Kelly downplays ND rivalry with Michigan

Notre Dame's biggest rival is USC. Michigan's is Ohio State. Neither is debatable.

But the Irish and the Wolverines are two of the three winningest programs in college football history, a pair of Midwestern powers whose annual clashes have, especially as of late, turned in some of the most exciting early-season finishes in college football.

But with Notre Dame entering Ann Arbor, Mich., this Saturday for its last scheduled trip to the Big House, Brian Kelly is not so sentimental about the loss of the Michigan rivalry, which will be played once more in 2014 in South Bend, Ind, before each says its goodbyes.

"Well I really haven't seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries," the fourth-year Irish coach said Sunday. "I've seen it as just a great football game that Notre Dame has played. For me, I've been in Michigan a long time, so I've always felt that the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game. But I think in the Notre Dame history books, this game has [been played], but obviously there's been some years where it hasn't been played for a number of years as well."

Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick exercised a three-year out clause in the game's contract right before kickoff of last season's tilt, giving the school some schedule flexibility shortly after it agreed to play five ACC teams annually starting in 2014.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke told a crowd at a luncheon this past May that Notre Dame was "chickening out of" playing the Wolverines each year.

Asked Sunday for his reaction to Hoke's comments, Kelly said he hopes the two sides can work something out in the future, though Michigan athletic director David Brandon had said in May that it would be a "long time" before the series resumes.

"I think everybody knows the challenges that we have as an independent when it comes to scheduling," Kelly said. "We're a team that a lot of people want to play, including Michigan, obviously, or Brady wouldn't comment in that regard.

"So we're trying to do the best we can with maintaining the independent status and fulfilling the obligations we have with the ACC. We'd like to play everybody; unfortunately, we can't. And there's going to be little bit of a hiatus with this game but we'll work hard to get them back on the schedule."

Asked what might be lost without Notre Dame and Michigan on each other's schedules, Kelly said: "I would think that the geographical proximity, and certainly from a recruiting standpoint in the Midwest, Notre Dame and Michigan are recruiting kids [who] are very good students, and certainly there's a lot of similarities. I don't think any time off will affect the great rivalry that these two teams have shared over the years."