Notre Dame is one of the most storied and historical programs in college football. Dating all the way back to its first game on Nov. 23, 1887, Notre Dame has always played a wide range of opponents. The program’s independent status has allowed it decades of scheduling freedom, and that’s meant a lot of different teams squaring off against the Irish. But who has Notre Dame football played the most (as of Nov. 3, 2021)?
Who Has Notre Dame Football Played the Most?
10: Stanford – 33 games (20-13-0)
Most of this series has been played in the last few decades. Notre Dame and Stanford first played in football in 1925 – a 27-10 Irish victory – and played just three more times until seven-straight meetings beginning in 1988. A brief hiatus in the mid-1990s ended quickly, and other than the pandemic-ravaged season of 2020, the two programs have played every year since 1997.
Notre Dame dominated the Cardinal until the the last 10-or-so years. Before 2009, Stanford had only managed six triumphs over the Irish, but since, the Cardinals are 7-3 against the Golden Domers, not including a Notre Dame win in 2012 that the program was forced to vacate. The Irish won the last two meetings in 2018 and 2019 in convincing fashion and will look to continue that trend when they close the 2021 season in Palo Alto on Nov. 27.
9: Georgia Tech – 36 games (29-6-1)
Unlike the Stanford series, this one is mostly populated by contests from a long time ago.
ND and GT played every year from 1922 through 1929, 1938 through 1945, and in most seasons from 1967 through 1981. But since then, there have been just six games between the Irish and Yellow Jackets, though they did meet in Atlanta in 2020, which ended in a 31-13 Notre Dame triumph.
When Georgia Tech joined the ACC in 1982, that spelled the end of its regular series with Notre Dame in football. However, with Notre Dame’s current deal with the ACC that puts it against five of the conference’s teams every season, games versus the Yellow Jackets have become and will continue to be more frequent than in decades past – they’ll meet next in South Bend on Nov. 20, then again in Atlanta in 2024.
While this series is pretty lopsided and not played too often anymore, there is history there, namely the 1975 contest, which was the only time Rudy Ruettiger, the subject of the movie Rudy, appeared in a game for Notre Dame.
8: Michigan – 43 games (17-25-1)
From 1978 to 2014, Michigan and Notre Dame played each in football in nearly every season, and it became a heated rivalry. But this series dates back to well before that; when Notre Dame played its first football game in 1887, it was against the Wolverines – an 8-0 defeat at the hands of Michigan.
The Wolverines continued that momentum in 1888, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1902, and 1908 before Notre Dame defeated Michigan for the first time in 1909. The series became much more even when it picked back up with regularity in the late-1970s, but the Wolverines still hold the advantage because of the early dominance.
With Notre Dame’s ACC agreement and the Big Ten moving to a nine-game schedule, meetings between the two have become less frequent. They last played in 2019, and they’re not scheduled to do so again until a home-and-home in 2033 and 2034. So, this series’ spot at No. 8 is looking tenuous at best – it’s only a matter of time before it gets jumped.
This rivalry also has the added flavor of Michigan’s role in keeping Notre Dame out of the Big Ten and from playing Big Ten opponents for decades, which ended up playing a major role in shaping the Irish’s famous independent status and national presence. Thanks for the bigotry, Fielding Yost!
7: Northwestern – 49 games (38-9-2)
There haven’t been many games between Notre Dame and Northwestern for decades, but it was a regularly-played series for long stretches of time back in the day.
The first game was in 1889 – a 9-0 Notre Dame win – and from 1920 through 1948 and 1959 through 1976, the two programs met almost every year. But since then, a four-game series from 1992 through 1995 and contests in 2014 and 2018 have been the only times the Irish and Wildcats have shared a field.
Notre Dame has pretty much owned Northwestern when they’ve played, winning more than 77 percent of the meetings. That includes a 14-game win streak from 1965 through 1994 and several shorter runs where the Irish continued to come out on top. There are no meetings currently scheduled for the future between the two programs.
6: Army – 51 games (39-8-4)
In 1913, Notre Dame and Army met in West Point for what would be a pivotal moment in the history of football. The Irish debuted their invention of the forward pass in the game, and it directly led to their 35-13 victory and affected the sport forever.
The series was also crucial to Notre Dame building a national fanbase. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s, the Irish and Black Knights played at the first Yankee Stadium in New York, and it gained Notre Dame plenty of notoriety in the city that never sleeps.
But after 1947, the series wasn’t played as frequently. It took 10 years for Notre Dame and Army to meet again, and the programs have only faced off 17 times since 1947. Even more jarring – Army has won just one of those meetings, and that was back in 1958. The Irish are currently riding a 15-game winning streak over the Black Knights, with the most recent triumph coming in 2016, 44-6, in South Bend.
5: Pittsburgh – 71 games (49-21-1)
Notre Dame and Pittsburgh played for the first time in 1909, but the series didn’t become at all regular until 1930. From there, the programs met annually for eight-straight seasons and laid the foundation for what has become one of Notre Dame’s most common football contests.
This series has had stretches of Notre Dame dominance, like an 11-game victory run from 1964 through 1974 and and eight-game winning streak in the 1940s and early-1950s. But the Panthers have picked off the odd games, including a four-overtime thriller in 2008 that they claimed, 36-33, in South Bend. But more often than not, the Irish have had the last laugh.
Notre Dame is currently riding a three-game positive run in the series that dates back to 2015. As part of ND’s deal with the ACC to play five of the conference’s opponents every season, contests against the Panthers have baked in to occur every few years, continuing the trend of these two meeting often. In fact, these teams haven’t gone more than two-consecutive years in between playing each other since 1981. Notre Dame won the most recent meeting convincingly, 45-3, at Pittsburgh in 2020. They’ll play next in 2023.
4: Michigan State – 77 games (47-29-1)
This rivalry began in 1897 and had a strong start, almost entirely in Notre Dame’s favor, with the Irish leading the series, 13-2, by 1921. But the Irish and Spartans didn’t play again for a long time, meeting for the next time in 1948, which marked the return of regularity that lasted for decades after.
From 1959 to 2013, Notre Dame and Michigan State played every season except 1995 and 1996. That included a Game of the Century in 1966, with the No. 1 Irish traveling to East Lansing to take on the No. 2 Spartans. The contest ended in a 10-10 tie, concluding with Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian opting to run out the clock with a bit more than a minute to go in the game and his team only about 40 years away from field-goal range.
Since 1949, these two have played for the Megaphone Trophy, and Notre Dame is holding onto it for a long time right now. The Irish won the last meeting between these teams in 2017, 38-18, to earn the trophy back, and the Spartans won’t have a chance to get it back until 2026 when the teams are scheduled to meet again. The regularity of this rivalry was lost with the Big Ten expanding its conference schedule, Notre Dame adding five ACC games to its docket annually, and a shift in priorities in the sport as a whole. Hopefully the home-and-home series later this decade will spark enough memories to bring it back.
3: Purdue – 85 games (57-26-2)
Purdue won the first-ever meeting between these two, 28-22, in South Bend in 1896. The pair competed occasionally for the next decade or so, then skipped out on playing for about 10 years before beginning a six-game series in 1918 that Notre Dame swept. Three meetings occurred between 1924 and 1945, but beginning in 1946, the Irish and Boilermakers sharing a field in every season through 2014.
Excluding a Purdue run in the late-1950s and 1960s that saw it win nine of 12 contests against its in-state rival, Notre Dame has held a firm grip on this series. It was most dominant from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, defeating the Boilermakers for 11-straight years in that span.
At this point, Purdue hasn’t conquered Notre Dame since 2007, having most recently come up short, 27-13, in South Bend on Sept. 18. That was the first time the programs had met since 2014 and would make for eight-straight Irish victories, but their wins in 2012 and 2013 have both been vacated, breaking up the streak. But those games happened, acknowledged or not, and the Boilermakers know how it’s been since they’ve been on the right side of the rivalry.
The Shillelagh Trophy is awarded to the winner of this matchup, and Purdue will get its next crack at Notre Dame in 2024, which will mark the start of five-straight years of these two renewing their rivalry.
2: USC – 89 games (48-36-5)
Notre Dame-USC is one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football, in part because of its longevity. From 1946 to 2019, the Irish and Trojans met every single season, with only the COVID-19 pandemic causing a one-year break in 2020. The pair have played in nearly every season dating back to 1926, and as two of the most stories programs in the sport, plenty of those contests have been high-stake affairs with The Jeweled Shillelagh up for grabs.
This series has often remained strongly in the favor of one side for a while before swinging the other direction. From 1946 to 1966, USC beat Notre Dame just five times. Then, Notre Dame went six years without a victory in the rivalry, which included two-straight ties in 1968 and 1969, and only won two contests over the Trojans from 1967 to 1982. The Irish claimed 11-straight Ws over USC from 1983 through 1993, then the Trojans conquered Notre Dame seven times in a row from 2002 through 2009, excluding a vacated victory from 2005 (the famous “Bush Push” game) that would make it eight.
Lately, Notre Dame has been on top, winning the last four games against USC. Most recently, the Irish defeated the Trojans, 31-16, in South Bend on Oct. 23. USC is currently on Notre Dame’s schedule for every season through 2026.
1: Navy – 91 games (77-13-1)
The pandemic has proven to be the only thing that can stop Notre Dame and Navy from playing each other in football. When the two didn’t meet in 2020, it was the first time the game hadn’t happened since the series began in 1927 – a 19-6 Irish victory that was the first of many triumphs Notre Dame has experienced over Navy.
At no point has Notre Dame not thoroughly dominated Navy. The Midshipmen have come up with two-straight victories over the Irish four times ever, and claiming three of four meetings from 2007 through 2010 was the military academy’s best run in the series since it did the same from 1960 through 1963. If that doesn’t display Notre Dame’s dominance enough, how about this: the Irish beat Navy 43-straight times from 1964 through 2006, and most of those weren’t even close.
Navy’s last win over Notre Dame came in 2016 – and 28-27 thriller in South Bend – but the Irish have won the last three contests, each by a wider margin of victory. They’ll meet again for the 92nd time this Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium as the Irish look to extend their win streak in the series to four.
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