and while a loss doesn’t hurt those chances, a win goes a long way toward establishing dominance for the rest of the year. In a series that dates back to 1887 UM has won 24 of the 42 matchups, but Notre Dame had the last laugh with a 31-0 thumping when the schools met in 2014.
It’s tough to say Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat, but he has yet to take the Wolverines to the Big Ten title game or beat arch-rival Ohio State in his three seasons. The lack of a quality quarterback has been an issue, but that could be resolved this year with Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson ready to start. He had more touchdown passes in seven games than the Wolverines had all last season. Saturday’s matchup is the only Week 1 tilt that features both teams ranked in the top-15 of the AP poll.
Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Date and Time: Saturday, September 1, 2018, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN
Week 1 College Football Odds at BookMaker.eu: Notre Dame -1.5, O/U 47
Michigan at Notre Dame TV Coverage: NBC
After winning 10 games in each of his first two seasons, Harbaugh and the Wolverines slumped to eight last year. The regression wasn’t a complete surprise considering the amount of talent that vacated the program. The team was young in 2017, but those guys have a year of experience and that should pay off in 2018, at least that’s what Harbaugh is hoping.
A slight improvement on offense could result in a few more wins, and that makes all the difference in a game like this. UM was awful last year, finishing 105th in total offense and 91st in scoring nationally. Harbaugh remade the offensive staff and brought in Patterson, who threw for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. After complaining about not having a quarterback, Harbaugh is out of excuses. UM did sustain a blow this week, however, when receiver Tarik Black injured his foot and could be out for the game.
Brian Kelly named Brandon Wimbush his Week 1 starter and the Irish better hope the QB has solved his accuracy issues. Wimbush is an electrifying talent, but his inconsistent play last year drove Kelly nuts and even led to a benching in the Citrus Bowl. Wimbush was the team’s second leading rusher in 2017, amassing 804 yards and 14 touchdowns for the seventh-ranked ground attack. With Josh Adams gone and linemen Quenton Nelson and Matt McGlinchey in the NFL, chewing up the yards might be more difficult.
And if the Irish have to throw the football, Kelly is going to wince every time Wimbush drops back. The QB completed less than 50 percent of his passes last year and he struggled against the better defensive clubs. Michigan might be the best defensive team Wimbush will ever face. Notre Dame’s passing game will be tested against last year’s top-ranked secondary, which returns every player from the group.
Player to Watch
It’s hard to pin the hopes of an entire season on one player, but the Wolverines will be a better club if Patterson can run the offense. UM was so bad at the position last year, yet they still won eight games thanks to a dominant defense. Patterson doesn’t have to put up Baker Mayfield numbers, he just has to be better than the John O’Korn-Brandon Peters-Wilton Speight disaster.
Last year the trio combined for 2,226 yards and nine touchdown passes, the fewest for the team since 1975. The three completed just 53.5 percent of their passes and totaled 10 interceptions. Patterson outdid them all in just seven games for Ole Miss, throwing for 2,259 and 17 touchdowns, completing 63.8 percent of his throws with nine interceptions. A simplified offense under new coach Jim McElwain should also help the output.
Michigan vs Notre Dame – Who To Bet On
Harbaugh’s Michigan career is at a crossroads. He’s finally got the QB he’s craved and the defense should again be one of the best in college football. But for the Wolverines it’s about what happens at the end of the year. Until then, they will show just how good they can be and Patterson will be the catalyst.
There are plenty of holes to patch on Notre Dame’s offense with their leading rusher, top receiver and two linemen pursuing pro careers. Wimbush is back and starting, at least this game, but he wasn’t the savior last season and he won’t be in 2018. It will be difficult for the Irish to penetrate UM’s defense and this one has the under all over it. Michigan could be one of the top teams in the country and they will show that with a road win on Saturday.
Michigan at Notre Dame ATS Pick: Michigan +1.5 and the Under
Michigan at Notre Dame Score Prediction: Michigan 17, Notre Dame 13
Check out the latest college football betting odds.