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Irish In Second … For Now

What are the odds of one football program losing to another three straight years while yielding the game-winning touchdown within the game’s final 30 seconds?

Notre Dame is second to Michigan on the all-time winning percentage chart.

The University of Michigan achieved that rare “triple play” winning streak against Notre Dame from 2009-11.

• In 2011, with Michigan trailing 31-28 and backed up at its 20 with only 30 seconds remaining, the Wolverines staged an astounding quick-strike drive that was capped with quarterback Denard Robinson finding wideout Roy Roundtree on a 16-yard touchdown pass with two seconds remaining.

• In 2010, Robinson directed a 12-play, 72-yard drive in which his two-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left lifted Michigan to a 28-24 conquest in Notre Dame Stadium.

• In 2009, true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier directed a 57-yard march in nine plays and found Greg Mathews on a five-yard touchdown pass with only 11 seconds remaining to defeat Notre Dame, 38-34.

Had Notre Dame been able to close the deal in those three contests — and everything else remained the same for both programs during that time — the Irish all-time winning percentage would have improved to .73389 to rank first all time in the NCAA, while Michigan’s would have dropped to No. 2 at .73327.

Then again, the law of averages has a way of working itself out. Notre Dame posted four straight victories against the Wolverines from 1987-90, with each of the last three white-knuckle affairs that fell Notre Dame’s way.

Since the renewal of the Notre Dame-Michigan series in 1978, the series has been nip-and-tuck, with the Wolverines holding a 14-13-1 edge.

Notre Dame had been No. 1 in all-time winning percentage for several decades before Michigan vaulted into the top spot in 2004 when the Irish were 5-7 and 6-6 in 2003-04 while Michigan was 10-3 and 9-3.

The Irish made some headway from 2008-10 when Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines were 15-22, but a 21-17 Notre Dame record during that same time was not quite enough to catch them.

An 11-2 finish under new coach Brady Hoke last year provided a little more cushion to Michigan, while Notre Dame sputtered to another 8-5 season.

At the pace Boise State is winning — it is 118-13 (.901) in the 10 years from 2002-11 — both the Wolverines and Irish might be vying for No. 2 down the road. It will be interesting to see in the coming years whether Notre Dame can reach No. 1 before Boise State can — although a rule about having played at least 50 years at the Division 1-A or FBS level probably should apply, in fairness.

Notre Dame’s current 18-year stretch with a 130-89-1 (.593) record has hurt, but other programs also have had their share of more than decade-long droughts.

• Texas was 92-68-3 (.574) in the 14 years from 1984-97.

• USC was 79-62-4 (.559) in the 12 years from 1990-2001.

• Oklahoma was 68-55-3 (.552) in the 11 years from 1989-99.

Unfortunately, 18 years probably is beyond the norm of just a “bad cycle.” Here is the current top 10, according to the NCAA.

Rk. School W L T Pct.
1. Michigan 895 310 36 .73570
2. Notre Dame 853 300 42 .73138
3. Boise State 377 146 2 .72000
4. Texas 858 330 33 .71622
5. Oklahoma 821 307 53 .71761
6. Ohio State 825 316 53 .71315
7. Alabama 814 320 43 .70986
8. USC 779 314 54 .70270
9. Nebraska 845 349 41 .70081
10. Tennessee 794 347 53 .68718

Notre Dame’s slot at No. 2 was bolstered in recent years because 1) Ohio State voluntarily vacated 12 victories in 2010 for NCAA infractions, 2) Alabama was ordered by the NCAA to vacate 21 wins from 2005-07 and 3) USC was ordered by the NCAA to vacate 14 victories from December 2004 through the 2005 season. All are factored into the current standings.

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