Saturday will mark the 29th time Notre Dame faces both Michigan State and Michigan in the same season, with each instance taking place since 1978, when the Irish split their pair of battles vs. the Big 10's northernmost programs.
In the 28 seasons prior to 2012, 10 Notre Dame teams earned a season sweep vs. the pair of rivals. In seven of those 10 seasons, the Irish went on to play in a major (January 1st, in old parlance, or BCS, in modern vernacular) bowl.
Down with the Duo
A breakdown of the 10 seasons in which Notre Dame defeated both Michigan and Michigan State in the same year (1978-present):
1979 (7-4): The ninth-ranked Irish opened with a 12-10 win over #6 Michigan in Ann Arbor, thanks to this (now illegal) blocked field goal by Bob Crable. Following a week two loss to #17 Purdue, the then 15th-ranked Irish rebounded to hammer #7 Michigan State in South Bend, 27-3. The Irish lost four games in 1979, reaching as high as No. 9 in the polls in mid-October and #13 in mid-November, but elected not to play in a bowl game.
1980 (9-2-1): No. 8 Notre Dame beat No. 14 Michigan on Harry Oliver's last second 51-yard field goal, and one week later, with a bump to #7, took out Michigan State in East Lansing, 26-21. Dan Devine's Irish went on to 9-1-1 regular season and matchup vs. undefeated No. 1 Georgia in the de facto national championship Sugar Bowl, won by the Bulldogs.
1982 (6-4-1): A 20th-ranked Irish squad opened its season under the lights vs. #10 Michigan, the first night contest in South Bend. That 23-17 victory led to a 4-0 start including a Week Three win over Michigan State in East Lansing, 11-3. Ranked 13th in mid-November, Gerry Faust's Irish lost their last three games including a controversial defeat at USC in which Trojans ball carrier Michael Harper fumbled prior to the end zone (recovered by the Irish) but was awarded the game winning score in a 17-13 Irish defeat. Notre Dame wouldn't lose again to the Trojans until 1996.
1987 (8-4): A 26-7 bundling of the #9 Wolverines in Ann Arbor moved the Irish up from #16 to #9 in the polls. One week later, in the second night game in Notre Dame Stadium, Heisman candidate Tim Brown returned a pair of Michigan State punts for touchdowns to key a 31-8 rout of the Spartans. The Irish began 3-0, surged to #7 at 8-1, but lost their last two regular season games at Penn State (21-20) and #2 Miami (24-0) before a no-show Cotton Bowl effort against #13 Texas A&M, 35-10. Notre Dame wouldn't lose again until Thanksgiving Weekend, 1989, claiming 23 straight wins along with a national title.
1988 (12-0): Underdogs in South Bend, #13 Notre Dame nipped #9 Michigan, 19-17, without the benefit of an offensive touchdown, but with the aid of the loudest crowd in Stadium history, including a delay of game penalty for excessive crowd noise. One week later, the 8th-ranked Irish subdued Michigan State, 20-3 in East Lansing -- the same final score as last Saturday's Irish win over the Spartans. Notre Dame went on to claim its 11th national title at season's end.
1989 (12-1): Another early-season classic between Michigan and Notre Dame, this time with the #1 Irish traveling to Ann Arbor to take down the #2 Wolverines, 24-19 thanks to a pair of kick return touchdowns by Rocket Ismail. The Irish won in The Big House despite throwing just two passes, one of which Tony Rice completed for a touchdown on a rainy, slick astroturf surface. One week later, Notre Dame prevailed in perhaps the hardest-hitting contest of my viewing lifetime, a 21-13 win over unranked Michigan State. With wins against teams ranked #2, #17, #9, #7, #17, and #1 (Colorado in the Orange Bow), the Irish finished the season ranked #2 behind Miami, to whom it lost 27-10 in the season's final week.
1990 (9-3): Another home opener against Michigan, and another game under the lights, this time with the top-ranked Irish beating the #4 Wolverines, 28-24, the program's fourth-straight over Michigan which serves as the longest streak of the modern era (Michigan won the series' first eight games prior to 1908). Notre Dame traveled to East Lansing the following week and escaped with a 20-19 miracle victory thanks to a play since referred to as The Immaculate Deflection. The Irish faced Colorado for a chance at a split national championship, losing 10-9 in the Orange Bowl.
1993 (11-1): A 10-point underdog in Ann Arbor, No. 11 Notre Dame and Mike Miller raced to a 27-10 lead over the third-ranked Wolverines and held on for a 27-23 victory. The Irish returned to South Bend ranked #4 and handled their business vs. overmatched Michigan State, 36-14. Notre Dame famously finished second in the final polls with one caveat: Notre Dame 31 National Champions 24.
2002 (10-3): Underdogs in both games, the eventual 8-0 Irish took out #7 Michigan (25-23) in South Bend, and Michigan State (21-17) in East Lansing, both in dramatic fashion.
2004 (6-6): The unsuccessful season serves as an outlier among the group, with the underdog, 0-1 Irish upsetting #8 Michigan 28-20 in South Bend and then taking out the Spartans in prime time in East Lansing, 31-24, in part thanks to this play by Tom Zbikowski.
In total, Notre Dame has finished 90-28-2 in the 10 seasons they've swept the Wolverines and Spartans (ad to that the 1992 season in which they tied Michigan and beat Michigan State and the record soars to 100-29-3).
As the oddity of 2004 season indicates, a win Saturday vs. Michigan guarantees nothing over the season's final two months…but it suggests plenty.
Note: For an extended video recap of the Notre Dame/Michigan series, click the video I made for Blue and Gold Illustrated in 2008.
ND/UM Series (10 minutes)