Though USC and Michigan are considered Notre Dame's biggest rivals, the Fighting Irish also have a longstanding, thrilling and sometimes controversial history with this week's opponent in Michigan State.
The Irish currently lead the series 45-28-1, with 27 of those wins coming in South Bend and 16 coming in Notre Dame Stadium. With 74 meetings between the teams, Michigan State is Notre Dame's fourth-most frequent opponent behind only Navy, Purdue and USC.
They first met in 1897, an easy 34-6 victory for Notre Dame. Beginning in 1949, the Megaphone Trophy was introduced to the rivalry. The Detroit alumni clubs of both universities sponsored the trophy, which is half blue and half white with a green and includes the results of the previous games.
Throughout the history of the series, Notre Dame and Michigan State have played several memorable games, perhaps most notably on Nov. 19, 1966. Dubbed the "Game of the Century", both the Irish and the Spartans were undefeated and at the top of the rankings. With the game knotted at 10-10 and just over a minute to play, Irish coach Ara Parseghian elected to play conservatively. Rather than risking a turnover and Notre Dame's No. 1 ranking, the Irish coach ran the clock out.
Many were left disappointed by the lack of a resolution to the game, but Parseghian's strategy paid off. His Irish team wrapped up the season with a 51-0 crushing of USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum. They ended the year undefeated at 9-0-1, securing the University's eighth national championship and the first of two for the legendary coach.
Notre Dame-Michigan State games have not been devoid of excitement in more recent years either, as nine of the last eleven meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. In 2002, Arnaz Battle caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Pat Dillingham with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter to lift the Irish to a 21-17 victory.
In 2005, the Spartans won in South Bend on Jason Teague's 19-yard touchdown run in overtime, spoiling a 21-point Irish comeback. Michigan State's post-game celebration, which included planting their flag in the Notre Dame Stadium field, was the cause of much controversy.
The following year, the Irish staged another memorable comeback, erasing a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit capped by Terrail Lambert's 27-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:53 to play.
In 2009, the Irish won another thriller against Michigan State, this time back in South Bend. Kyle McCarthy's interception at the four-yard line with less than a minute remaining helped preserve a 33-30 win.
And of course, who could forget last year's heart-breaker in East Lansing, when the Spartans pulled the "Little Giants" fake field goal play. After lining up for what appeared to be a game-tying field goal attempt, punter Aaron Bates threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Charlie Gantt, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Based on their last several games, the history and the emotion of the rivalry, don't be at all surprised if Saturday's meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan State comes down to who has the ball last. Let's just hope it ends more like it did in 2002 or 2009 than 2005 or 2010.
- Josh Flynt