With ESPN set to broadcast live from Notre Dame’s campus on Saturday for this weekend’s showdown wit #17 Stanford, we take a look back at Notre Dame’s history of playing in contests where ESPN has set up shop.
Overall, Notre Dame has been in contests in front of the Gameday crew 20 times since the show first aired on the site of game – Florida State’s visit to South Bend in ’93 – with Notre Dame amassing an 8-12 record in those contests. ESPN has been on site on Notre Dame’s campus for 7 of those 20 games with the Irish having a 3-4 record in those matchups.
1993: Florida State @ Notre Dame – W, 31, 24
The first time ESPN took it’s College Gameday show on the road. Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Craig James, and crew packed up their set and made the trip to South Bend for the “Game of Century” between #1 Florida State and #2 Notre Dame. In a very rare instance where a game lived up to the hype, Notre Dame won a thriller against Seminoles in a game where the final score was actually closer than it should have been when Shawn Wooden knocked down Charlie Ward’s pass near the goal-line. We all know how the rest of this one played out. Notre Dame jumped to #1 in the polls only to fall a week later and was robbed of a chance to play for a title when Florida State inexplicably jumped them despite identical records and the head to head loss.
Side note: Corso picked Florida State during the telecast and all I can say is, please pick Stanford this weekend, Lee.
1994: Michigan @ Notre Dame, L 24-26
It didn’t take long for ESPN to find their way back to South Bend. Notre Dame opened the ’94 season ranked #3 in the country behind sophomore (redshirt freshman) quarterback Ron Powlus. After a 42-15 throttling of Northwestern a week before behind 4 touchdown passes from Powlus – the game that prompted Beano Cook to predict Powlus would win two Heisman trophies – the 3rd ranked Irish were riding high as #6 Michigan came to town. After taking the lead late on a Powlus to Derrick Mayes touchdown pass with just 52 second remaining, Michigan marched down the field and kicked the game winning field goal to upset the 3rd ranked Irish. Notre Dame went on to lose 4 more games that season while tying a 5th against USC.
1995: #5 USC @ #17 Notre Dame, W 38-10
ESPN made its third trip in three years to Notre Dame in 1995 when USC, led by brash wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, strolled into town with national championship aspirations only to limp away wondering where that truck came from that just ran them over. Led by Marc Edwards and the Notre Dame rushing game, the Irish thoroughly beat USC in all aspects of the game enroute to a 28 point victory – the last true Notre Dame blowout in the USC series. The game also gave Notre Dame fans one of the most memorable hits in the series history from linebacker Kinnon Tatum.
1996: #4 Ohio State @ #5 Notre Dame, L 16-29
In Lou Holtz’s final season as head coach at Notre Dame, the Irish had national championship hopes heading into a showdown with Ohio State in Notre Dame Stadium – the Buckeyes’ first trip to South Bend in 60 years. A year earlier Ohio State had its way with Notre Dame in Columbus to the tune of 45-26. A year later the Buckeyes would beat Notre Dame soundly despite just a 13 point margin of victory although the Irish were a called punt return for a touchdown by Autry Denson away from making this a six point game with three and a half minutes remaining. The loss was Notre Dame’s first of the season, but the Irish followed up with another loss three weeks later at home to Air Force before ending Lou’s final season on the sidelines with a loss on the road to USC and subsequently declining a bowl invitation.
1998: #5 Michigan @ #22 Notre Dame, W 36-20
Bob Davie’s first season as the head coach of Notre Dame saw ESPN steer clear of campus for the first time since they started taking their show on the road – perhaps they knew something before the rest of us did. By year two of Davie Era though, ESPN was on campus for the season opener when defending national champion Michigan visited Notre Dame Stadium. In one of the few surprises of the Bob Davie Era, Notre Dame came out and took care of business against the higher ranked Wolverines behind the arm of new starting quarterback Jarious Jackson. Notre Dame proceeded to follow up their big win over Michigan, however, with an embarrassing 45-23 loss on the road in East Lansing to Michigan State.
Below: Jackson’s touchdown that opened up the game to one of my all time favorite underrated Notre Dame players – Raki Nelson.
1999: #16 Notre Dame @ #7 Michigan, L 22-26
Notre Dame opened up the 1999 season with a blowout win over Kansas and marched into Michigan Stadium looking for back to back wins over the Wolverines. Jarious Jackson nearly lead the Irish to victory too but a rather suspect excessive celebration penalty on Bobby Brown on the go ahead touchdown and a completely unneeded unnecessary roughness penalty on Ron Isreal set Michigan up to make the game winning touchdown drive. Jackson nearly lead a miracle comeback though before time ran out even though it appeared the Irish should have had time for one more play. Clock management issues struck for Notre Dame again a week later against Purdue and Notre Dame ended u limping to a 5-7 record in Davie’s third season in South Bend.
1999: #24 Notre Dame @ #4 Tennessee, L 14-38
After a 1-3 start to the ’99 season, Notre Dame rattled four straight wins against Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, and Navy to creep back into the top 25 before traveling to Knoxville to take on the 4th ranked Volunteers. Needless to say, the Irish weren’t ranked too long after that trip thanks to Tennessee’s 24 point win over the Irish. Notre Dame went on to lose the next three games including the season finale to Stanford who was coached at the time by a guy named Tyrone Willingham. Ironic note for the ’99 season – Notre Dame beat a Bob Stoops coached team and lost to a Willingham coached team.
2000: #1 Nebraska @ #25 Notre Dame, L 24-27 (OT)
Notre Dame entered the 2000 season unranked after finishing with a losing record in 1999, but a season opening 14 point win over #25 Texas A&M, Notre Dame snuck into the top 25 before Nebraska came to Notre Dame Stadium. Despite Nebraska fans taking over the House that Rockne built and creating a sea of red that still doesn’t sit well with a lot of Irish fans, Notre Dame played a great game against the defending champions and had a chance to play for the win at the end of regulation but instead played for overtime – a decision by Bob Davie that also still does not sit well with Notre Dame fans. The game was highlighted by a pair of special teams touchdowns by the Irish – a kick-off return by Julius Jones and a punt return by Joey Getherall. Notre Dame lost just one more game in the regular season this year, but ended up getting blown out of the stadium by Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl to end the season.
2001: #17 Notre Dame @ #4 Nebraska, L 10-27
A year after playing a thriller in South Bend, Notre Dame traveled to Lincoln but couldn’t recapture the magic losing by 17 points to Nebraska in a game that was not nearly as close as the scoreboard suggested. Nebraska really dominated this game everywhere except the scoreboard. As has been the case for most of the last decade other than when the Irish had quarterbacks with the names Quinn or Clausen, a quarterback controversy was the biggest story coming out of this one for the Irish with fans clamoring for Carlyle Holiday after Matt Loevcchio was unable to move the Notre Dame offense. Notre Dame ended up losing the next two games to start 0-3 before finishing 5-6 in what ended up being Davie’s final season in South Bend.
2002: #7 Notre Dame @ #18 Air Force, W 21-14
Under first year head coach Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame was off to a surprise 6-0 start despite running an offense that couldn’t sustain much offense for most of those six wins. Willingham led his 7th ranked Irish into Colorado Springs to take on the 18th ranked Falcons and used a strong running game led by Ryan Grant to grind out a 21-14 win in another game that wasn’t quite as close as the score indicated. Even though the Irish won by just 7 points, they out-gained Air Force 447 to 161 but failed to put up more points thanks in part of losing three fumbles. Notre Dame rode their seven game winning streak into Tallahassee to take on Florida State where College Gameday followed the Irish.
2002: #7 Notre Dame @ #12 Florida State, W 34-24
ESPN followed the Irish for back to back weeks when the 6th ranked Irish were double digit underdogs on the road to #11 Florida State in a game that was supposed to expose the “pretending” Irish and end their national championship hopes. Instead, Notre Dame came out swinging with Carlyle Holiday throwing a 65 yard touchdown to Arnaz Battle and then took control in the second half when the Irish defense forced three third quarter turnovers that turned into 17 Notre Dame points all in less than two minutes of game time. The win marked the first time Notre Dame won back to back road games against ranked opponents in program history. Notre Dame would go on to lose the following week at home to Boston College and then got blown out of the water a few weeks later by USC to finish the regular season 10-2.
2003: #15 Notre Dame @ #5 Michigan, L 0-38
Many expected Notre Dame to fall back down to earth a little in year two of the Willingham era, but few saw the train wreck that was about to start in week two when the 15th ranked Irish traveled to Ann Arbor and ran into a Wolverine buzz saw. Michigan embarrassed Notre Dame with Gameday on site to witness the carnage. The loss would be a sign of things to come for Notre Dame in 2003. The Irish lost their next two games to start the season 1-3 before finishing the season 5-7.
2004: Notre Dame @ Michigan State, W 31-24
Gameday was set to film from #5 LSU at #14 Auburn but Hurricane Ivan forced ESPN to call an audible and the Gameday crew ended up traveling to East Lansing for a game between two unranked opponents. Notre Dame was, however, coming off a big when a week early after taking down #8 Michigan at home after starting the season off by being upset on the road against BYU. Darius Walker emerged as a legit weapon in the Notre Dame offense against Michigan though and a sophomore safety named Tommy Zbikowski made a highlight reel strip and recovery for a touchdown as Notre Dame looked to be headed back in the right direction in year three under Willingham. After a blowout win over Washington the following week though, Notre Dame lost five of their final eight games ushering the end of the Willingham era.
2004: Notre Dame @ #1 USC, L 10-41
The Willingham Era ended in Southern California with the third straight 31 point loss at the hands of cross country rival USC with the College Gameday crew on hand. Why Gameday was here for this game, I don’t really know. Notre Dame was pretty much dead in the water at this point and most Notre Dame fans were already calling for an end to the Willingham Era. USC came in ranked #1 and only reaffirmed their spot as the top team in the country and won Matt Leinart the Heisman was a huge performance against the Irish in prime time. Willingham ended up being fired a few days later kicking off Kevin White’s poorly executed attempt to lure Urban Meyer to South Bend and the rest as they say is history.
2005: Notre Dame @ #23 Pittsburgh, W 42-21
Year one of the Charlie Weis Era started off optimistic enough and with Pittsburgh in the top 25 and sporting a new head coach of their own – Dave Wannstedt – ESPN had the angle of two former NFL coaches squaring off in their first games as college head coaches. The game was on ABC and in Primetime so ESPN was also able to promote their own game. I was on hand for the filming of this particular episode of Gameday and being in the front row, I was on TV several times in and out of commercial breaks. The game itself turned into a Charlie Weis love-fest with the Irish offense marching up and down the field before Weis called off the dogs in the second half. Brady Quinn’s stock skyrocketed and a tall, lanky wide receiver from Indiana by the name of Jeff Samardzija made a circus catch in the back of the end-zone after toiling in relative obscurity for his first two years on campus. Notre Dame jumped into the polls the next week before heading into Ann Arbor and upsetting a then top 5 ranked Michigan squad.
2005: #1 USC @ #9 Notre Dame, L 31-34
It didn’t take long for the hype machine to be in full blown overdrive in year one under Weis with the Irish’s only blip on the early season schedule being an overtime loss at home to Michigan State. Despite the loss, Notre Dame entered the game in the top 10 with a real chance of beating USC after three straight 31 point losses during the Willingham Era. The game didn’t have quite the hype of say the ’93 Florida State game, but the crowd that day was every bit as electric. Notre Dame came out in the green jerseys and the game turned out to live up to every bit of the hype. We all know how this one ended though and how this loss oddly ended up being the high point of the Charlie Weis Era at Notre Dame. Prior to the 2012 season, this was the last time ESPN would be on Notre Dame’s campus for almost seven years before heading to town for this weekend’s Stanford game.
2006: #2 Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech, W 14-10
Year two of the Weis Era started with predictions of a national championship in South Bend after Charlie Weis’s quick turnaround in his first season in command at Notre Dame. The Irish brought a #2 ranking into Atlanta to take on unranked Georgia Tech, but Yellow Jacket defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta blitzed Brady Quinn and Notre Dame endlessly – a tactic that laid the blueprint for slowing down Weis’s offenses at Notre Dame – and kept the game close up until the end when a late touchdown put the Irish ahead. Notre Dame fans and the media came out of this game questioning whether or not Notre Dame was a legit contender and the Irish actually fell in the rankings despite winning on the road to start the season.
2006: #6 Notre Dame @ #2 USC, L 24-44
Heading into the season finale in 2006, Notre Dame held very, very slim National Title hopes with a glut of one-loss teams all hoping to get invited to the BCS championship party. Notre Dame needed a win on the road over USC to end the season in order to have even a remote chance of being in the conversation. The Trojans, however, made short work of Notre Dame’s slim title hipes with a 44-24 victory. The Irish had their chances to make this a game early, but failed to execute on a number of chances in the first half that would have put them in a position to make this a game, but in the end, USC ended up having its way with Notre Dame again.
2011: Notre Dame @ Michigan, L 31-35
ESPN went full seasons without being on site for a single Notre Dame game before they traveled to Ann Arbor in 2011 for the first game under the lights in Michigan Stadium. Notre Dame and Michigan wore specially designed uniforms and the primetime contest was on ABC. The game was very symbolic of the 2011 season for Notre Dame with the Irish jumping out to an early lead and controlling the game through three quarters before imploding in the fourth quarter and letting Michigan score 28 points in the final 15 minutes including the game winning touchdown drive that took less than a minute. The win for Michigan was their third in a row over Notre Dame in the final minute of the game and dropped the Irish to 0-2 to start Brian Kelly’s second season in South Bend.