Series History: Notre Dame vs Wisconsin

A look at the on-field history between Notre Dame and Wisconsin
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Notre Dame and Wisconsin meet in a highly anticipated matchup of two physical, Midwestern football programs in Chicago’s historic Soldier Field on Saturday. These two teams were supposed to have met last season at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, but due to the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the start of the 2020 season and play a conference-only schedule, that game was rescheduled for 2026.

This will be Notre Dame’s 13th game at Soldier Field and the first since the Irish took down Miami (41-3) in 2012 en route to an undefeated regular season and appearance in the BCS National Championship game against Alabama. Notre Dame has never lost at Soldier Field, holding a 10-0-2 record, including a victory over the Badgers in 1929.

SERIES HISTORY

Surprisingly, even though these programs seem to have a lot in common, this will be the first matchup between the Irish and the Badgers on the gridiron since 1964. The Irish lead the all-time series 8-6-2.

With a win, Brian Kelly would surpass Knute Rockne as the all-time winningest coach in Notre Dame history with 106 victories. Interestingly, Rockne’s first national championship team in 1924 was buoyed by a 38-3 blowout victory over Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium, Notre Dame’s first-ever victory over the Badgers. Rockne’s second national championship team defeated Wisconsin as well, beating the Badgers at Soldier Field.

One of the strongest ties between the two programs is former Wisconsin head coach and athletic director, Barry Alvarez, who took over a downtrodden Wisconsin program in 1990 after serving as Notre Dame defensive coordinator from 1988-1989. Alvarez’s defense was a key part in the Irish going 24-1 over those two seasons and capturing the 1988 national championship. In 1988, the Notre Dame defense only gave up 13.0 PPG, which ranked 3rd in the country, while in 1989, the defense allowed 14.5 PPG, ranking 9th. One of the great what-ifs in recent Notre Dame history is what would have happened had the university turned to Barry Alvarez rather than Bob Davie after Lou Holtz’s retirement.

At Wisconsin, Alvarez would lead the Badgers to 3 Big Ten titles and 3 Rose Bowls, becoming the only coach in Big Ten history to win consecutive Rose Bowls and becoming the school’s all-time leader in wins with 120. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010 and after stepping down as head coach in 2005, continued to serve as Wisconsin athletic director (a position he assumed in 2004) until January 2021. Alvarez was instrumental in getting the Notre Dame-Wisconsin series on the books, as according to the Chicago Tribune, he brought up the idea of a two-game series with Jack Swarbrick in 2009 while on the Notre Dame campus for a speech.

RESULTS

1964 – Notre Dame 31 Wisconsin 7 (Away)
1963 – Wisconsin 14 Notre Dame 9 (Home)
1962 – Wisconsin 17 Notre Dame 8 (Away)
1944 – Notre Dame 28 Wisconsin 13 (Home)
1943 – Notre Dame 50 Wisconsin 0 (Away)
1942 – Notre Dame 7 Wisconsin 7 (Away)
1936 – Notre Dame 27 Wisconsin 0 (Home)
1935 – Notre Dame 27 Wisconsin 0 (Away)
1934 – Notre Dame 19 Wisconsin 0 (Home)
1929 – Notre Dame 19 Wisconsin 0 (Neutral Site – Chicago)
1928 – Wisconsin 22 Notre Dame 6 (Away)
1924 – Notre Dame 38 Wisconsin 3 (Away)
1917 – Notre Dame 0 Wisconsin 0 (Away)
1905 – Wisconsin 21 Notre Dame 0 (Neutral Site – Milwaukee)
1904 – Wisconsin 58 Notre Dame 0 (Neutral Site – Milwaukee)
1900 – Wisconsin 54 Notre Dame 0 (Away)

NOTABLE GAMES

1964 - From 1953-1963 Notre Dame had only gone 12-26 against the Big Ten (including losses to Wisconsin in 1962 and 1963), and the program had fallen on hard times following the departure of legendary coach Frank Leahy in 1954. Ara Parseghian was hired from Northwestern with the goal of revitalizing the football program, and in his first game at the helm, the Irish traveled to Madison to face Wisconsin. With a rejuvenated offense led by quarterback John Huarte (who would win the Heisman Trophy that season) and receiver Jack Snow, Notre Dame dominated from start to finish and won 31-7, announcing the return of the Irish to the national scene. Snow set a then-Notre Dame record with 217 receiving yards, and the Irish defense chipped in too, holding Wisconsin to an astounding -51 yards rushing. In his book Resurrection detailing the 1964 Notre Dame season, author Jim Dent recalls the impact that the Wisconsin win had on the program, writing “In one of the most remarkable scenes anyone could remember inside Camp Randall Stadium, the Notre Dame players scooped up Parseghian and carried him off the field…no one questioned the joy Notre Dame felt at that moment. The Irish had been left for dead in 1963.”

1943 – Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy captured his first national title at Notre Dame and QB Angelo Bertelli became the first Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner despite only playing 6 games due to his Marine deployment in World War II. En route to the title, Notre Dame walloped Wisconsin 50-0 in Madison. The Badgers, who finished 1-9 that season, provided a welcome respite for an Irish team that beat 5 top-10 teams on their way to the championship.

1929 – Notre Dame and Wisconsin met at Soldier Field in Chicago in a game that would be dominated by the Irish defense. Notre Dame shut out Wisconsin 19-0 en route to winning Knute Rockne’s second national championship. Rockne’s 1929 squad would only allow 38 points the entire season – an unheard of 4.2 PPG average in the modern game (though it surprisingly only ranked 13th in the nation that year).

1924 – Notre Dame beat Wisconsin for the first time in school history, running away with a 38-3 blowout victory in Camp Randall Stadium. After the Wisconsin game, Notre Dame would close out the season with wins over Nebraska, Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford to capture the university’s – and Knute Rockne’s – first national championship.

RECOMMENDED READING

Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame by Jim Dent

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