Will Saturday night's top-5 showdown live up to the hype of previous marquee matchups in Notre Dame Stadium?
The Clemson Tigers bring their 7-0 record and No. 1 ranking to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night in a top-5 showdown with the 6-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. These two college football powers have met only once inside Notre Dame Stadium, a 16-10 Clemson win in 1979. Both teams have been ranked in the top 15 in the other two previous regular-season meetings — both at Clemson — with the Irish winning in 1977 (Notre Dame 5th, Clemson 15th) en route to a national championship, and the Tigers victorious in 2015 (Notre Dame 9th, Clemson 11th).
Notre Dame Stadium has been the site of some memorable games over the years, from shocking upsets to momentum-setting wins, but very few have brought with them the level of hype and buildup provided by this year's Tigers-Fighting Irish meeting. Notre Dame last hosted the nation's top-ranked team in 2005 when USC came to town — more on that below — but has yet to welcome another No. 1 team to Notre Dame Stadium. Here's a look at some of the most anticipated games inside Notre Dame Stadium over the last 40 years.
1990: No. 1 Notre Dame 28, No. 4 Michigan 24
While Michigan and Notre Dame's meeting to open the 1988 season is remembered distinctly for the capacity crowd of 59,075 (pre-expansion) disrupting the game due to excessive crowd noise, their 1990 matchup was a top-5 thriller in its own right. These two teams certainly became very familiar with starting the season against one another, as Notre Dame saw Michigan for either its first or second game in every season from 1985 until 1994.
In the 1990 edition, the debut of quarterback Rick Mirer, Notre Dame got on the board early thanks to a Michigan fumble and jumped out to a 14-3 advantage after the first quarter. Michigan scored the next 21 points over the next two quarters, taking a 24-14 lead entering the fourth. As tension mounted with top-ranked Notre Dame on the ropes, Mirer led the Irish down the field and into the end zone on two of the next three drives. Michigan mounted a late comeback attempt, but Reggie Brooks navigated the sideline to pull in an interception in the final seconds and seal the Notre Dame win.
1990: No. 6 Notre Dame 29, No. 2 Miami 20
If one top-10 home game in the 1990 season was enough to give Notre Dame's fan base a minor bout of anxiety, having another one just a month later didn't help matters. Having lost two of the last three games against the Hurricanes — with the win coming in the famed 1988 meeting — Lou Holtz's Fighting Irish looked to right the ship in the battle of South Beach vs. South Bend.
Miami opened the scoring with a touchdown just three minutes into the game before both teams swapped field goals. Rocket Ismail took the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to even the game at 10-10 after the first quarter. Notre Dame kicked four field goals between the second and third quarters to take a 22-17 lead, and after a Miami field goal a minute into the fourth quarter cut the Irish's lead to two, Mirer found Rodney Culver for a touchdown with six minutes left that put the game out of reach.
1996: No. 4 Ohio State 29, No. 5 Notre Dame 16
Notre Dame began the 1996 season with a seven-point win at Vanderbilt, followed by a 35-0 victory over Purdue in the home opener and a 27-24 win over No. 6 Texas in Austin thanks to a last-second field goal. Its second top-10 matchup in as many weeks didn't go nearly as well, as Ohio State was clearly in control and thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame from start to finish.
After Notre Dame jumped in front early, Ohio State quickly seized momentum — thanks to the dominance of running back Pepe Pearson and offensive lineman Orlando Pace — and scored 16 unanswered points to grab a 22-7 lead. Notre Dame crept closer with a field goal, and both sides exchanged touchdowns before a holding penalty wiped out a Notre Dame punt return for a touchdown that would have cut the deficit to a touchdown. Ohio State salted away the final few minutes to hand the Irish their first loss of the 1996 season and first regular-season loss in 365 days.
2005: No. 1 USC 34, No. 9 Notre Dame 31
Ask any Irish fan what game leaves the most haunting memory, and most will respond with Notre Dame's 2005 loss to USC, known by many as simply the "Bush Push" game. The loss was the Irish's fourth straight against the Trojans and part of a run of eight straight wins by Pete Carroll's group, with both teams ranked in the top 10 in three of the meetings.
On the final play — providing the foundation for the game's nickname — Matt Leinart took the snap on second-and-goal from the 1-yard-line and met a wall of Notre Dame defenders when he tried to sneak in for the touchdown. But Reggie Bush came from the backfield and shoved Leinart forward for the game-winning — albeit controversial, even to this day — touchdown. The matchup was Notre Dame's most recent home game against a No. 1 team, one from which many Notre Dame fans would love to move forward with a win against Clemson on Saturday night.
1993: No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
Speaking of wins against No. 1-ranked teams, Notre Dame's last such win came in 1993 against Florida State in one of the games dubbed the "Game of the Century." ESPN took its "College GameDay" show on the road for the first time ever in advance of this matchup, broadcasting live from the Joyce Center on Notre Dame's campus.
Bobby Bowden's Seminoles brought a 9-0 record into Notre Dame Stadium against Lou Holtz's 9-0 Fighting Irish, who took a 21-7 lead into halftime and led 31-17 in the fourth quarter. Eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Charlie Ward piloted Florida State's comeback attempt, leading the Seminoles on a 49-yard scoring drive before the defense stopped Notre Dame's next possession. With under a minute left and no timeouts, the Seminoles had the ball near midfield and Ward led them down to the 14-yard-line with three seconds to go. His pass on the final play of the game was deflected in the end zone by Irish cornerback Shawn Wooden, and Notre Dame held on for the dramatic win, taking down top-ranked Florida State.
1988: No. 4 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Miami 30
One of the premier games in Notre Dame Stadium's long and storied history, this epic matchup between Miami and Notre Dame pitted two of college football's independent — yes, Miami was independent at the time — powerhouse programs. With the pregame war of words and near-brawl that led to the game being commonly referred to as "Catholics vs. Convicts", as well as the in-game intensity and constant momentum shifts, this game possessed all the elements of a marquee top-5 showdown.
Miami committed seven turnovers in the game, including a first-half interception by Miami quarterback Steve Walsh which Notre Dame defensive back Pat Terrell returned for a touchdown to give the Irish a 21-7 lead. But the Hurricanes came back and scored with less than a minute remaining in regulation to cut the Irish's lead to 31-30 before the extra point attempt. Head coach Jimmy Johnson threw all his chips into the middle of the table and went for the two-point conversion rather than opt to kick the game-tying PAT. Walsh sent a high-arching pass to the corner of the end zone, but Terrell tipped the pass away and secured the win to preserve Notre Dame's hopes of winning its 11th national championship.
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics)