Fighting Irish should build on momentum

Originally Published: September 15, 2004
By Todd McShay | Scouts, Inc.
There is no conference or in-state affiliation between these two programs, but it hasn't prevented the annual Notre Dame-Michigan State game from becoming one of the most heated rivalries in all of college football. The Fighting Irish lead the all-time series 42-24-1 but Michigan State has chipped into that differential by winning six of the last seven meetings, including a 22-16 victory at Notre Dame last season.

Who: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State
When: Sat., 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI

Tyrone Willingham and the Fighting Irish have already experienced an emotional roller coaster in the first two games of the 2004 season. A loss at BYU to the unranked Cougars spawned discussion of Willingham's possible firing. Now, following the upset of Michigan, expectations are skyrocketing.

With the emergence of freshman RB Darius Walker and the development of QB Brady Quinn, the Irish will continue to improve on a weekly basis and should be bowl bound come December.

Michigan State head coach John L. Smith faces the challenge of replacing 14 starters, including QB Jeff Smoker. The Spartans started the season with an embarrassing loss at Rutgers, but rebounded with a win last week over Central Michigan.

The team may have found its starting quarterback in Stephen Reaves, who impressed in his debut last week. However, with very few difference makers on offense, and a defense that has been decimated by injuries, the Spartans face an uphill climb on Saturday night.

Notre Dame is favored to win for the second time in as many road games. After failing to live up to expectations in its season-opening loss at BYU, the Irish must take advantage of the momentum built in last week's win.

While Michigan State is clearly rebuilding, the Spartans have always relished the role of spoiler in this 67-game series. They shouldn't be counted out in front of their home crowd.

Todd McShay

ESPN Senior Writer