As reported in the MSM this week, Michigan and Notre Dame will be taking a break from each other in 2012 and 2013. Notre Dame has filled the spot of Michigan’s “big-time non-conference football opponent” since 2002. That means Bill Martin will be looking for a big-time replacement in lieu of the Notre Dame hiatus. Many D-1 football schools have their schedules pretty well mapped out through 2011 but very few have things in place for 2012. That leaves more than a few possibilities for Michigan. This hiatus should be an opportunity for fans to see Michigan play a team it rarely plays. Ohio State has recently increased its national reach by scheduling “home and homes” with USC, Miami (FL), Texas, and Virginia Tech. Michigan has the opportunity—at least for two years—to do something similar. I’m excited about the possibilities and I’m hopeful that Martin will come up with a formidable opponent.
Martin has alluded that he will likely be looking for a team of Notre Dame’s caliber. With a couple deductions and a few more assumptions, I think we can narrow down the list of the likely opponents to 10-15 teams. First, I can’t remember the last time an SEC powerhouse came north to play at Michigan, Ohio St. or Penn St. In fact, the last SEC team with a winning record to play at Michigan was in 1980 (S. Carolina). Before that, it was Georgia in 1965. Good SEC teams don’t play on the road in the Big Ten—and I’ll begrudgingly add “vice versa” to the end of that sentence. Anything can happen but I think we can eliminate the SEC as a whole and have good reason to do so.
Notre Dame wants to play Oklahoma in that two-year gap. I doubt Oklahoma will be interested in playing Notre Dame and Michigan in the same year. So, the Sooners are likely out. Florida St. already plays Florida and at West Virginia in 2012. I doubt they’re looking for a team of Michigan’s caliber to go along with that group. So, the Seminoles are likely out.
With the SEC likely out of the equation along with Florida St. and Oklahoma, the potential list of teams shrinks considerably. From my perspective, the remaining teams that could reasonably act as a big-time opponent in 2012 are; Nebraska, Texas A&M, Texas, USC, California, West Virginia, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), and Clemson. I realize a few of those teams don’t necessarily fit the profile of an elite program so hopefully they are fallback options only. Louisville and West Virginia are not guaranteed—not that any team really is— to be elite programs in 2012 so scheduling either of them would risk the possibility of having Michigan's best non-conference game end up being a mediocre opponent. That mostly depends on whether Rich Rodriguez stays at WVU and whether Steve Kragthorpe can keep the Louisville program rolling. I’m not sure that California fits the bill as a team worthy of replacing Notre Dame but they may or may not be playing Ohio State in 2012. And like West Virginia, their coach may or may not be Michigan’s coach in 2012.
Wish list of the realistic candidates
Michigan has never played at Texas and Texas has never played at Michigan. In fact, the only meeting between the schools with the most and third most wins in 1-A history happened in the 2005 Rose Bowl. Vince Young fooled with the Michigan defense for a thrilling 38-37 Texas win. That game is widely viewed as one of the most exciting football games in college football history. It would make sense to replace Notre Dame with the team just below it on the all-time list and that’s Texas. Plus, Texas is one of only a handful of teams that Michigan has a losing record against (0-1). This would give Michigan a chance to fix that; although it would take winning both games to accomplish that goal.
2). Va. Tech
Michigan almost scheduled Va. Tech a few years ago but that never ended up happening. I remember reading from a few sources that Michigan backed out but I’m not sure how accurate those claims are. Michigan and Virginia Tech have never played. Virginia Tech is one of best-coached programs in America. They present a challenge in all facets of the game especially on defense and special teams. It would be fantastic to see Michigan play in Blacksburg (preferably a night game) and then see Virginia Tech return the favor in Ann Arbor.
3). Miami (FL)
Among the worst memories of most Michigan football fans—me included—is Michigan’s monumental collapse to #1 Miami (FL) in 1988. Michigan built a 30-14 lead only to lose 31-30. I’m pretty sure that game ripped out part of my soul. Anyhow, Miami has been as good as it gets in college football over the last 25 years. I wouldn’t mind seeing these teams go at it again for another memorable “home and home.” Randy Shannon should have the ‘Canes rolling again by 2012 which would make this game uber-important.
I can’t help but to think that scheduling USC in a “home and home” would be a kin to scheduling a loss two years in a row. If Pete Carroll is gone by 2012, then maybe USC becomes mortal. Is it worth scheduling a team like USC if it likely means an early season loss? I’m not so sure. Plus, these teams have played each other ten times including twice in the last four years. Michigan could do a better job of diversifying by playing a different team. Still, if Michigan wants to put itself on the national stage, there is no easier way than to schedule USC.
5). West Virginia
I’m not sure that Martin wants to bank on West Virginia remaining an upper-echelon program for five more years. It’s even possible that Rich Rodriguez might be Michigan’s head coach in five years. Stranger things have happened. I would actually be surprised if I found out Rodriguez was still at West Virginia in 2012. Knowing that, I probably wouldn’t make scheduling West Virginia my top priority. However, Michigan hasn’t played West Virginia in 103 years. The only meeting between the teams featured a narrow Michigan victory by the score of 130-0. West Virginia might have a bitter taste after that one. I would enjoy seeing Michigan play in Morgantown. That is a Blacksburg-type environment that would be fun to watch.
Michigan and Clemson have never played. Death Valley is one of the great scenes in college football. I’m not sure you can ever count on Clemson being a consistent national power but I’m all for seeing Michigan play against teams that it has never played before.
Of course, my list changes significantly if the SEC is in play
I’ve been waiting for Michigan to play LSU for years. Michigan has never played LSU. In fact, LSU is probably the most high-profile team that Michigan has not played. I was hoping to see this match-up sometime over the last few seasons in a BCS game but it never happened. I’m not sure if Les Miles being LSU’s coach makes this game more or less likely to occur.
Georgia has always been my favorite SEC team. They are as close to a Big Ten team as you’ll find in the SEC. Michigan has only played Georgia twice with the last game being in 1965. This would be a chance for 90% of Michigan fans to watch these two traditional powers got at it for the first time.
If I had to guess, I would say that Alabama will be a national juggernaut in five years much in the mold of USC. Nick Saban turned LSU into a National Champion and perennial powerhouse. Alabama has a bigger name and tradition than LSU which means Saban might just do even better at ‘Bama.
Florida & Tennessee
It'll be interesting to see if rifts preclude an otherwise great match-up from occurring. My guess is that there is more animosity between the fanbases than there is between the Athletic Departments. Michigan and Tennessee have a history dating back to--and really only has to do with--1997. Phil Fulmer very likely voted Michigan 4th--or at the very least 3rd-- in the final Coaches Poll of Michigan's undefeated season. This, of course, was a likely protest of Charles Woodson's winning the Heisman Trophy over Peyton Manning. Then there is the whole "class vs. no class" issue in how Lloyd Carr and Urban Meyer handled themselves during the BCS uncertainty. There is unquestionably a fragile relationship--at least on the surface--between Michigan and Florida & Tennessee. Whether that keeps their Athletic Departments from discussing a "home and home" is something we'll have to wait and see.
Queue Jim Carty grossly misrepresenting my post while simultaneously insulting my Michigan football knowledge…now!