The first-ever night game in Michigan Stadium is expected to break the NCAA regular-season attendance record set last year in the same venue.
In the Wolverines’ 2010 season opener against Connecticut, a new standard was set with 113,090 in attendance in a stadium that officially lists 109,901 as its capacity. In fact, after some stadium expansion, the top four crowds in Michigan history occurred last year with a minimum of 112,276.
Back on Sept. 13, 2003, an NCAA record 111,726 were in attendance to see Michigan clobber Notre Dame 38-0. That is now only seventh all-time for largest crowd at a Michigan game. (Note: in 1927 against USC and 1928 versus Navy — both at Chicago’s Soldier Field — the attendance was unofficially recognized at 120,000 for those Notre Dame games, but the NCAA didn’t track those figures back then, so it’s not recognized as a record.)
“I think we may have room for 115,000,” Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon told the Associated Press. “I really believe we easily could sell another 25,000 to 50,000 tickets … we’re selling every square inch of the stadium that we can put somebody.
“I haven’t been around for all of our 132 seasons of Michigan football, but in my time as a player, a fan, ticket-holder, regent and as an athletic director, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Consequently, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly believes there should be no issues for the Irish coaches and players to get out of the funk experienced last week in the 23-20 loss to South Florida.
“Getting our players focused on Michigan will not be difficult at all,” Kelly said, who noted this “team likes the road.”
Notre Dame has a modest three-game winning streak away from home, its longest since 2006. However, what is particularly notable is sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees’ fifth career start will be in another hallowed venue.
In addition to winning his initial start versus No. 15 Utah last year, Rees was at the throttle for a 27-3 victory against Army at Yankee Stadium and then a 20-16 upset of USC in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The record as a starter improved to 4-0 after a 33-17 Sun Bowl victory over Miami in which the attendance was a capacity audience of 54,021, or less than half of what is projected this Saturday.
Rees will have an opportunity to become the third quarterback in Notre Dame history to start in victories at USC and at Michigan during his career. The first was 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli, who followed a 13-0 victory at the Coliseum (94,519 in attendance) in 1942 with a 35-12 drubbing of Michigan in 1943 at the not yet known “Big House,” which had a capacity audience of 86,408 for that game.
Tony Rice duplicated Bertelli’s feat in 1988-89, first with a 27-10 conquest of USC (93,829 capacity) in the 1988 regular season finale and then 24-19 versus Michigan (105,912 capacity) in the second game of 1989. Notable is the fact that in both games the Trojans and Wolverines were ranked No. 2 in the AP poll while the Irish were No. 1.
3-0 Plus 3-0 Equals …
This contest also pits two 3-0 Notre Dame records on the line for Notre Dame.
First, the Irish are 3-0 against the Wolverines in night games, but all three of the victories occurred at Notre Dame Stadium in 1982, 1988 (a national title year for the Irish) and 1990. This will be the first night game between the two teams in Ann Arbor.
Kelly’s Central Michigan teams defeated Hoke’s Ball State teams in 2004 (41-40), 2005 (31-24) and 2006 (18-7), before Kelly moved on to the University of Cincinnati in 2007. Hoke led Ball State to a 12-1 mark in 2008 before taking the San Diego State job in 2009. There, he turned around a floundering program and directed it to a 9-4 finish last season.
“I have a lost of respect for Brady,” Kelly said. “We’ve had similar paths of success and now we’re in that dream match-up between Michigan and Notre Dame. But it won’t be about Brady or I; it’ll be about how we play.”
The Second-Time Around
Notre Dame head coaches Frank Leahy (1942), Dan Devine (1978), Gerry Faust (1981), Lou Holtz (1986), Bob Davie (1997) and Brian Kelly (2010) all lost to Michigan in their first meeting with the Wolverines.
The good news is that each of them followed with a memorable win their second time, and Kelly will try to keep the streak intact.
Leahy’s No. 1 Irish crushed Michigan in 1943 (35-12). A blocked field goal by Irish linebacker Bob Crable preserved a 12-10 win at Michigan in 1979 for Devine. Faust opened 1982 with a 23-17 win against the Wolverines in the first night game ever at Notre Dame. In the 1987 opener at Michigan, Holtz told his squad “it doesn’t have to be close” prior to the game, and the Irish promptly won, 26-7. Davie’s 1998 opener saw a convincing 36-20 whipping of UM with Tom Brady at quarterback for the Wolverines.
Meanwhile, Ty Willingham (2002) and Charlie Weis (2005) beat Michigan their first time — but were trounced the second time, 38-0 under Willingham in 2003 and 47-21 with Weis in 2006.
The First Time Around
Notre Dame currently owns an eight-game winning streak against first-year head coaches: USC’s Lane Kiffin (2010), Boston College’s Frank Spaziani (2009), Washington’s Steve Sarkisian (2009), Purdue’s Danny Hope (2009), Hawaii’s Greg McMackin (2008), Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo (2008), Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez (2008) and Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh (2007).