Michigan should have known this was coming. The minute Notre Dame decided to move all of its other sports to the Atlantic Coast Conference and Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he would be looking to preserve the USC, Stanford and Navy rivalries first, this was almost imminent.
Notre Dame is backing out of its deal with Michigan after 2014, creating a somewhat large hole in the Wolverines’ schedule from 2015 until 2017. But it is a gap which also gives the Wolverines a major opportunity.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has said all along he would like to maximize both home games for his school and opportunities to play strong opponents. He looked to the now-dead Big Ten/Pac-12 partnership as a chance to bolster the schedule even more, having added one-off games with Oregon State and Colorado along with a home-and-home against Utah.
While that deal fell through, it signified Michigan was going to take seriously the task of bolstering its schedule beyond the one-off guaranteed games that have become the way of the college football world. The Wolverines took on Alabama this season. It has been rumored to be in conversations with other high-profile schools.
Now Brandon can look wherever he wants for a game in September. He can plan a home-and-home with a marquee school from another league without having to worry about the balancing act of Notre Dame along with the Big Ten schedule.
Consider, too, that Michigan doesn’t seem too upset about all of this. Brady Hoke, when asked last week about the potential of the series going away, called it “a great rivalry from a national perspective,” but also indicated if the schools had to move on, they had to move on.
So Michigan will. While many big-name schools already have dates booked up far in advance, slots always come open from other schools. And the Wolverines become an attractive opponent for both television ratings and for a barometer on how good a program might be.
It won’t be easy -- scheduling never is -- but it is a challenge Brandon will be up for. He is the one who pushed through the first night game in Michigan Stadium history and he is the one who, whether fans like it or not, decided to bring Appalachian State back to Ann Arbor, in 2014. He knows how to create buzz.
And with a more wide open schedule to do so, who knows what he will come up with.