Notre Dame and Michigan haven't always played in football. It just seems like it.
The Fighting Irish and Wolverines didn't play at all between 1943 and 1978. And since then, there have been six years without a meeting of the traditional powers.
That's why Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly downplayed the series that continues Saturday but ends for the foreseeable future after the 2014 game.
“I really haven't seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said. “I've seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.”
Kelly said that in response to Michigan coach Brady Hoke claiming Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the series, after the Irish committed to five games a year against the ACC and canceled games the Wolverines from 2015-17.
And Kelly is right. Notre Dame and Michigan, separated by 176 highway miles, have played 40 times. The Irish have played Army, Navy, Michigan State, Northwestern, Pitt, Purdue and Southern Cal each more than that.
Kelly backed off his comments later in the week, calling the series a “a great and historic rivalry."
It's certainly created some great games. The last four scores: 13-6 (Notre Dame), 35-31 (Michigan), 28-24 (Michigan) and 38-34 (Michigan).
Now the Irish are ranked 14th and the Wolverines 17th, and the winner Saturday should move up significantly in the polls.
If Notre Dame wins, it figures to enter its Sept. 28 home game against OU unbeaten – the next two weeks, the Irish play at Purdue, then host Michigan State.
The Sooners could use a Notre Dame victory Saturday to bolster the prestige of their showdown in South Bend. But it won't be easy. The Irish have won just once in Ann Arbor since 1993.