Top 10 Greatest Rivalries in Notre Dame Football History

Notre Dame Football is one of the most historic college football programs in the country. The program’s historic achievements and independence have led to great rivalry matchups. From the west coast to the east coast, the Irish have no shortage of rivals. Here is the list of the top 10 greatest Notre Dame rivalries, based on the number of matchups, historic games, and overall animosity.

1. USC Trojans

  • All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 47-36-5 (Next Meeting: November 28, 2020)
  • Trophy: Jeweled Shillelagh

History: These two juggernauts have met on the gridiron 91 times. Notre Dame vs. USC is one of the most distinctive rivalries in college football. The Fighting Irish are based out of the Midwest, while the Trojans call Southern California home. But that has not stopped the two programs from playing every year.

From the bright lights of Los Angeles to the shadow of Touchdown Jesus in South Bend, the differences make this game unique. The rivalry has brought fans green jerseys, the “Bush Push,” and countless night games. For anyone who has been to South Bend in the fall, there is nothing that can match an ND vs. USC game.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – USC Rivalry

2. Michigan Wolverines

  • All-Time Series: Michigan leads series, 25-17-1 (Next Meeting: September 3, 2033)

History: The hatred in this rivalry for the fans is real. For these two blueblood programs, the distance between South Bend and Ann Arbor is close. Recently, the victories have been back and forth. Notre Dame has won in South Bend and Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Unfortunately for the Irish, Michigan got off to a hot start in the series from 1887 to 1908 where the Wolverines won the first 8 games in the history of this rivalry. Back then, the Wolverines were essentially showing the Irish how to play the game. Once Notre Dame finally won, Michigan wanted no part of playing the Irish for another 33 years.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Michigan Rivalry

3. Michigan State Spartans

  • All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 47-29-1 (Next Meeting: 2026)
  • Trophy: Megaphone Trophy

History: These teams have met a total of 79 times. The defining game in the series was back in 1966, when the #1 Irish faced the #2 Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame and Michigan State battled out to a 10 to 10 tie. Ara Parseghian would later lead the Irish on to the national title that season.

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Even though the ND Michigan game gets more attention, the Irish have had a lot more battles against the Spartans than the Wolverines.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Michigan State Rivalry

4. Miami Hurricanes

  • All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 17-8-1 (Next Meeting: 2024)

History: Catholics vs. Convicts is one of the most recognizable rivalries in the history of football. Fans of every team were polarized by the contrasting differences between Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes and Lou Holtz’s Fighting Irish.

However, the rivalry has dramatically faded during the past two decades. Notre Dame has won 3 of the last 4 meetings, including a 41 to 3 beatdown in Chicago. But the game that stands out is the 41 to 8 destruction of the Irish in Miami back in 2017.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Miami Rivalry

5. Navy Midshipmen

  • All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 77-13-1 (Next Meeting: August 29, 2020)
  • Trophy: The Rip Miller Trophy

History: This may be the most lopsided “rivalry” in college football, but a rivalry, nevertheless. Notre Dame’s dominance was highlighted by a 43-game winning streak that was snapped in 2007. Brian Kelly has led the Irish to victory in 8 of the last 9 matchups, which is not to be understated because the Midshipmen have been ranked several times this decade.

The best part about this matchup is the tradition itself. Navy created a training center for the V-12 program at Notre Dame during World War II that kept the University afloat. Since then, the Irish have always played the Naval Academy in South Bend and neutral sites, every other year.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Navy Rivalry

6. Purdue Boilermakers

  • All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 56-26-2 (Next Meeting: September 18, 2021)
  • Trophy: The Shillelagh Trophy

History: Purdue is the only in-state rivalry for the Irish. The Boilermakers and Irish have clashed 86 times, including a #1 vs. #2 matchup back in 1968. For sports fans in Indiana, this game brings major bragging rights. The two programs have even meet in Indianapolis on two occasions and may meet there again later this decade.

This series has witnessed great endings recently. Who can forget Kyle Rudolph’s game-winning catch in 2009 or Kyle Brindza’s game-winning kick in 2012? While Notre Dame has decisively controlled this series, the Boilermakers have handed the Irish their fair share of upsets in West Lafayette and South Bend.

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Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Purdue rivalry

7. Stanford Cardinal

  • All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 20-13 (Next Meeting: October 10, 2020)
  • Trophy: The Legends Trophy

History: Notre Dame vs. Stanford is certainly a rivalry defined by the 21st century. Most opponents on this list have been longtime rivals of the Fighting Irish.

These two programs originally squared-off in the 1925 Rose Bowl, highlighted by an Irish victory. But it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that they started playing annually and the matchup blossomed into a major rivalry during the Brian Kelly era.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Stanford rivalry

8. Boston College Eagles

  • All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 15-9 (Next Meeting: 2022)
  • Trophy: Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl

History: Notre Dame vs. Boston College, the matchup of two of the most prominent Catholic schools in the country. A rivalry trophy named after Frank Leahy, who coached the Eagles before heading to South Bend.

From 2001 to 2008, the Eagles won 6 straight games against the Irish. Since Brian Kelly became head coach, Notre Dame has won 7 straight against their rival. The Fighting Irish also have a 6-win lead in the series. Hopefully, Boston College can return to prominence and make these matchups more competitive.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Boston College rivalry

9. Pittsburgh Panthers

All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads series, 48-21-1 (Next Meeting: October 17, 2020)

History: Pittsburgh may be the most underrated Notre Dame rivalry game. Yes, there is no trophy, but these two programs have met on the field many times, and the peak of the rivalry took place in the 1980s.

In recent history, the Pitt Panthers always seem to save their best games against Notre Dame. Pittsburgh has beaten the Irish 4 of the last 10 meetings. Sadly, since the Panthers have transitioned from “on campus” Pitt Stadium to Heinz Field, the matchup has lost a lot of passion.

Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Pitt rivalry

10. Penn State Nittany Lions

  • All-Time Series: The Series is tied, 9-9-1

History: Rounding out the top ten are the Penn State Nittany Lions. There were several other programs remaining that the Irish had played more frequently, but the matchups every year from 1981 to 1992, helped solidify the Nittany Lions in the top 10.

The “Snow Bowl” in 1992, which pitted Lou Holtz against Joe Paterno, was the pinnacle of this rivalry. When Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, and they ended their independence. This rivalry could have taken off if it were not for their transition.

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Read up on the full history of the Notre Dame – Penn State rivalry

Honorable Mentions:  Air Force, Army, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Northwestern

Final Thoughts

Notre Dame Football has maintained independence throughout its history. With that being said, the program has traditionally competed against many of the teams listed above, creating great rivalry games. Unfortunately, all these opponents do “get up for the Irish” when they play.

Look across the country. Not a single program has as many rivalry trophies or rivalries “in general” as the Fighting Irish. This is a testament to Notre Dame’s traditions, relevance, and national prominence. Notre Dame’s connection with the ACC has changed how they schedule, but the opponents listed above (several who are in the ACC) are the matchups that the players, coaches, and fans want to see.

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2 Comments

  1. I might replace penn state with Texas . It all goes back to getting back into the bowl scene and that photo with Moose in the Stetson. A much bigger national happening.

  2. Touchdown Jesus is not and never has been in South Bend. It’s located in Notre Dame, Indiana along with the rest of the campus. What is so great about South Bend anyway? Former Mayor Pete? Little redeeming qualities.

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