There are giant orange structures popping up on Ingalls Mall in the heart of the Michigan campus, and that can only mean one thing: ESPN's College GameDay is on hand for the Wolverines' primetime showdown with Notre Dame.
GameDay commentators Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard sat down with members of the local media Friday morning to talk about the game, the show and the rivalry.
Here is what Herbstreit had to say. Be sure to check back with TheWolverine.com Saturday morning for a Q&A with Howard.
What do you expect from this game?
Herbstreit: "Last year, it was electric, and of course the game lived up to the hype. The fact that this is the last go-around in Ann Arbor, as a fan and the guys who is calling the game, I'm hoping that we have a similar atmosphere, and the game comes down to the wire, and it's one of those typical Michigan-Notre Dame games. That's what I am hoping. We know the atmosphere is going to be amazing. Both teams right now are thinking about great things for this season.
"That's what I have always appreciated about this game, the timing of it. When I think about Michigan-Notre Dame, I think about an early game with a lot at stake. Both teams can use this as a springboard into great things.
What's the matchup you're going to look for most tomorrow?
Herbstreit: It's hard to pinpoint just one. I'm anxious to see the two quarterbacks. Devin [Gardner], I think we would all agree, fits in with what offensive coordinator Al Borges is trying to do with this scheme, and we saw that in the latter part of last year, and now we're continuing to see that. This will be a big opportunity for Devin to show how much he has grown. With all due respect to Central Michigan, I think this is really the game where we find out where he is, and the guys around him are. This is a really good defense.
"In the other side, Tommy Rees came in here two years ago and threw the ball all over the place. If it weren't for the two turnovers, he would have had a great night, and they probably would have won the game. So, now that it's his offense and now that Everett Golson is gone, I'm anxious to see how he can perform, not just against Michigan, but in 2013 as a whole. This is a game where you find out where Notre Dame is and how serious they are about trying to duplicate what they did a year ago."
What's it like walking onto the set with Desmond, with all the Michigan fans screaming his name?
Herbstreit: "It's great. I love it. I think Des is one of the greatest to ever wear the Maize & Blue. It's great for us to have him on our show. Whenever we get back to Ann Arbor, it's cool.
"The one thing I tell fans right now, the whole, 'Pose! Do the pose!' It's not going to happen. If you get that message out, I'd appreciate it, because he will not do the pose for anyone."
Where does this rank, in terms of college football settings, Michigan Stadium at night with this matchup?
Herbstreit: "It's not just Michigan Stadium at night. It's the new configuration. To be honest, and I've thought about this, the shape of the stadium for decades, was just a huge bowl. Michigan could be ranked No. 1 in the country, and you could come in here and it just wasn't that intimidating, at all.
"It was over 100,000 people, but it wasn't as loud as you might think. Now that they have the suites and the pressbox, my impression of that night was, 'Wow, it is loud in here.' I don't know if that theme has carried, but it has not become a very loud and intimidating and difficult place for opposing teams and quarterbacks to try and communicate and execute. So I think it is a factor. It ranks up there. There are still certain stadiums within this conference that have a little more tradition, when it comes to creating that type of atmosphere. The one Big Ten stadium to me, when Penn State does a White Out at night, that's one of the best, most intimidating atmospheres in the country.
"But Michigan has definitely taken a huge step in the right direction."
What's your impression of this rivalry?
Herbstreit: "I'm a college football junkie, so you put Michigan and Notre Dame on the field, and I'm happy. That's all I can tell you. I don't know if it's a regional matchup - to me it's a big game.
"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't a big game. Miami is playing Florida. Georgia is playing South Carolina, and he we are. We're here covering this game. I don't know who is calling who what. I just know, when it comes to me, as a fan of the game, this is one of those games every year that you're excited to go and watch. I was watching ESPN Classic earlier this week. It was Michigan-Notre Dame from four or five years ago, and it was a good, exciting game, but that might have been a more regional, pocket game. Now, we're seeing both of these teams with new leadership, heading got a stratosphere that's back to the elite.
"There is not only bragging rights on the line. Let's face it: Brady Hoke is taking Michigan to the point of being a top five program, and Brian Kelly got to the national championship a year ago. These teams are rubbing elbows with the big boys, and that's the direction, as long as they're able to hold onto these two coaches, that they're going to be able to go in."
Then, as a fan of the game, what do you think about this series going on hiatus?
Herbstreit: "I don't like it. I would much rather see Notre Dame and Michigan hold onto that rivalry. If you're in my generation, Notre Dame and Michigan, you always know you can count on that game.
"Don't get me wrong: Notre Dame-Michigan State is great, and Notre Dame-Purdue is always there. But for more, not seeing Notre Dame-Michigan will be sad. It's just kind of the world of college football now, with realignment. There have been so many rivalries that we're used to seeing that are going away. Having Nebraska in the Big Ten, old Big 12 fans lost a lot of good games. Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. Depending on where you are in the country, this has becoming, unfortunately, a reoccurring trend that we're seeing. I, for one, would love to see this rivalry continue."
You're a college football junkie. What is it about college football that sets it apart?
Herbstreit: "Atmosphere, energy, passion. I watched the Broncos-Ravens game last night. Until the NFL gets to the postseason, it doesn't come close to what college football offers on a weekly basis. There is so much at stake, and there is so much emotion, tradition and pageantry. The bands, just everything about college football. I don't care where I am or what game I'm watching - there's always been something about college football that I have loved, and I will always put it above the NFL."
What are three things Michigan has to do to win Saturday night?
Herbstreit: "Defensively, they have to effect Tommy Rees. They have to get him to put the ball into coverage. Mentally, physically, they have to get after him.
"Offensively, with three young interior linemen, that battle will be important. I will focus on how those three are holding up against Louis Nix. How they hold up with alter how the Notre Dame linebackers play and the overall success of what Michigan is trying to do.
"And then, who can make big plays? This is, historically, a game where these is one or two plays that everyone remembers. In 2013, who will that be? Who will make that play to be able to be the difference in the game?"
How often does Desmond show you that fourth down catch?
Herbstreit: (laughs) "He doesn't. He's kind of shy and bashful about it. We have fun every time we come here."