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Notre Dame braces for final visit to Big House in awhile

The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry has been kicked up a notch, putting Saturday’s prime-time game even more in the spotlight.

Notre Dame opted out of a contract with Michigan last year. After the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish play the 17th-ranked Wolverines at the Big House, they’re not expected to be back until the 2020s at the earliest. The teams are scheduled to meet one final time, in South Bend next year.

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‘‘I think there’s a lot more hype around this game than there was two years ago with it being the last meeting in who knows how long,’’ Notre Dame receiver TJ Jones said.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said four months ago that Notre Dame was ‘‘chickening out’’ of the series, and got laughs at a luncheon.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly raised eyebrows when he kicked off the week by saying the rivalry with Michigan wasn’t historic or traditional, adding it is a regional game.

Kelly recanted the next day, saying it is ‘‘a great and historic rivalry,’’ series with Michigan.

And a couple days later, he said the pressure will be on the Wolverines.

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‘‘They’ve got to win at home,’’ Kelly said Thursday night. ‘‘For us, we’re going to go up there swinging.’’

The Irish will have to if they’re going to knock off the Wolverines.

Hoke hasn’t lost a home game in two-plus seasons of leading college football’s winningest program, a fact that he insisted isn’t a topic of conversation within his team. The Wolverines have won 15 straight — since losing to Wisconsin on Nov. 20, 2010 — at the Big House for their longest streak since winning 16 in a row from 2002 to 2005.

In their last matchup with Notre Dame at home two years ago, the first night game in Ann Arbor, Denard Robinson threw two touchdown passes in the last 1:12 — including one with two seconds left — in a 35-31 win. Michigan has won three straight and six of seven against Notre Dame at home.

‘‘You’ve got to have a mental toughness to handle the road and you’ve got to go play to win,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘You have to have a mental attitude. We have to go to Michigan and go to win. We’ve got to be the aggressors.’’

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A season later, the statistics from the first conference meeting between Oklahoma and West Virginia still boggle the mind.

In Oklahoma’s 50-49 victory, the teams combined for 164 plays and 1,440 offensive yards (778 for West Virginia, 662 for the Sooners). Just for West Virginia, Tavon Austin had 572 all-purpose yards (344 rushing, 82 receiving, 146 on kickoff returns), Stedman Bailey had 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns, and Geno Smith passed for 320 yards.

None of that trio remains with the Mountaineers, but No. 16 Oklahoma (1-0) is well aware of the potential explosiveness of the West Virginia offense when the teams meet Saturday in the Big 12 opener. The Sooners dismiss West Virginia’s struggle to beat Football Championship Division opponent William & Mary, 24-17, last Saturday as an aberration.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said the Sooners’ meltdown in Morgantown last year was a catalyst toward schematic changes that proved effective in Oklahoma’s season opener, a 34-0 romp over Louisiana-Monroe.

‘‘A basic principle for defensive football is not letting the ball outleverage you and continuously throughout the course of the year last year, we just couldn’t control the ball getting outside us,’’ Stoops said. ‘‘That just stretches your defense even more, and then we opened up some holes inside. It was a learning experience in a lot of ways. Hopefully we can build upon a defense that can last and still be aggressive and be sound, and you’ve got to create indecision in the quarterback’s mind constantly.

‘‘We’ll see if we can hold them under 778. Hopefully we can do better than that.’’

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Johnny Manziel only played the second half of No. 7 Texas A&M’s season-opening rout of Rice after serving a suspension for what the school called an ‘‘inadvertent’’ violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.

If Saturday’s game against Sam Houston State goes the way last year’s did, the Heisman Trophy winner will probably only play about a half again this week.

Manziel threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns and added 100 yards rushing with two more scores in little more than a half in a 47-28 win over Sam Houston State, the FCS runner-up the last two seasons.

He was solid in his debut last week, throwing for 94 yards and three touchdowns in less than a half last week.

Manziel also made headlines for taunting the Rice defense. He drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he pointed at the scoreboard after throwing his third touchdown pass and was benched by coach Kevin Sumlin.

Sumlin said he spoke with Manziel about playing smarter this week. But he added that there’s a fine line between getting his quarterback to tone things down and still maintaining his intensity.

‘‘What you don’t want to do is kill that emotion and passion because that’s what separates Johnny from a lot of different players,’’ Sumlin said.

‘‘But what we can do is set him down and say: ‘That same emotion and passion can be used positively in this way.’ ’’

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The South Carolina-Georgia game is back in its familiar spot — leading off the Southeastern Conference schedule — and the stakes are as high as ever.

The sixth-ranked Gamecocks have a chance to establish themselves as a legitimate national championship contender, while the 11th-ranked Bulldogs cannot afford another loss if they want to have a realistic shot at climbing to No. 1.

‘‘I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while,’’ South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw said. ‘‘We all know the importance of this game.’’

This used to be an automatic win for Georgia. Not anymore. For the first time in series history, South Carolina (1-0) has won three straight over the Bulldogs (0-1).

Last year was especially grim for Georgia — a 35-7 loss in Columbia, when the game was played in Week 6 instead of its usual spot at the start of the SEC slate.

Georgia opened with a 38-35 loss at Clemson, costing the Bulldogs six spots in the Associated Press rankings. But it was hardly a fatal blow to their championship hopes, either nationally or in the SEC.

In fact, they bounced back to win the East Division the past two years after losses to South Carolina, and they nearly earned a shot at the national title last season despite the four-touchdown loss to the Gamecocks.

But the Bulldogs know their margin for error is much thinner this season, given they have games to come against No. 9 LSU in late September and the Cocktail Party game against No. 12 Florida in early November.

‘‘We don’t want to get behind the eight-ball again,’’ receiver Michael Bennett said.

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