BYU vs. Notre Dame: the real “Holy War”

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As BYU takes a trip to Notre Dame this weekend, the Cougars look to legitimatize their football rivalry with the Fighting Irish.  While the two teams are at the front end of a six-game series that goes through 2020, the opponents will soon become very familiar with each other and know what’s at stake every time they face off.

“I think it’s just exposure,” BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “It’s another chance for a quality win on a big stage. It’s not life or death, and it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s a great opportunity. We’ll do the very best we can, and I look forward to it.”

BYU defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi sacks Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. Photo by Chris Bunker
BYU defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi sacks Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. Photo by Chris Bunker

The two private and religious schools first met in 1992. The game in South Bend ended with Notre Dame blowing out the Cougars 42-16. 1993 was the same story for BYU, as again they were blown out by the Fighting Irish, this time in Provo, 45-20.

The Cougars got their first win of the “The Mormons vs. The Catholics” series in 1994 when BYU travelled to South Bend and knocked off a Notre Dame team who came into game ranked No. 17 in the country. The Fighting Irish were led by legendary head coach Lou Holtz, and the game ended Notre Dame’s 85-game streak of being ranked nationally.

“It’s like a nightmare,” then-Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Davie said after losing to BYU. “It’s devastating.”

BYU and Notre Dame continued their series again by playing three times between 2003 and 2005. In those three games, the Cougars only managed one victory. BYU’s 2004 win proved to be a last hurrah BYU head coach Gary Crowton, but featured a freshman named Austin Collie, who would go on to rewrite the BYU receiving record books.

In 2010, BYU and Notre Dame announced a six-game series that would be played between 2012 and 2013. Last year, in the first meeting between the two teams in seven years, the Cougars travelled to South Bend and narrowly lost to a Fighting Irish team who would eventually come up short against Alabama in the national championship game. Cougar fans and players remember the game well, and are looking forward for their chance at revenge.

“It’s definitely stuck with us because we easily could have won,” BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman said. “Just seeing them in the national championship knowing that we could have and should have beat them, but it’s nice being able to go back this year and hopefully get revenge.”

Around the time the six-game series was announced, BYU also announced that it would be leaving all conferences to become an independent football team. Looking back, BYU coaches and administration believe they made the right choice, but they also understand that winning games and creating rivalries with big-name teams like Notre Dame is the only way to gain exposure and respect as an independent program. A win this weekend would really help the Cougars gain some of that much-needed national exposure.

“I would like it to end up being a rivalry and that will happen once we do our part in winning enough games,” Mendenhall said regarding BYU’s relationship with Notre Dame. “I felt a year ago that we had a great opportunity to win. I look forward to a hard fought game year in and year out and I’d like to play them as much as possible.”

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