Notre Dame’s 17-13 victory at home versus Michigan State on Sept. 21 at the time seemed like just another “ugly” win for the Fighting Irish.
Back on Sept. 21, linebacker Jarrett Grace and the Irish defense led the 17-13 victory against Michigan State — the 13-1 Spartans' lone defeat of 2013.
Head coach Brian Kelly’s crew totaled a paltry 224 yards total offense (142 passing, 82 rushing) and its most effective play was four pass interference infractions and one holding call against the Spartans to help set up scores. The defense did play superbly, limiting MSU to 254 yards total offense, and Irish punter Kyle Brindza was awarded the game ball for his clutch fourth quarter punting that helped flip the field and keep Michigan State at bay.
It wasn’t as convincing as Notre Dame’s 31-13 and 20-3 victories over Michigan State in 2011 and 2012, respectively, but it was the first time the Irish won three straight in the series since the remarkable eight in a row under Lou Holtz from 1987-94.
In this year’s game, there were 201 yards in penalties called by the Big Ten officials (115 on Michigan State and 86 on Notre Dame). With the passage of time, though, it also became the first Irish victory against a team that will finish in the Top 5 since the 31-24 triumph against No. 1 and eventual national champ Florida State in 1993.
Since the advent of the Associated Press poll in 1936, this marked the 19th time that Notre Dame applied the lone blemish to a team during a football season, and Michigan State this year had the most wins. Here’s the list:
2013: Michigan State (13-1) — 17-13 on Sept. 21.
1993: Florida State (12-1) — 31-24 on Nov. 13.
1993 Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M (12-1) — 28-3 on Jan. 1.
1990 Orange Bowl: Colorado (11-1) — 21-6 on Jan. 1.
1989 Fiesta Bowl: West Virginia (11-1) — 34-21 on Jan. 2, resulting in a national title.
1988: Miami (11-1) — 31-30 on Oct. 15.
1978 Cotton Bowl: Texas (11-1) — 38-10 on Jan. 2, resulting in a national title.
1975 Orange Bowl: Alabama (11-1) — 13-11 on Jan. 1.
1973 Sugar Bowl: Alabama (11-1) — 24-23 on Dec. 31, resulting in a national title.
1971 Cotton Bowl: Texas (10-1) — 24-11 on Jan. 1, ending the Longhorns’ 30-game winning streak.
1969: USC (10-0-1) — 14-14 on Oct. 18, with an Irish field goal attempt near the end hitting the crossbar and bouncing back onto the field.
1966: Michigan State (9-0-1) — The 10-10 tie against the No. 2 Spartans on Nov. 19 helped maintain the No. 1 ranking and eventual national title. This year’s finish by MSU will be the highest in the polls since the No. 2 placement in 1966.
1957: Oklahoma (10-1) — 7-0, ending the Sooners’ NCAA record 47-game winning streak. (Note: Oklahoma’s lone defeats in 1952 and 1953 were against Notre Dame as well, but the Sooners also had a tie each of those seasons, so the losses to the Fighting Irish weren’t their lone blemish.)
1952: USC (10-1) — 9-0 on Nov. 29. In bone-chilling cold, and in the days when the Trojans visited South Bend in late November, the No. 7 Irish toppled No. 2 USC.
1946: Army (9-0-1) — Just like against Michigan State in 1966, the 0-0 verdict on Nov. 9 eventually helped Notre Dame get the nod over No. 2 Army, the two-time defending national champ, for No. 1.
1943: Iowa-Pre Flight (9-1), Michigan (8-1) and Navy (8-1).
These three teams finished No. 2-3-4, respectively to Notre Dame in the final AP poll, with each loss coming to the Irish. The only other team to defeat the 2-3-4 finishers in the AP poll was Nebraska in 1971, defeating Oklahoma, Alabama and Colorado, but the Buffaloes had two losses, not one.
Notre Dame defeated the World War II semi-pro Iowa Pre-Flight team (14-13) on Nov. 20 and routed the Wolverines (35-12) and Midshipmen (33-6) on Oct. 9 and Oct. 30, respectively.
1936: Northwestern (8-1) — 26-6 on Nov. 21, Notre Dame’s first victory over the No. 1 ranked team in the AP poll.
Prior to the AP poll in 1936 and back to 1909, there are nine other occasions we know of where Notre Dame administered the lone defeat on a major college football program: Ohio State (1935), Army (1933, 1917 and 1913), Pitt (1931), Northwestern (1930 and 1926), Nebraska (1921) and Michigan (1909).
We know of USC providing the lone blemish on a Notre Dame season four times: 1938 (8-1), 1948 (9-0-1), 1964 (9-1) and 1970 (10-1), plus ruining a chance to play for the national title in 1974 and 1980.
But Notre Dame has held a similar hex on Michigan State. The Spartans have won outright or shared the Big Ten football title six times since 1966. In each of those years they were unable to defeat Notre Dame, starting with the famous 10-10 tie in 1966.
The Big Ten’s outright champs also lost to Notre Dame in 1987 (31-8) and 2013 (17-13). As co-champs of the Big Ten, MSU lost to Notre Dame in 1978 (29-25), 1990 (20-19) and 2009 (33-30).