WolverineNation mailbag

Michigan is in the midst of its first rivalry week of the season with Notre Dame, basketball season is less than a month from tipping off, and even though the Wolverines’ football team is a month in there are still as many questions as answers.

All of this is covered in this week’s WolverineNation mailbag, comprised of your questions. For next week, send those questions to Chantel Jennings at jenningsespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @chanteljennings.

On to your questions:

Courtney from Cincinnati asks: So what does it really mean for Michigan if it loses Saturday? How big of a test do you think this game is after not looking so great against Air Force and a game against UMass that showed very little> I’m still not sure how this team is and it’s the fourth game.

I don’t think you’re alone in wondering what type of team Michigan really is this season. The Wolverines were outclassed by Alabama, blew out an opponent they were supposed to, and Air Force is always tricky. Notre Dame, though, is proving to be a strong team having just beat the likely favorite in the Big Ten on Saturday night at Michigan State. Michigan has had Notre Dame’s number the past few seasons -- and that number, by the way, is four and can be gone in 60 seconds -- but the biggest areas of concern right now are on the lines. This isn’t good for Michigan, since the Irish’s strength lies in the defensive front. While not as good as Alabama, Notre Dame will be a stern test for the offensive line. On the other side, I’d be concerned if Cierre Wood gets going for the Irish. That likely means the defensive line is still struggling mightily. Most will focus on the play of Denard Robinson, but this game will be won or lost by the lines.

OHRocket5 from The Den asks: Basketball seems to be less of a growing pain sport for freshmen. Do you feel that Michigan can start freshmen and use them in the rotation without missing a step?

It’s an interesting question, especially since I expect Michigan will have multiple freshmen playing major minutes -- and possibly starting -- this season. Will there be some learning curve that happens? Yeah, probably and it might hurt Michigan early on in the season once or twice. However, Michigan has seen strong performances the past two seasons from freshmen -- Trey Burke last season and Tim Hardaway Jr. the season before. Expect that to continue and three freshmen to see major playing time by the Big Ten season: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. If the Wolverines are to reach their potential this season, they’ll need big contributions from all three.

cdbarker from Twitter asks: In the wake of Notre Dame going to the ACC, can you foresee ND going to a four-on, two-off rotation with U-M, MSU and Purdue?

The Notre Dame question is going to be a big one for Michigan over the next couple of years as everything sorts itself out with the Irish and their rivalries. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said when all of this went down the school was focusing on the West Coast rivalries and Navy. While this might irk some Big Ten people, having covered Notre Dame for four seasons, I can understand it. California has always been a good recruiting base for the Irish and guaranteeing a game there a year helps, plus a trip out West for Thanksgiving is always the season-ender for Notre Dame, which doesn’t have a conference title game. Navy will always be on Notre Dame’s schedule for multiple reasons.

But back to the Big Ten, your theory isn’t a bad one. Those who are calling for the Big Ten to abandon Notre Dame are shortsighted on multiple levels. It is still a national game with rivalry implications for all three Big Ten schools. For both Michigan and Michigan State, it is usually a good early season barometer game as well. Plus, it is an easier road trip in off years for both fans and the teams to make than to go to, say, Dallas. I do like your four-on, two-off scenario, though.