Trusting Tommy: Brian Kelly announced Tuesday that sophomore Tommy Rees would start Saturday's game at quarterback. After replacing Dayne Crist in the second half of last week's game against USF, Rees threw for nearly 300 yards and brought the Irish back to within striking range. Last season, the Lake Forest, Ill., native was 4-0 in place of the injured Crist.
With wins at Yankee Stadium, against USC in the Coliseum, at home against No. 14 Utah and in the Sun Bowl, the true freshman seemed unfazed by high-pressure settings. Now, he puts his perfect record on the line at Michigan Stadium - the nation's largest college football venue and one of the biggest athletic stadiums in the world - in an environment that will most definitely trump each of the previous four (more on that later).
Defending Denard: Last season, the Michigan dual-threat quarterback torched the Irish defense for 502 yards, including 258 on the ground with 244 more through the air. He broke off an 87-yard touchdown run in the second quarter (a Notre Dame Stadium record) and when it seemed Notre Dame was going to come away with a victory, he orchestrated a game-winning drive to send Michigan home with a 28-24 win.
However, through the final stretch of 2010 and the first game of 2011, the Irish defense looks much improved. Despite the loss to USF, the Irish defense held the Bulls to a third-down conversion clip of 2-for-14 and just 3.0 yards per carry on 42 rushing attempts. It is safe to say that continued strong defensive play will be imperative if the Irish are to leave Ann Arbor with a victory for the first time since 2005.
Electric Atmosphere: Saturday's matchup in Michigan Stadium will be the first night game in the 84-year history of the stadium. adidas has dubbed it the "Under The Lights" game and has created retro-style uniforms for both the Irish and the Wolverines.
Though the capacity is 109,901, more than 113,000 raucous fans are expected to pack the seats and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon suspects the university could have easily sold 25,000 to 50,000 more tickets, if possible.
Though it did not become a yearly rivalry until 1978 (save three brief hiatuses, most recently in 2000-01), Notre Dame vs. Michigan is a storied series that dates back to the 19th century. In fact, the first game in Notre Dame football history was against Michigan on Nov. 23, 1887 (Scholastic, which is of course, the greatest Notre Dame student publication has more on that contest here).
If this week's press conferences are any indication, the Irish are not caught up in the Under the Lights hype surrounding their meeting with the Wolverines. When asked about the night atmosphere senior receiver Michael Floyd said, "It's just a regular game, but the sky's dark and it's on a different channel. Nothing too big."
Likewise, Rees said, "At the end of the day it's just a football game. You try to prepare and treat it like any other game."
Ultimately, we'll have to see what happens when the lights come on Saturday night.
GameDay: With one of college football's premier rivalries comes its premier pre-game show. ESPN's College GameDay crew will be broadcasting live from 9 a.m. to noon (ET) at Ingalls Mall on the University of Michigan campus. Hosted by Chris Fowler, GameDay also features Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews, who was recently on campus to interview Coach Kelly for this week's show. Andrews will be the sideline reporter for Saturday night's telecast lead by Brent Musberger (play-by-play) and Herbstreit (analysis).
This marks the first GameDay appearance at an Irish football contest since 2006, when the crew was on hand for Notre Dame's trips to both Georgia Tech and USC. For college football fans, one of the only things that can top waking up on an autumn morning, watching GameDay and preparing for a full day of gridiron action, is actually being there when Corso makes his famous headgear selection.
Hopefully this Saturday it will be the signature leprechaun Irish country hat rather than the blue and maize Wolverine helmet.
Those are five points I think you should watch for on Saturday, and here are two I suggest watching right now.
* Turns out, Saturday will not be the first time Brent Musberger has announced a Notre Dame vs. Michigan night game ...
* If you need anything else to pump you up for this weekend, here is a flashback to the pair of former Irish announcer Tony Roberts' signature calls as a certain Notre Dame kick returner took off against Michigan in 1989 ...
So whether you will be in Ann Arbor or in your living room, get excited. The Notre Dame vs. Michigan battles rarely ever disappoint, and this year should be no different.