Welcome back to the Greatest Wins in Notre Dame Football History! We now enter a period up to the present where the wins are not as big or as important, except for the 2012 season, mostly. That was full of awesome.
Part 1: 1887-1940
Part 2: 1941-1963
Part 3: 1964-1980
Part 4: 1981-1996
The Bob Davie era most definitely did not get off to a hot start. In early October the Irish sat at 1-4 following a 4-game losing streak. The team rebounded with a pair of wins but were still big underdogs coming into the matchup in Death Valley against No. 11 LSU. In a game that witnessed Notre Dame commit zero turnovers or penalties, the visitors rolled up a 17-0 lead and cruised to an easy victory over the Tigers. The Bayou Bengals would get their revenge against Notre Dame in the bowl game.
36-20 win vs. Michigan
Arguably Bob Davie's best Notre Dame team started off the 1998 season in style. The Michigan Wolverines were ranked No. 5 in the country and were coming off a shared National Championship in 1997. The visitors even led for most of the first half and seemed in control of the game. But the second half was a different story as the Irish scored 4 touchdowns to upset the defending champs.
25-24 win vs. Southern California
This game remains the second biggest comeback in Notre Dame history. Neither the Irish (3-3, Unranked) or the Trojans (3-2, Unranked) were any good in 1999 but Notre Dame came back from a 24-3 deficit to stun USC. For most of our readers there is not a more improbable comeback they've ever witnessed inside the House That Rock Built.
23-21 win vs. Purdue
The previous week the Irish had fallen in overtime to No. 1 Nebraska in a complete heartbreak of a loss. They had to follow that up with a game against No. 13 Purdue led by star senior quarterback Drew Brees. The shorter Brees had been tearing up college football for a couple years but was stymied for most of this game as a Nick Setta field goal late won it for Notre Dame.
25-23 win vs. Michigan
By 2002 the Irish had moved on from the Bob Davie experiment and hired Tyrone Willingham after a (ahem) failed attempt to keep their first choice for head coach. Willingham opened up his career with an impressive 22-0 shutout of No. 21 Maryland in Giants Stadium (just missed this list) and had Notre Dame at 2-0 before facing No. 7 Michigan. In a very sloppy game that saw each team lose 3 fumbles it was the Irish--thanks to a late interception by Shane Walton--who would hang on for the win. This was Notre Dame's first win over a Top 10 team in 4 years.
21-17 win @ Michigan State
The Return to Glory™ started to gather steam in week 4 as Notre Dame followed up the win over Michigan with a terrific comeback in East Lansing. The Irish led 14-3 to start the 4th quarter but were down 17-14 with a couple minutes to play. On second down with 1:15 remaining backup quarterback Pat Dillingham threw a short pass to Arnaz Battle who raced 60 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
34-24 win at Florida State
Now at 7-0 and ranked 6th in the country the Irish traveled to Tallahassee to play No. 11 Florida State in a huge road test. Notre Dame forced a 3 & out to start the game and then connected on a 66-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive play from scrimmage. From there, Florida State came back to tie the game at half but the Irish scored 24 points on 4 out of their last 6 drives to take the game.
29-26 win vs. Washington State
Remember when Washington State was really good? The Cougars came to South Bend in 2003 as an unranked opponent but Wazzu was coming off a Rose Bowl appearance in 2002 and were 20-5 over the past two seasons. The Irish only mustered 3 points in the first half and fell behind 19-3. A wild 4th quarter saw Notre Dame come back to take the lead only to see Washington State force overtime after scoring a late touchdown. However, Nick Setta's 5th field goal of the game gave Notre Dame the overtime victory.
28-20 win vs. Michigan
The final year of Tyrone Willingham's tenure got off to a bad start as the Irish dropped a road game to BYU to start the season. Michigan came into this game with a blowout victory over Miami (OH) and ranked 8th in the country. Trailing 12-7 late in the 3rd quarter Notre Dame picked off Chad Henne and scored a few plays later to take the lead. After forcing a 3 and out the Irish blocked Michigan's punt and recovered it at the UM 5-yard line. Freshman running back Darius Walker scored his second straight touchdown on the next play. The Irish later added another score in the 4th quarter and held on for the upset.
17-13 win at Tennessee
Sitting at 5-3 in early November the Irish traveled to Knoxville as an unranked team to play the No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers who had lost to Auburn but were in line and heavy favorites to win the SEC East division. The Vols led 10-7 near the end of the half when a Brandon Hoyte hit for a 14-yard loss injured quarterback Erik Ainge's shoulder. In the 3rd quarter backup QB Rick Clausen threw a pick six that gave Notre Dame a lead they'd never give back. Tennessee would go on to lose the SEC Title Game but win the Cotton Bowl over Texas A&M.
17-10 win at Michigan
The offensive fireworks of the Charlie Weis era were on full display in week one against Pittsburgh but it was a week two victory over No. 3 Michigan that really turned heads around the country. A pair of Brady Quinn touchdown passes gave the Irish a 14-3 lead and the game stayed that way until the 4th quarter when D.J. Fitzpatrick hit a field goal to up the lead by two touchdowns. With under 5 minutes to play Michigan would score a quick touchdown and force a 3 and out but Notre Dame stopped Michigan's final series rather easily to secure the victory. The top five win would later not look as nice as Michigan finished with 5 losses in 2005, the most under head coach Lloyd Carr.
41-17 win vs. Penn State
The Irish gutted out a tough road win at Georgia Tech to open the 2006 season and fell from No. 2 in the country to No. 4 prior to hosting No. 19 Penn State in South Bend. The game was never in doubt as Notre Dame led 20-0 at half and cruised to an easy victory. This victory would be Charlie Weis' lone win over a team that finished ranked in the AP Poll.
40-37 win at Michigan State
A week after blowing out Penn State it was a rude awakening for the Irish when they were blown out at home by Michigan. The next week, the Irish were down 17-0 to start the game and then 31-14 at halftime against the Spartans. Faced with a 16-point deficit in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame stunned Michigan State by scoring 3 touchdowns capped off by a Terrail Lambert pick six to win the game. This game remains tied for the 7th biggest comeback in school history.
35-17 win vs. Michigan
For the second straight season the Notre Dame-Michigan game saw two unranked teams playing each other. Notre Dame was coming off its disastrous 2007 campaign while Michigan was breaking in new head coach Rich Rodriguez. Despite gaining just 260 total yards the Fighting Irish took advantage of 6 Michigan turnovers on a soggy afternoon in South Bend. While not a huge win in retrospect this remains the third biggest win over Michigan by margin of victory and the biggest for such a game played at Notre Dame.
28-3 win vs. Utah
The punt block that saved a season. Things were bleak for the 4-5 Irish coming off consecutive losses to Navy and Tulsa. Then in came No. 15 Utah and Notre Dame started out by gaining just 14 yards on their first 3 offensive series. Down 3-0 late in the 1st quarter a blocked punt returned for touchdown by Robert Blanton sparked the Irish and grabbed momentum. Tommy Rees would throw a touchdown in the 2nd quarter and then hit Duval Kamara for another score to open the 3rd quarter after Utah fumbled the second half kickoff. On the next series Rees found Kamara again and the route was on.
20-16 win at Southern California
Notre Dame has never lost to a team 9 games in a row but that bit of history was on the line in the 2010 regular season finale as USC had beaten the Irish in every season from 2002 to 2009. In a sloppy defensive battle that saw Notre Dame lose 4 turnovers it was a memorable touchdown drive capped off by Robert Hughes and a late interception by Harrison Smith that sealed one of the most therapeutic wins for the program in modern times.
31-13 win vs. Michigan State
The Irish got off to a brutal start to begin the 2011 season and not many were giving the team a chance against No. 15 Michigan State, even if it was a home game. However, Notre Dame rallied the troops and made several big plays to jump out in front 28-10 and win rather easily against the Spartans.
20-3 win at Michigan State
A second straight big-time matchup with Michigan State saw the No. 20 Irish defeat the No. 10 Spartans in East Lansing. Thanks to an Everett Golson highlight reel touchdown pass and rushing score in the first half Notre Dame was able to rely on its tough defense the rest of the way to pick up a huge road win.
20-13 win vs. Stanford
Wow, what a finish! At times this game had a sleepy and dreary quality to it as Stanford seemed to be very slowly grabbing yet another win from the Irish. However, a dramatic and controversial finish made this one of the best games in the country from the entire 2012 season.
30-13 win at Oklahoma
Most would say this was the game in which the Irish finally arrived as a legitimate national contender. The No. 8 ranked Sooners moved the ball well but had trouble putting points on the board. The Irish eventually exploded for 20 points in the 4th quarter to win one of the school's biggest road wins of this century.
17-13 win vs. Michigan State
Three straight victories over Michigan State teams came to fruition last season as the Irish won an ugly affair over the unranked Spartans. However, MSU would go on to win every other game and eventually be crowned the Rose Bowl Champions. Despite just 220 total yards it was a 7-yard touchdown by Cam McDaniel in the 4th quarter that ended up being the difference.
37-34 win vs. Arizona State (AT&T Stadium)
Following a home loss to Oklahoma the next game was in Texas for the Shamrock Series game against No. 22 Arizona State. The Irish trailed twice in the first half and allowed ASU to tie the game in the 4th quarter but a late 17-yard pick six by linebacker Dan Fox would prove just enough to hold off Arizona State. The Sun Devils would go on to win 10 games and finish ranked No. 21 in the country.