The No. 17 Notre Dame Fighting Irish welcome the Michigan Wolverines to South Bend for a rivalry game on Saturday, September 6th. The Wolverines have won six of the last eight meetings in this series, including a 41-30 home victory last year. Kickoff is set for 7:30 EST Saturday night with NBC providing the television coverage. Taking a look at the odds in Las Vegas, I find Notre Dame listed as a 4.5-point favorite over Michigan.

Notre Dame is coming off a 9-4 season a year after going 12-0 during the regular season and playing in the BCS Championship Game. Head coach Brian Kelly has already turned this team into a national title contender in just four years on the job. They beat the likes of Michigan State, Arizona State, USC and BYU last year. They actually have the toughest schedule in the entire country in 2014. Last week was an exception as they crushed Rice 48-17 at home.

Michigan has taken a step back in each of Brady Hoke’s first three seasons on the job. It went from 11-2 in 2011, to 8-5 in 2012 and 7-6 last year. It did lose four games by a combined 11 points last season, but went on to get crushed 14-31 by Kansas State in the bowl game. With 15 starters back this season, this could be Hoke’s best team yet, but he is on the hot seat so the pressure is on. His team responded well in the opener with a 52-14 victory over Appalachian State.

My Early Lean: Notre Dame -4.5

The Fighting Irish will certainly be out for revenge in this contest Saturday. I generally lean towards underdogs in rivalry games like this, but not with only a 4.5-point spread. The home team has been dominant in this series. Indeed, the home team has won seven of the last eight meetings with all seven of those victories coming by four points or more, including five by seven or more.

The home team has won seven of the last eight meetings with all seven of those victories coming by four points or more, including five by seven or more.

Rice is a quality team that won Conference USA last year. The Fighting Irish destroyed the Owls 48-17 in the opener. Everett Golson returned from a season-long suspension last year and impressed. He threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 41 yards and three scores. Remember, Golson was the one who led the Fighting Irish to a 12-0 season in 2012 and was terrific.

The Wolverines really have not been a good road team in recent years. They have finished with a losing record away from home four of the past six seasons, going a combined 10-18 in true road games over that time frame. Their only road wins last season came at lowly UConn (24-21) as a 19-point favorite and at Northwestern (27-19) in triple overtime as a 3-point dog. We all know how bad the Wildcats were last season as they went just 4-8.

Michigan is 0-6 ATS in road games off a home win over the last three seasons. The Wolverines are 33-55 ATS in road games after playing a home game since 1992. Michigan is 6-15-1 ATS in its last 22 road games overall. The Wolverines are 12-25-1 ATS in their last 38 vs. a team with a winning record.