Kelly downplays break in Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry

Kelly downplays break in Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry
September 1, 2013, 1:15 pm
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Saturday's pivotal Notre Dame-Michigan game is the last scheduled meeting between the two teams in Ann Arbor, with the series set to take a break following 2014's game in South Bend.

It'll be the 41st meeting between the two programs, with the game dating back to 1887. But Notre Dame, citing a need to understand its schedule after agreeing to play five ACC opponents beginning in 2014, exercised an opt-out clause last year to put the series on a hiatus after 2014.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke told fans in May Notre Dame was "chickening out" of the series, a belief he backed up when asked about it at Big Ten media day in July. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, though, views things a little differently.

"I really haven't seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries," Kelly said. "I've seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played."

[More: With Temple out of the way, Notre Dame set its sights on Michigan]

While the series dates back to 1887, the two teams didn't play from 1910-1941, and then didn't meet between 1944 and 1977. But Notre Dame and Michigan have played annually since 2002, and have only had three two-year breaks after 1978.

So Kelly isn't incorrect in saying it's not as historic or traditional as, say, Notre Dame's rivalries with USC (84 meetings) and Navy (86 meetings). But it's a rivalry that has as much steam as any series Notre Dame participates in -- "it gets bigger every year," safety Matthias Farley said Saturday.

Hoke's beef was that Notre Dame still has Purdue (84 meetings) and Michigan State (76 meetings) on future schedules, although it's not guaranteed those series will continue as well.

"I think everybody knows the challenges that we have as an independent when it comes to scheduling," Kelly said. "We're a team that a lot of people want to play, including Michigan, obviously, or Brady wouldn't comment in that regard.

"We're trying to do the best we can with maintaining the independent status and fulfilling the obligations we have with the ACC. We'd like to play everybody, unfortunately we can't and there's going to be a little bit of a hiatus with this game. We'll work hard to get them back on the schedule."

Whether Kelly was being diplomatic or sincere with his line about scheduling the series again will play out over the next few years. But if/when the game is played again, Kelly doesn't expect it to have lost any of its luster.

"I don't think any time off will affect the great rivalry that these two teams have shared over the years," Kelly said.