The first time Notre Dame and Stanford faced each other on the football field there were coaching legends on the two sidelines. The Fighting Irish were led by head coach Knute Rockne, who led his lads to a 27-10 Rose Bowl victory over Pop Warner’s Stanford squad.
Prior to 1988 the teams met just four times, with Notre Dame winning three of those contests. From 1988 to 1994 the Irish met every season, and the series became a regular staple beginning in 1997.
Stanford won three of five matchups from 1997 to 2001, but Notre Dame followed that with seven straight wins. That was followed by a decade of Cardinal dominance. From 2009 to 2018, Stanford beat Notre Dame seven times while the Irish won just three games.
Over the last decade, Stanford emerged as the nation’s premier academic football program.
From 2009 to 2018, Stanford compiled a 102-32 record and won three Pac 12 championships. Stanford finished ranked in the Top 10 in four of those seasons.
During the same stretch, Notre Dame went 87-52 and finished in the Top 10 just twice.
Stanford had more Top 10 finishes, more 12-win seasons, more 10-win seasons, more Heisman Trophy finalists and dominated Notre Dame in head-to-head matchups. Stanford also did something Notre Dame hasn’t done since January of 1994, which is win a major bowl game. Over the last decade the Cardinal have twice won the Rose Bowl (2012, 2015) and won the Orange Bowl (2010).
So why am I taking you down this depressing trip down memory lane?
Well, Notre Dame has a chance to take back control of this rivalry, and re-establish itself as the nation’s premier academic football program. Winning Saturday would give Notre Dame its first back-to-back victories over Stanford since it did the same in 2007 and 2008, and it would be Notre Dame’s first road victory over the Cardinal since 2007.
Notre Dame has won more recruiting battles than it has lost against Stanford, but the rise of the Stanford program over the last decade has hurt Notre Dame, there is no question about it. Not only has Stanford beat Notre Dame on the field, it has taken enough recruits away from the Irish to do legitimate damage.
Imagine what the 2017 Notre Dame defense would have looked like if safety Justin Reid was in the starting lineup. Notre Dame tried hard to land Reid in the 2015 class, but he ultimately chose the Cardinal.
Imagine what the Irish secondary would have looked like the last two seasons with Paulson Adebo at cornerback. Adebo was a second-team All-American last season, and he was also a commit to Notre Dame as part of the 2017 class, but he ultimately flipped to Stanford.
Offensive linemen Foster Sarell and Walter Rouse would have fit in quite nicely along the Notre Dame offensive line, but both ended up at Stanford, as did defensive tackle Thomas Booker. Stanford beat Notre Dame for a pair of linebackers (Aeneas DiCosmo and Tristan Sinclair) and two defensive ends (Josh Pakola and Stephen Herron) in the 2019 class.
The list doesn’t end here, but Notre Dame has a chance to make a statement this weekend. It can re-establish control of this rivalry, and it can take a major step towards re-establishing dominance over Stanford on the recruiting trail. When asked about this during his Monday press conference, head coach Brian Kelly downplayed the impact of Stanford’s rise on his team’s recruiting, but anyone that follows it knows that Stanford has taken enough impact players away from the Irish to make a significant difference.
Coming into the season there were three road games that presented Notre Dame with a chance to make a major statement on and off the field. The Irish fell short in the first two, losing to both Georgia and Michigan, so handling business against Stanford is a must.