It’s a rare day when Notre Dame collides with a Big 12 opponent. It’s an even rarer day when the Irish lose to one.
Notre Dame heads into Saturday’s showdown in South Bend with No. 14 Oklahoma sporting a 28-4-1 all-time record against the 10 current members of the Big 12. Those 33 games have come against just six teams, as the Irish have never faced Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Of the six conferences with automatic bids to BCS bowls, Notre Dame has lost to at least one team from the ACC, American, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC within the past 24 months.
The last Fighting Irish loss to a Big 12 team? That would be the 1970 Cotton Bowl, a 21-17 defeat to Texas in Notre Dame’s first postseason appearance after lifting its self-imposed bowl ban that had been in place for nearly half a century.
The Fighting Irish’s .863 winning percentage against the Big 12 isn’t simply a product of beating up on the league’s bottom feeders. Notre Dame has won nine of 10 meetings with the Sooners (you’ll hear that stat once or twice or 37 times this week) and eight of 10 against the Longhorns, including all four meetings since that loss in Dallas almost 44 years ago.
Two victories over Big 12 opponents have won national titles for Notre Dame. The Irish and Longhorns met on New Year’s Day 1978, and No. 5 Notre Dame rolled to a 38-10 victory over Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell's top-ranked Texas, helping vault them to the top spot in the polls.
Eleven years later, West Virginia was the victim, as the Irish claimed a 34-21 victory in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl to win the program’s most recent national championship.
That was the first of four victories for Notre Dame over the Mountaineers, who also fell to Bob Davie's Irish teams in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Kansas is the only Big 12 team besides Oklahoma and Texas to record a win over Notre Dame, doing so all the way back in 1904. The Jayhawks also tied the Irish, as the teams played to a scoreless draw in 1933. The teams have met four other times, with the Irish winning each, but only once since 1938, a 48-13 Irish victory in the 1999 Eddie Robinson Classic in South Bend.
Notre Dame outscored Baylor 68-3 in their two meetings (1925 and 1998 in South Bend), and the Irish blanked TCU 21-0 at Notre Dame Stadium in 1972.
Having Oklahoma on their schedule has generally boded well for the Fighting Irish. They used a 38-0 win in Norman in 1966 to help jump-start a national title run. Just last season, Brian Kelly’s team played its best game of the year en route to the BCS Championship Game in a 30-13 victory over the Sooners, also in Norman.
National-title hopes for this season are barely flickering, but a win over Oklahoma on Saturday could be the victory that leads Notre Dame back to a BCS bowl for the second year in a row. A loss would likely require the Irish to sweep their final seven games to qualify for the BCS.
Of course, when discussing Notre Dame and Oklahoma, it would be unjust not to mention the 1957 7-0 Fighting Irish win at Owen Field that ended the Sooners' NCAA-record 47-game winning streak under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson.
While the 1957 Irish finished a respectable 7-3, even some of Notre Dame's lesser teams had success against the Sooners. The 1999 Irish, which finished 5-7, defeated Oklahoma 34-30. That was Bob Stoops' first defeat as head coach of Oklahoma.
Given its track record against the Big 12, perhaps it was wise for Notre Dame to schedule an upcoming four-game series with Texas, with games in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020. If the Irish complete a home-and-home sweep of Oklahoma on Saturday, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick may consider dialing up his Sooners counterpart, Joe Castiglione, about another series between the teams.
However, with the Irish locked into five ACC games every year beginning next year and annual games with Navy, Purdue, Stanford and USC, games against Big 12 teams in the future will likely be rare. In addition, with the Big 12 having moved to a nine-game conference schedule in 2011, Big 12 teams now play just three non-league games each season.
Notre Dame fans should savor the uniqueness of Saturday’s game—an intersectional collision between two historical powers—a rarity in today's world of increasingly weak non-conference schedules. Despite receiving a bit less hype than last October’s battle of top-10 teams in Norman, the game has significant national implications for both the 3-0 Sooners and the 3-1 Fighting Irish.
If history holds true, they’ll also enjoy the outcome.