FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had to take a step back before moving forward to Saturday night’s showdown with Michigan.
Kelly referred to the No. 14 Irish’s rivalry with the No. 17 Wolverines as great and historic 13 seconds into his Tuesday afternoon news conference. On Sunday, Kelly said he didn’t view the series against Michigan as one of Notre Dame’s historic or traditional rivals.
It’s a great and historic rivalry that we’ll be playing this Saturday, so let’s get that out of the way right away so we don’t have to answer any more questions about this rivalry, Kelly said. We’re excited about the game, excited about playing it.
Kelly’s comment Sunday sparked a debate on where the Notre Dame-Michigan series stood among college football rivalries.
The first game between the programs was in 1887 and the Irish (1-0) and Wolverines (1-0) have played 29 times since 1978 with three two-year breaks during that time. But before the rivalry was renewed in 1978, Notre Dame and Michigan didn’t play for 35 years.
The upcoming break, which starts after the Irish play host to the Wolverines next season, could last as long as the one from 1943 to 1977 as Notre Dame canceled its contract with Michigan last season to create flexibility with its schedule to play five Atlantic Coast Conference teams every season while keeping games against USC, Stanford and Navy on the schedule annually.
Notre Dame’s move to end the series with Michigan prompted Wolverines coach Brady Hoke to say at a May luncheon that the Irish were chickening out of the game. Hoke also told reporters Monday that the rivalry with Notre Dame was historic to Michigan.
I think it’s great for college football, Hoke said. (ESPN’s College GameDay, which will be in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday,) has been here six times for this football game. That’s pretty significant if they’re coming to this campus or to the campus in South Bend. So, it must have some sort of national appeal.
Kelly said he has not talked to Hoke about the series coming to an end, and he also said he had no problems with what the Michigan coach said in May.
I think people have made a lot of his comments, and look, he’s talking to his alums. I didn’t take anything from it, really, Kelly said. I know Brady. He’s never been one to show disrespect to anybody or anything. It’s really, for me, about two programs that share a border that it makes sense to play. I get that. It’s just there’s so many complexities with our schedule and our agreement with the ACC that it’s difficult and frustrating. I can see the frustration that would be there.
As for this year’s game, Kelly said receiver DaVaris Daniels, who suffered a slight groin injury in last Saturday’s 28-6 win over Temple, was cleared to practice Tuesday. Daniels had three catches for 69 yards with two 32-yard touchdown against the Owls.
Kelly said quarterback Malik Zaire has not been cleared to play as the freshman continues to recover from mononucleosis.
We’re dealing with his spleen and whether that allows us to put him in competition, Kelly said of Zaire. He’ll be allowed to do some things cardiovascular, but right now he is not cleared for competition.