Fifteen Answers on Notre Dame's Rivalries

Michael CollinsAnalyst IAugust 5, 2009

Some great regional rivalries form some of the history and intensity that vibrates through college football, often determining conference champions: Texas-Texas A&M (115 years), Auburn-Georgia (112)—"The Oldest Rivalry in the Deep South," Ohio State-Michigan (105), Texas-Oklahoma (103), Nebraska-Oklahoma (82), USC-UCLA (78), Auburn-Alabama (73), LSU-Arkansas (54).

Navy-Army (109) transcends regions. Miami-Florida State (53) and Florida-FSU (53) transcend conferences with the winner owning state bragging rights.

Rivalries are defined by tradition, often naturally linked by distance, and usually contribute to a tougher conference strength of schedule. Here are the answers to the quiz questions from my previous article on Notre Dame’s rivalries.

Tradition Questions

  1. How many Big Ten teams has Purdue played more times than Notre Dame?
    • 1, Indiana
  2. How many Big Ten teams has Michigan State played more times than Notre Dame?
    • 1, Michigan
  3. How many teams has Pittsburgh played more than Notre Dame?
    • 2, Penn State and West Virginia
  4. How many teams has Navy played more than Notre Dame?
    • 1, Army
  5. A. Who has played USC more: Notre Dame or UCLA? B. How many Pac-10 teams has USC played more than Notre Dame?
    • A. Notre Dame
    • B. 2, Cal and Stanford
  6. How many ACC teams has Boston College played more than Notre Dame?
    • 1, Miami—Clemson and Notre Dame are tied for second.
  7. Which rivalry is older: Navy-Notre Dame or Alabama-Auburn?
    • Alabama-Auburn, which began in 1893 (73 games). Navy-Notre Dame is the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football, played annually since 1927 (82 games).
  8. Which rivalry is older: Michigan-Ohio State or Michigan-Notre Dame?
    • Michigan-Notre Dame, which began in 1887 when they played 3 games (Michigan was Notre Dame’s first opponent). Ohio State first played Michigan ten years later in 1897.
  9. Which rivalry began first: Auburn-Georgia (the “Oldest Rivalry in the South”) or Michigan-Notre Dame?
    • Michigan-Notre Dame (1887)—however, Auburn-Georgia is five years older (1892) than Michigan-Ohio State.
  10. What college football rivalry has produced the most national titles, the most Heisman trophy winners, All-Americans, College Football Hall of Famers and future NFL Hall of Famers?

Distance Questions

In the heart of Big Ten country, in northern Indiana, Notre Dame has three natural Big Ten rivals by distance—Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan.

  1. Which campuses are closer to each other?
    • Notre Dame-Purdue or Florida-Florida State (intrastate rivalries)
      • Notre Dame-Purdue by one mile
    • Michigan-Ohio State or Michigan-Notre Dame (interstate rivalries)
      • Notre Dame-Michigan by 15 miles
    • Alabama-Auburn or Michigan State-Notre Dame (intrastate vs. interstate)
      • Notre Dame-Michigan State by two miles

Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan each have only one Big Ten team closer than Notre Dame in distance.

Conference Rivalries Questions

Using number of years played:

  1. Pittsburgh is Notre Dame’s fifth-oldest rivalry. How many of last year’s BCS conference champions have played their fifth longest conference opponent more years?
    • Notre Dame’s oldest rivalries: Navy (82 years), USC and Purdue (80), Michigan State (72), and Pittsburgh (64). Only three BCS conference champions—Oklahoma, Ohio State, and USC—have played their fifth-longest opponent more.
      • Oklahoma-Kansas State (90 years)
      • Ohio State-Northwestern and Wisconsin (74 years)
      • USC-Oregon State (72 years)

As for the other three BCS conference champions, their only opponents (of all opponents) they have played longer than the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh rivalry are:

  • Cincinnati—1, Miami
  • Virginia Tech—2, Virginia and VMI
  • Florida—2, Georgia and Auburn
  1. Rank these rivalries in length of time played:
    1. Miami-Florida State
    2. Florida-Florida State
    3. LSU-Arkansas
    4. Notre Dame-Pittsburgh
      • Pittsburgh-Notre Dame (64 years) is older by about a decade than LSU-Arkansas (54), Miami-Florida State (53 years) and Florida-Florida State (53).
  1. A. How many of Notre Dame’s rivalries predate ACC football (1953)? B. How many predate Big East football (1991)?
    • A. Navy, USC, Purdue, Michigan State and Pittsburgh (five) predate ACC football (six, counting Michigan, is also considered correct).
    • B. Michigan played nine games with ND until 1909, then two in the WWII years, and did not play the Irish annually until 1978. Since then, ND has played Michigan 23 of the last 25 years. Stanford played ND in the 1925 Rose Bowl and once during WWII. Since then, the Cardinals have played the Irish 19 of the last 21 years from 1988. Boston College first played ND in 1975 and has played Notre Dame 15 of the last 17 years. All eight of these rivalries predate Big East football.

Taken together, USC, Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Boston College and Stanford can be considered as Notre Dame’s "conference" of eight.

Strength of Schedule Questions

  1. Who had the tougher regular season schedule last year?
    • Alabama (SEC West champion) or Notre Dame
      • Notre Dame
    • Ohio State (Big Ten champion) or Notre Dame
      • Notre Dame
    • Cincinnati (Big East champion) or Notre Dame
      • Notre Dame

If you chose Alabama or Ohio State, you would be wrong. I’ll use Jeff Sagarin’s rankings (lower number is stronger; * indicates matchup winner).


AlabamaNotre Dame
Mississippi, #10*USC, #2
*Georgia, #15Pittsburgh, #27
*LSU, #21Boston College, #28
Kentucky, #49*Michigan State, #33
Tennessee, #58*Stanford, #50
Auburn, #60*Navy, #51
*Arkansas, #64Purdue, #78
*Mississippi State, #93Michigan, #95

Mean—Alabama, 46.25, Notre Dame, 45.5


AlabamaNotre Dame
Clemson, #30*North Carolina, #29
Arkansas State, #107*Syracuse, #104
Tulane, #148*Washington, #129
Western Kentucky, #161*San Diego State, #136

Mean—Alabama, 111.5, Notre Dame, 99.5

Strength of Schedule Analysis

The media sometimes trumpets how tough the SEC conference schedule is. Notre Dame’s "conference" and Alabama’s conference opponents tied 4 to 4 in matchups of strength. Notre Dame had a lower mean in-conference strength of schedule.

Non-conference comparison was no contest with Notre Dame winning four of four. Overall, Notre Dame had eight of 12 teams stronger than Alabama’s. Additionally, a full schedule comparison does not help Alabama. Their non-conference schedule widens the gap—Alabama mean, 68 and Notre Dame, 63.5.

Notre Dame’s "conference" schedule was as tough as any SEC West team’s, since Georgia was the highest-ranked SEC East team on any West’s schedule.

Since Ohio State and Notre Dame had four common opponents—USC, Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan—and one, USC, was non-conference—a full regular season comparison makes more sense here.

Ohio StateNotre Dame
USC, #2USC, #2
*Penn State, #8Pittsburgh, #27
Michigan State, #33*Boston College, #28
Northwestern, #44*North Carolina, #29
Wisconsin, #61*Michigan State, #33
Illinois, #68*Stanford, #50
Troy, #70*Navy, #51
*Minnesota, #75Purdue, #78
*Purdue, #78Michigan, #95
*Michigan, #95Syracuse, #104
*Ohio, #120Washington, #129
Youngstown State, #198*San Diego State, #136

Notre Dame’s opponents win this matchup—6 to 5 with one tie (USC). Most of Notre Dame’s opponents’ strength were in the first seven, 5-1-1 to ND. That difference shows in the mean strength numbers. Ohio State with eight teams >60 has a mean of 71. Notre Dame with seven teams <52 has a mean of 63.5.

Cincinnati—I’ll use Sagarin’s strength of schedule, even though he includes bowl games—even with a bowl game against Virginia Tech (No. 18 by Sagarin), has a schedule rank of 60. Notre Dame with a bowl game against Hawaii (No. 91 by Sagarin) has a schedule rank of 50.


If the Irish were to join the SEC West, the Big Ten or the Big East, they would have an easier road to a BCS bowl than staying independent.

From 2000-08, Notre Dame has had the eighth toughest schedule in the nation. Florida, at thirteenth, has had the toughest SEC schedule. Michigan, at 18th, has had the toughest Big Ten schedule. Syracuse, at 49th, has had the toughest schedule of current Big East members.

Joining a Conference: Big Ten or Big East

If the Irish joined the Big Ten, they might keep Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan, but would choose their four non-conference games between USC, Navy, Pittsburgh, BC and Stanford. Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule would be tougher than any current Big Ten teams.

If the Irish joined the Big East, only rival Pittsburgh would become a conference team. The Irish would have to choose between four of their other seven traditional rivals. This would cripple a national schedule that also includes two Pac-10, one ACC, and three Big Ten and one Independent.


Joining the Big Ten or the Big East would lighten ND’s strength of schedule  and clear an easier road to a BCS bowl rather than staying independent.

USC, Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and Pittsburgh are on the Irish schedule through 2016 with MSU through 2025. So, discussion of Notre Dame joining a conference would have to take into account those contracts—and NBC’s through 2015.

Notre Dame would have to end some great traditional rivalries that have contributed to the intensity of college football history—something neither Notre Dame nor their opponents are prepared to sacrifice.



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