Welcome back to the Top 75 Losses in Notre Dame History.
The Rating System:
Champion: 10 points max
Bad Loss: 8 points max
Big Stage: 5 points max
Pain: 3 points max
Rivalry: 2 points max
2006, Michigan (47-21 L)
2006 was supposed to be a season built upon the success of 2005 and it started out that way too. The Irish gutted out a tough road win at Georgia Tech to begin the season and really got hopes up with a 41-17 pasting of Penn State back in South Bend. Up next were the 2-0 and 11th ranked Michigan Wolverines coming off easy wins over Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. Notre Dame was sitting at No. 2 in the country, their highest ranking before facing Michigan since 1990.
Notre Dame would need a quick start to keep the crowd in the game except the exact opposite happened. Quarterback Brady Quinn threw a pick six on the second play of the game. Notre Dame did tie the game 3 series later but Michigan QB Chad Henne hit Mario Manningham on a 70-yard touchdown only to see David Grimes fumble the ensuing kickoff. Six plays later Michigan had scored again and took a 21-7 lead into the second quarter.
A three and out gave Michigan the ball back and they preceded to score yet again from Henne to Manningham. Seven minutes later Henne connected for a third time to Manningham and the route was on. The Irish did answer late with a touchdown but still trailed 34-14 at half.
The third quarter would be one without a comeback. The Michigan defense continually harassed Quinn while the Wolverine offense chipped in a couple more field goals. Notre Dame opened the fourth with a beautiful 80-yard touchdown drive but to no avail. Quinn later fumbled and Lamar Woodley would take it back 54 yards for Michigan's final touchdown of the game.
When it was over the Irish had turned the ball over 5 times and rushed for just 4 yards. At the time this was the second worst loss ever to Michigan and is currently the third worst to UM in school history.
2005, Southern California (34-31 L)
The game known simply as The Bush Push comes in at No. 24 on our countdown. The recent history was important for this contest. For the second straight meeting the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the country and this year they had the reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Matt Leinart back. USC was also coming off three straight blowout wins over the Irish and looked to continue that trend in the Charlie Weis era.
Notre Dame--who came in at No. 9 in the country following an overtime loss to MSU earlier in the season--stormed the field in green uniforms for the first time in over 2 years. The crowd was hyped but the Irish didn't get off to a fast start. Following a punt, Quinn threw an interception when his arm was hit while throwing. Two plays later Reggie Bush darted left and right for a 36-yard touchdown. Notre Dame would answer with a 13-play touchdown drive of their own but USC would not be out-done scoring just 3 plays later to take a 14-7 lead.
The second quarter completely belonged to Notre Dame. Early in the new frame Quinn led a 10-play drive to even the score. Following a three and out Irish safety Tom Zbikowski took a punt back to give Notre Dame its first lead of the game. The score would stay at 21-14 into halftime.
The third quarter started off well when Leinart was picked off but Notre Dame couldn't do anything with the opportunity. Just outside 10 minutes left in the quarter Bush struck again from 45 yards to tie the game. A huge turnover killed a drive next for Notre Dame when a Brady Quinn pass to Anthony Fasano found the big tight end rumbling deep into USC territory only to lose the ball on a fumble. A couple series later the Irish hit a field goal but would miss another on the next series.
Halfway through the fourth quarter the real drama began. USC went 10 plays for a touchdown to take a 28-24 lead, but a smooth 8 play drive by Notre Dame gave them the lead after a 5 yard quarterback draw by Quinn. With 1:58 left USC took over from their own 24-yard line. An incompletion and sack made it 3rd and 20. A completion to Bush made it 4th and 9. Coming out of a timeout Leinart tossed one of the boldest passes ever into tight coverage down field. It fell complete and Dwayne Jarrett cruised for 61 yards to the Irish 13-yard line.
A few plays later more gut punches happened to Notre Dame. On 1st and goal with 15 seconds left Leinart scrambled near the goal line but was stuffed short and fumbled out of bounds. The clock ran to 0:00 and Notre Dame stormed the field. Except the officials put 7 second back on the clock and placed the ball on the 1-yard line. From there, everyone knows the history.
1916, @ Army (30-10 L)
In 1916 the Notre Dame football program was finally starting to arrive on the national scene. Three years had passed since the monumental upset of Army and this would be the fourth straight meeting between the two schools, all at West Point where only Army would agree to play the game.
Notre Dame desperately needed a win over powerful Army to get itself in the long-shot national title discussions. The early schedule was brutally easy and this game--along with later contests with Michigan State and Nebraska--would go a long way to proving their worth.
However, an injury riddled Notre Dame squad couldn't get the job done on The Plains. In a heavy dose of irony it was Army's passing game that dazzled the crowd while Notre Dame was the stronger running team. At the final whistle the 20 point loss left deep scars for one of the most talented teams in the early history of Notre Dame.
Many compared this loss to the 1914 loss to Yale in which Notre Dame played great all season but suffered one terrible loss. Despite the defeat to Army the 1916 Notre Dame team would go on to win the rest of their games. That Yale game was the worst defeat suffered by Jesse Harper and this Army game was the second worst. Notre Dame would finish the season shutting out every single opponent, save for the Cadets.
1955, @ USC (42-20 L)
In 1955 the post-Leahy downturn was not something to imagine. Since the young Terry Brennan had taken over the Irish were 17-2 prior to heading into this regular season finale against USC. Notre Dame was ranked 5th in the country while the Trojans were faltering at 5-4.
The game began with USC mounting a 11-play drive to take a 7-0 lead but Notre Dame and Paul Hornung responded with their own touchdown. The Trojans got a nice kick return before scoring a touchdown while Notre Dame fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. Following a fake field goal pass for a first down the Trojans took a commanding 21-7 lead. With a couple of minutes before halftime the Irish closed the gap on a 78-yard pass from Hornung to Jim Morse but the PAT was missed.
Mid-way through the third Notre Dame was poised to score but fumbled into the end zone and lost possession. The defense held and Hornung scored again early in the fourth to make it 21-20. From there everything fell apart for the Fighting Irish.
USC quickly scored a touchdown and then picked off a Hornung pass. Three players later the Trojans scored again only to pick off Hornung for a second straight series. The final touchdown was scored a couple minutes later leaving Notre Dame stunned 42-20. A high flying game in which both teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards turned into Notre Dame's worst defeat at the hands of USC up to that point in history.
1944, Army (59-0 L)
We've already discussed the power of war-time Army in the '45 loss (#28 in the countdown) and this defeat preceded that to start two bloody losses inside Yankee Stadium. The Irish came into 1944 fresh off a National Championship but World War II took away head coach Frank Leahy and several of the school's top stars. Nevertheless, Notre Dame opened up the season destroying Pitt 58-0, Tulane 26-0, and Darmouth 64-0 to debut as the No. 1 team in the country when the AP poll was released.
However, a close win over Illinois and sound defeat at the hands of Navy caused the Irish to take a step back. On November 11th they traveled to the Bronx to take on No. 1 Army who was fielding one of the best teams in college football history. Through 6 games the Cadets had scored 360 points and surrendered just 21 points. Their season of glory was about to run right over the Fighting Irish.
The tough loss to Navy the week prior left Notre Dame tired, weak, and injured. By the end of the first quarter Army led 20-0 and did not stop their assault until the final whistle. When it was over the Irish had thrown 6 interceptions and Army scored touchdowns of all of the turnovers.
This loss remains both the worst in school history for Notre Dame and the most points ever surrendered in a single football game by the Irish.