This weekend, the Fighting Irish make their annual post-Thanksgiving trip to the west coast. Since head coach Brian Kelly's team played at USC last November, this year's Notre Dame squad will be playing a few hours north, against Stanford and Heisman Trophy hopeful Andrew Luck.
After starting the season 9-0, the Cardinal was poised to make a run at the BCS national championship. A loss against Oregon derailed those hopes, but at 10-1, Stanford is very much still in the hunt for a BCS bowl bid.
What Palo Alto and South Bend lack in terms of geographic and demographic similarities, these two universities and athletic programs make up for in their commitment to academics. When Graduation Success Rate (GSR) data was released last month, Notre Dame and Stanford were ranked first and seventh for all student-athletes, respectively, among FBS institutions.
On the football field, Notre Dame and Stanford first met in the eleventh Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 1925), a game featuring two of the most innovative and accomplished coaches in football history - Knute Rockne for the Fighting Irish and Glenn "Pop" Warner in his first season with the Cardinal. Elmer Layden of the Four Horsemen scored three touchdowns to lead Notre Dame to a 27-10 win.
This week's game will mark the 26th meeting between the two football programs, with the Irish holding a 17-8 series advantage. With the exception of 1995 and 1996, the squads have met every season since 1988.
Beginning in 1989, the Notre Dame Club of the San Francisco Bay Area presented the Legends Trophy, a combination of Irish crystal and California redwood, to the winner of the series.
Though Notre Dame holds the advantage in the win-loss column, Stanford has a history of winning the big games. In fact, of Notre Dame's 17 victories, none have come against ranked Stanford teams. The lone exception would have been the 1925 Rose Bowl win. Stanford was 7-0-1 entering the game, but that was before teams were ranked.
In 1990, Stanford shocked Lou Holtz's top-ranked Notre Dame team, 36-31.
Two years later, the No. 19 Cardinal defeated the No. 7 Irish, 33-16. Stanford has also won each of the three additional meetings in which it has been ranked (1997, 2001, 2010).
From 2002-08, Notre Dame won seven consecutive games against Stanford, but the Cardinal have taken the last two, including a 37-14 victory last year.
In that game, Stanford's Owen Marecic scored touchdowns on consecutive plays. After a one-yard touchdown run, he intercepted Dayne Crist's pass and returned it 20 yards for a defensive score. It was certainly not a memorable afternoon for the Irish, but such a feat is quite uncommon and worth noting in the history of the series.
For Notre Dame, perhaps the most exciting victory against Stanford came in 2005, a game in which Brady Quinn threw for 432 yards and three touchdown passes, and Darius Walker scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute remaining.
The 38-31 victory in the regular season finale helped Notre Dame secure a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Technically, Notre Dame is still alive in the BCS picture, but even with a win at Stanford, they would need quite a bit of help. Still, a victory in late November on the road against a top-10 BCS (or top-5 in the polls) team would be a major boost for the team heading into the bowl game and the 2012 season.
- Josh Flynt ('11)