Maidin mhaith and happy St. Patrick's Day from the Big Ten blog. To get you in the proper spirit, we’re kicking off today’s posts by taking a look back at the league’s luck against the Irish rather than its luck of the Irish.
Big Ten teams have beaten the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame 105 times in 323 matchups spread out over 125 years. The shared Midwest footprint has led to some classic battles. Here are the top five most memorable wins that current conference schools have had against the Irish in recent history. Eirinn Go Brach.
5. Sept. 9, 2000: Nebraska 27, Notre Dame 24 (OT)
Cornhusker fans painted the town red when No. 1 Nebraska came to South Bend in 2000. Eric Crouch and the triple-option offense were coming off a 12-1 season while the Irish had finished a disappointing 5-7 the previous year. Notre Dame returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown to keep the game close, but Crouch’s option keeper in overtime secured a win for the Huskers. The bigger story ended up being the 30,000 or so Nebraska fans who colored Notre Dame Stadium red and turned the day into a pseudo home game in what was then a normally hostile atmosphere for visiting teams.
4. Sept. 2, 1995: Northwestern 17, Notre Dame 15
Northwestern’s shocking, season-opening win in South Bend started a program-changing season for the Wildcats. The program had not had a winning season since 1971 and had not bested the Irish since 1962, when Ara Parseghian was still in Evanston. Gary Barnett’s team ended up winning 10 games in 1995, including an 8-0 undefeated Big Ten record, and making a trip to the Bowl. Linebacker Pat Fitzgerald was part of a group of Wildcat tacklers that stopped a fourth-and-2 rushing attempt on Notre Dame’s final possession of the fourth quarter.
Fitzgerald returned to Notre Dame Stadium 19 years later as Northwestern’s head coach and won another thrilling upset. The 2014 Wildcats erased an 11-point deficit in the final two minutes of the game and kicked a field goal in overtime to beat the 15th-ranked Irish.
3. Sept. 18, 2010: Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 (OT)
The play was called "Little Giants." The Spartans set up for a 46-yard field goal in their 2010 meeting with Notre Dame to send the game to a second overtime. Instead, head coach Mark Dantonio dialed up a fake and Charlie Gantt caught a 29-yard pass for a game-winning touchdown. It was Michigan State’s second overtime victory over the Irish in the last five years. Later that night, Dantonio was hospitalized for a heart attack. The momentum from the win carried his team to its first 11-win season in program history.
2. Nov. 17, 1990: Penn State 24, Notre Dame 21
The Nittany Lions and the Irish had each won national championships in the previous five years when they met in South Bend in 1990. Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the nation and looked as if it was headed toward another title with only two games left in the regular season. Penn State was scheduled to join the Big Ten a few years later bringing an end their annual series, but not without a couple more clashes between coaching legends Lou Holtz and Joe Paterno.
After falling behind by two scores at halftime, Penn State caught some luck when Irish star Rocket Ismail left the game with a leg injury. Tony Sacca led a comeback that ended with a game-winning field goal as time expired. Notre Dame would get its revenge two years later with a one-point win in what became known as the "Snow Bowl."
1. Sept. 10, 2011: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31
The first night game ever played at the Big House lived up to its hype. Denard Robinson’s Michigan team looked sunk starting the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines scored four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes, including Robinson’s game-winning pass to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left on the clock.
The game had three lead changes in the final 72 seconds. Robinson contributed 446 total yards of offense and five scores in one of the best performances of his career. Michigan went on to an 11-2 season and an Orange Bowl victory, and the game quickly shot to the top of the list of the most memorable games between the storied rivals.