THE RETURN OF A STORIED CLASH IS ONE MORE REMINDER: THERE'S NO BETTER RIVALRY THAN A COLLEGE FOOTBALL RIVALRY
LEGEND HAS it that Jim Harbaugh saved the Michigan--Notre Dame rivalry. At least that's the story fans on both sides might tell their kids decades from now. Back in 2015, soon after Harbaugh was hired by his alma mater, he called Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly and suggested their teams play. The series, which dates back to 1887, had gone on hiatus in 2014 because Notre Dame needed to make room on its schedule for ACC opponents. But Kelly was of the same opinion as Harbaugh: The two winningest programs in college football shared too much history not to play. The return of the rivalry is "great for college football," as Kelly said before the teams took the field in South Bend on the first Saturday of the 2018 season. He added, "Be careful what you wish for."
Harbaugh might momentarily regret placing that call three years ago—his Wolverines lost to the Irish 24--17—but the game illustrated how college football's rivalries are unlike anything the NFL can offer. The sepia-toned clashes that go back decades (or centuries) are the lifeblood of the sport—and remain as vibrant as ever. Take the Iron Bowl, which will be played on Nov. 24 this year between in-state rivals Auburn and Alabama: It's rich in history and has taken on added significance with both teams vying for SEC supremacy and a spot in the playoff. National powerhouses Georgia and Clemson aren't playing each other this year, but the rivalry is still fierce: The programs are locked in combat for the best high school talent in their region. Of course, schools and fan bases all over the country are familiar with that kind of competition: Texas and Texas A&M, Washington and Washington State, Miami--Florida State....
On Saturday the stakes were high for both teams in South Bend. With a win Notre Dame announced itself as a playoff contender. A breakout player emerged when, against a defense loaded with NFL prospects, Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush threw for 170 yards, including a 43-yard TD pass, and ran for another 59. And Harbaugh is still looking for a signature win, with the latest result making him 1--6 against Michigan's three biggest rivals: Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame. The Wolverines and the Irish will meet again next year, in Ann Arbor, to continue an essential tradition that has picked up right where it left off.