If ever there were two programs capable of demonstrating that a rivalry can indeed exist without ever actually playing one another, it’d be Notre Dame and Ohio State. The storylines between the two are so deep and interlaced that a collision in a postseason bowl game had an almost inevitable quality.
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The animosity’s origin began ten years ago when current Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer jilted a listing Notre Dame program in favor of the Florida Gators. The slight left Irish fans little choice but to helplessly watch the continued decline of the Notre Dame program while Meyer established himself as one of the best coaches in the country by bringing two BCS National Championships back to Gainesville. If that wasn’t painful enough, Meyer seemed to derive pleasure from Notre Dame’s suffering by continuously referring to Notre Dame as his dream job as the victories kept mounting at Florida.
The rivalry followed Meyer to Ohio State and took form in personnel battles. Ohio State has offered coaching positions to three of Notre Dame’s assistants in the past five years. Head coach Brian Kelly returned the favor this past offseason by luring up-and-coming offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Mike Sanford, to South Bend instead of Columbus despite Sanford having been a graduate assistant at Utah during Meyer’s tenure in Salt Lake City. The borderline familial relationship between both coaching staffs has spilled over to recruiting where things have, on occasion, become abnormally personal.
It should come as no surprise two Midwestern teams often butt heads in the world of recruiting, and each side has managed to inflict pain upon the other. Taylor Decker, Ohio State’s starting tackle and a projected first-round NFL draft selection by some publications, was a one-time Notre Dame commitment before flipping to the Buckeyes. Jaylon Smith, a former 5-star recruit and recent Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker, signed with Notre Dame despite his older brother playing for Ohio State. And most recently Tommy Kraemer, the No. 1 high school prospect in Ohio for the class of 2016, committed to Notre Dame over the in-state power Buckeyes. The continuous crossover has evoked some raw reactions.
When Notre Dame landed the commitment of Ohio native Liam Eichenberg during a particularly heated recruiting battle, Notre Dame’s former offensive line coach – and current Ohio State coach of the same position – Ed Warinner did not take the news well. In fact, he handled the situation in the passive-aggressive manner one would expect from a high schooler being recruited rather than a middle-aged coach doing the recruiting. Moments after Eichenberg committed to Notre Dame Warinner fired off his own defiant tweet in response.
Any Question after yesterday? pic.twitter.com/NCfsU6J454
— Ed Warinner (@4Warinner) April 19, 2015
Perhaps taking the lead from their coaching staffs, the animosity has trickled down to the players themselves. During this season’s spring practice session Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire posted a tweet of optimism not uncommon for most football teams given the time of year.
“We will get it done this year.”
Although not intended for anyone in particular, Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee took umbrage with Zaire’s statement, an odd development considering the two programs have rarely played one another. Lee’s response was clear and to the point, with just a smidgen of unintended foreshadowing.
“We’ll be waiting.”
The most direct shots between the two came after Brian Kelly told the media he felt Notre Dame had the best quarterback depth in the country and would take his quarterback roster over anyone’s, including defending national champion, Ohio State. Kelly’s comments did not sit well with Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi he “felt sorry” for Notre Dame and boasted that the Buckeyes had three quarterbacks to Notre Dame’s none.
As lacking in merit as Kelly’s comments were at the time, it turns out the confidence in his quarterback depth was well placed.
The quarterback play in Columbus has been a question mark all season long. One-time starter Braxton Miller was moved to wide receiver and Cardale Jones, who rose to the top of the depth chart over the summer, floundered before losing the starting position outright to J.T. Barrett. While Barrett has added a spark to the Buckeyes’ offense, Ohio State is 1-1 this season against ranked opponents after losing at home to a Michigan State team without its star quarterback, Connor Cook, in a game that saw Barrett complete barely half his passing attempts for less than 50 yards.
Notre Dame experienced worse turmoil at the position after the transfer of Everett Golson and the season-ending injury to Malik Zaire, yet managed to thrive. In a scenario neither Cardale Jones nor Brian Kelly could have predicted during their preseason spat about quarterback depth, redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer shined while leading Notre Dame to an 8-2 record as a starter, with the lone losses coming in the waning seconds on the road to the No. 1 team in the nation and the Pac-12 champion.
Notre Dame and Ohio State have been engaged in football’s equivalent of a Cold War since Urban Meyer’s arrival to Columbus, but on January 1st both programs will finally settle their differences where it matters the most – on the field. And the college football world is all the better for it.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.