Rivalry debate is dominating pre game talk for Saturday night’s matchup between the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the 17th-ranked Michigan Wolverines.

Earlier this year Notre Dame left the dissolving Big East conference to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports besides football.  Notre Dame is and wishes to remain independent from any conference for football likely due to their television rights contract with NBC.  The contract makes Notre Dame the only team whose games are guaranteed to be broadcasted nationally every week and the school naturally sees big money because of this. 

Although independent, Irish football still had major rescheduling to do for the school to join the ACC.  Notre Dame had to make some tough choices during scheduling to accommodate ACC regulations and unfortunately a once bitter rivalry with Michigan may fall victim to the cuts.  Notre Dame will be playing 5 ACC teams starting in 2014 and chose to keep matchups with Southern California, Navy, and Stanford over the Michigan Wolverines. 

Talk of the abandoned rivalry heated up earlier this year when Michigan head coach Brady Hoke accused Notre Dame of “chickening out,” of the matchup. 

Kelly may have fired a shot back this past Sunday when he explained he didn't consider the Michigan game to be one of Notre Dame’s most historic and traditional rivalry games. According to the Chicago Tribune Kelly has since backtracked a bit, opening up a Tuesday press conference saying, "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 then added, "We're excited about the game, excited about playing it. This will be decided by the players on the field and the preparation that goes along with it so we can stick to that and dispense with the nonsense."

Regardless of how you look at the matchup, the game will help validify one teams place in the national championship chase.  The matchup will be a good look into the potential of the Fighting Irish this year.  Michigan's massive stadium will give the Irish a look into the noise and hostility to expect if their going to make any run towards a national championship. 

Notre Dame should be able to secure the victory despite running out of luck the last time the two schools squared off in Michigan.

Quarterback Tommy Rees will hope to ride the momentum from his impressive opening week performance and get the job done in Michigan. 

Rees has experience playing and doing well in Michigan but fell just short of a win in 2011.  He started in Ann Arbor and threw for over 300-yards before Notre Dame fell apart in the fourth quarter and lost a big lead.  Rees’ experience will help him and the rest of the team as they prepare to play at a high level on Saturday and finish the game.

Rees will have help from what seems to be a strong receiving core this year led by senior captain TJ Jones. Notre Dame’s defensive line will have to come up big, bring mismatches and secure the line of scrimmage for the Irish. 

Michigan will look to get a lot out of quarterback Devin Gardner whose talent and skill set creates more flexibility in the wolverine offense. 

As of now, this game will be the end of the rivalry for at least a few years so you can expect both teams to come out and accept nothing but a win, making for what should be a great game.  

Notre Dame Quarterback Tommy ReesGoogle