The Irish and Buckeyes are meeting for the first time since the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.

2016 Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame-Ohio State Preview

Dec. 30, 2015

Full FIM BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl Coverage

by John Heisler

This might well be the most intriguing, most appealing, most passionate-and yet shortest-rivalry anywhere in college football

Notre Dame and Ohio State.

They represent big-name, big-time programs in contiguous Midwest states-both with grand ambitions every single season. Yet the 2016 BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl will be only the sixth time they’ve met (previously in 1935, 1936, 1995, 1996 and the 2006 Fiesta Bowl).

These are two fan bases with no shortages of confidence and expectations.

Begin by acknowledging that these two programs are at the very top of the list for producing Heisman Trophy winners:

— Angelo Bertelli. Les Horvath. John Lujack. Leon Hart.

— Vic Janowicz. John Lattner. Hopalong Cassady. Paul Hornung.

Those eight players all claimed the award within a 14-season period from 1943-56.

— John Huarte. Archie Griffin (he won it twice). Tim Brown.

— Eddie George and Troy Smith, both of whom faced the Irish.

The list of names to remember in the series differs by locale.

In South Bend, it’s:

— Bill Shakespeare (he came off the bench late to throw the winning TD pass in 1935 in Notre Dame’s 18-13 victory)

— Wayne Millner (he caught that pass in the final seconds)

— Andy Pilney (he was the starting Irish quarterback in ’35 until a late knee injury forced him to leave the field on a stretcher after a phenomenal 30-yard run)

— Mike Layden (he scored one of the earlier TDs in ’35)

— Jim McKenna (he was a walk-on who brought in the winning play from the sidelines in ’35 after sneaking onto the team train and then talking his way into the game itself because he did not possess a ticket)

— Lou Holtz (he rebounded from neck surgery to return to the sidelines for the first time in that ’95 game in Columbus), a Woody Hayes assistant coach in Columbus in 1968 when the Buckeyes won the national title; he grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio

Holtz said the three most noteworthy principles he learned from Hayes were: “The mental toughness you need in the (coaching) profession, the obligation you have to the players and to nobody else, and an intense loyalty to your school. Who else do you know who would be operated on, have a sponge left in him, and praise the operation?”

— Randy Kinder (143 rushing yards and three TDs in ’95)

— Derrick Mayes (125 receiving yards in ’95)

— Maurice Stovall (nine receptions for 126 yards in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl)

— and Brady Quinn (296 passing yards on 29-of-45 throwing in the Fiesta Bowl), a Dublin, Ohio, product

In Columbus, it’s:

— George (207 rushing yards in ’95)

— Orlando Pace (the wide-bodied Hall of Famer is a big reason the Buckeyes ran for 261 yards in ’95 against the Irish and 206 yards in ’96)

— Bobby Hoying (272 passing yards for four TDs in ’95)

— Pepe Pearson (173 rushing yards in ’96)

— Terry Glenn (82-yard TD catch in ’95)

— Antonio Pitman (136 rushing yards in the Fiesta Bowl)

— Ted Ginn Jr. (167 receiving yards in the Fiesta Bowl)

— and Smith (342 passing yards on 19-of-28 throwing in the Fiesta Bowl)

The teams’ first meeting in 1935 qualified as the first “game of the century,” earning that title in 1969 in a vote of sportswriters in college football’s centennial year.

Here are more notes on that initial Buckeye-Irish clash:

— Grantland Rice (he had coined the Four Horsemen name 11 years earlier) after the game told Pilney, “I’ve been writing and watching football for over 40 years now, and that was the greatest single performance I’ve ever seen.”

— Before the game, even with both teams unbeaten, the Buckeyes qualified as heavy favorites-and one sportswriter predicted Ohio State would win 40-0.

— Former Ohio State lineman Jim Karcher, who recovered a Notre Dame fumble in that contest, said, “I was going with a Catholic girl at the time. She took part in one of the masses that were held all over Columbus on Saturday morning. They were all praying for a Notre Dame victory. How can you win against that?”

— Notre Dame’s historical files contain four-page, single-spaced accounts of every individual play in the 1935 encounter, a level of detail rarely found from that era.

— Ohio State’s ticket office returned 23,000 ticket requests it could not fulfill, Buckeye officials suggested they could have sold 200,000 tickets had they been available-and 2,000 counterfeit tickets were identified.

— Every Columbus police officer was on duty at the game, and a crew of 550 railroad workers managed 24 special trains on six railroad lines that took fans to and from Ohio Stadium.

— In the press box, 56 telegraph operators keystroked details of the game as it unfolded.

— Future President Ronald Reagan that day was doing radio play-by-play of the Iowa-Indiana football game and he refused to report the result of the game because he was sure it was incorrect.

— One newspaper headline after that contest read, “IT COULDN’T HAPPEN BUT IT DID.”

On the Notre Dame campus, the individual with the most memories likely is current Irish football director of player development Ron Powlus. He was the starting Notre Dame quarterback in 1995 and 1996 when the series was revived for the first time in 59 years.

How big was the 1995 game in Columbus? The Ohio State bookstore sold a nifty, colorized poster of Ohio Stadium from the game in 1935. The regional Big Bear grocery store chain offered a series of commemorative plastic cards noting that ’35 game and other Buckeye football highlights.

Meanwhile, current Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer in 1996 was the first-year Notre Dame receiver coach when the Irish played host to the Buckeyes. Meyer’s Irish pupils that year included Bobby Brown, Malcolm Johnson and Emmett Mosley.

Who will add his name to the list of those to remember on the first day of 2016?

For the Irish, it could be:

— Consensus All-America junior linebacker Jaylon Smith (the 2015 Butkus Award winner who made 113 tackles), who is likely to encounter Ohio State back Ezekiel Elliott a few times

— Consensus All-America offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is likely to be matched against Buckeye standout Joey Bosa

— Second-team All-America receiver Will Fuller, selected the Irish MVP by his teammates after making 56 catches for 1,145 yards and 13 TDs

— Second-team All-America defensive end Sheldon Day, who led the Irish in tackles for loss with 14.5

— Quarterback DeShone Kizer (189 completions on 298 pass attempts for 2,600 yards and 19 TDs-to go with 499 rushing yards and nine rushing TDs), an Ohio product for whom the matchup should be particularly meaningful

— Running back C.J. Prosise (156 attempts for 1,032 rushing yards and 11 TDs), who the Irish hope will be healthy again after an early-season run to glory was shut down by an ankle injury that squashed his November production

This marks the 25th time in Notre Dame history an Irish team has produced two or more consensus All-Americans (Smith and Stanley in 2015), though it’s the first time it has happened in South Bend since 1993 (Aaron Taylor and Jeff Burris).

For the Buckeyes it could be:

— Second-team All-America junior running back Elliott (1,672 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs; he’s already number two on Ohio State’s career rushing list behind only George)

— First-team All-America junior defensive end Bosa (47 tackles, 16 for loss)

— Sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett (74 of 116 for 781 passing yards, 10 TDs; 92 rushing attempts for 586 yards, 11 TDs) or Cardale Jones (110 of 176 passing for 1,460 yards and eight TDs, plus 193 rushing yards)

— Senior receiver Braxton Miller (24 catches for 329 yards, three TDs) or junior pass-catcher Michael Thomas (team-leading 49 catches for 709 yards, eight TDs)

— First-team All-Americans Taylor Decker at offensive left tackle or Vonn Bell (63 tackles) at safety-or second-team picks Pat Elfein at offensive guard or sophomore linebackers Darron Lee (59 tackles) or Raekwon McMillan (he led the Bucks with 114 tackles)


This will be the third consecutive meeting with both the Irish and Buckeyes ranked in the top 10:

* 1996-Ohio State #4 AP, Notre Dame #5 AP
* 2006-Ohio State #4 Bowl Championship Series, Notre Dame #6 BCS
* 2016-Ohio State #7 College Football Playoff, Notre Dame #8 CFP

Here’s a look at how the two teams’ 2015 schedules played out:

— Notre Dame played six teams that ended up in bowl games, with all six winning at least eight games-13-0 Clemson (CFP), 11-2 Stanford (Rose), 10-2 Navy (Military), 10-3 Temple (Boca Raton), 8-4 Pittsburgh (Military), 8-5 USC (Holiday).

— Ohio State played eight teams that ended up in bowl games, with three of those winning eight or more games-12-1 Michigan State (CFP), 9-3 Michigan (Citrus) and 8-5 Northern Illinois (Poinsettia). One Buckeye opponent qualified for a bowl game at 5-7, two at 6-6, two at 7-5.

— Notre Dame finished 37th in the NCAA Toughest Schedule standings (its opponents were 71-57 versus other FBS teams for .555), compared to 59th for Ohio State (66-61 for .520).


Don’t forget all the Notre Dame-Ohio State storylines (in fact the sheer volume of this list suggests it would be difficult to find a matchup with more cross-pollination):

— Meyer is a former Notre Dame assistant coach under both Holtz and Bob Davie (1996-2000 when Meyer coached receivers and special teams).

— Buckeye assistants Ed Warinner (2010-11), Tim Hinton (2010-11) and Tony Alford (2009-14) all coached on Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame staff in recent years. In fact, Alford had some hand in recruiting just about every player on the current Notre Dame roster before he departed for Columbus just after signing day in 2015. Alford qualified as the lone Notre Dame assistant retained from the Charlie Weis era when Kelly was hired.

— Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith is a former Notre Dame defensive lineman (he earned a monogram in 1976 as a backup to captain Willie Fry) who also coached the Irish junior varsity and special teams in 1978-80.

— Ohio State assistant athletics director for football sports performance Mickey Marotti served in a similar capacity at Notre Dame from 1998-2005.

— The Irish boast 10 scholarship players with Ohio home addresses-most notably Kizer (Toledo), one-time starting quarterback Malik Zaire (Dayton), along with veteran linebacker Jarrett Grace (Cincinnati), defensive line starter Daniel Cage (Cincinnati), tight end contributor Chase Hounshell (Kirtland), defensive lineman Jacob Matuska (Columbus), cornerback Nick Coleman (Dayton), injured defensive back Shaun Crawford (Lakewood), offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne (Cleveland) and defensive lineman Elijah Taylor (Cincinnati).

“Some of my closest friends and a lot of my family members were Ohio State fans growing up,” said Kizer Monday. “They’re all kind of put into awkward positions now when their nephew or their good friend is out there playing against their favorite team. It’s time to make decisions for some of my family members-are you wearing blue and gold or scarlet and gray?”

— Kelly is no stranger to the state of Ohio, having spent four seasons as head coach at the University of Cincinnati (2006-09),which happens to be Meyer’s alma mater. Notre Dame recruiting coordinator and linebacker coach Mike Elston lists St. Marys, Ohio, as his hometown.

— Smith’s brother Rod played running back (549 career rushing yards) for Ohio State from 2011-14.

— A year ago Ohio State utilized its third-string quarterback, Jones, to claim the CFP title game. This year the Irish made effective use of Kizer, who stood third on the Notre Dame quarterback depth chart after 2015 spring drills.

— The two schools share the Joyce Scholarship program that for more than 50 years has provided full four-year grants to either Notre Dame or Ohio State for students from Franklin County (where Columbus is located) and eight contiguous counties in central Ohio.

— Notre Dame and Ohio State will play Sept. 3, 2022, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, and Sept. 23, 2023, at Notre Dame Stadium. Those two contests will mark the first regular-season meetings between the Irish and Buckeyes since a two-game series in 1995 and 1996.


It’s safe to say the Irish are overdue to post a win in a traditional New Year’s Day bowl game. The Irish have not accomplished that since consecutive victories over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowls following the 1992 and 1993 seasons. During that same period, Ohio State has posted wins three times in the Fiesta Bowl, twice each in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl (one of those a CFP semifinal) and last year in the CFP title game (plus five other New Year’s Day contests that the Bucks did not win). Since 1993 Notre Dame has played three times in the Fiesta Bowl, plus once each in the Orange, Sugar and BCS title game.

When the Irish travel party landed in Phoenix Saturday, Kelly suggested that-with all due respect to the CFP semifinal bracket–Ohio State still may well be the best team in the country.

At the Fiesta Bowl Kickoff Dinner Monday night, Kelly noted that the two teams first met 80 years ago-and he kidded that Hinton was on the field that day in Columbus in 1935.

Kelly went on to say, “We’ll do our best to put 22 guys out there. I hope we can score a point or two.

“Is that the way Lou Holtz would have said it?”

Added Meyer at that same event, “Coach Kelly, you’ve got plenty of good players, brother.

“I know for college football, this will be close to the most-watched bowl game.”

He also alluded to the expectations for both programs: “People just think that programs like Notre Dame and Ohio State aren’t supposed to lose games.”

Meyer also noted a previous Fiesta Bowl connection to the late Notre Dame athletics team chaplain, Rev. James Riehle, C.S.C., the former Notre Dame Monogram Club executive director who passed away in 2008.

Before Notre Dame met Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2000 season, Irish assistant coach Meyer had accepted the head coaching position at Bowling Green. He recalled a conversation with Father Riehle at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess coffee shop.

“I was 36 years old at the time,” said Meyer. “Father Riehle suggested that up until that time I had been making suggestions, and that now I would be making decisions. He said there was a big difference between the two. I’ve always remembered that.”


Here’s how the teams on Notre Dame’s 2015 football schedule (including the Irish and their Fiesta Bowl opponent, Ohio State) ranked in the major NCAA team statistical categories through the end of the regular season:

Total Offense (yds./game)
12. Clemson 510.6
25. Notre Dame 471.5
35. USC 449.6
38. Stanford 436.0
41. Ohio State 428.9
59. Navy 411.4
66. Massachusetts 399.8
73. Virginia 383.0
76. Pittsburgh 381.0
81. Georgia Tech 378.0
93. Texas 370.8
94. Temple 369.2
113. Wake Forest 333.4
125. Boston College 275.6

Rushing Offense (yds./game)
3. Navy 319.2
7. Georgia Tech 256.2
12. Ohio State 241.9
19. Stanford 225.1
20. Texas 224.8
23. Clemson 222.2
25. Notre Dame 214.8
49. Pittsburgh 185.9
61. USC 176.2
74. Boston College 164.4
89. Temple 153.6
99. Virginia 144.8
101. Massachusetts 142.3
122. Wake Forest 105.2

Passing Offense (yds./game)
23. Clemson 288.5
31. USC 273.5
36. Massachusetts 257.5
37. Notre Dame 256.7
49. Virginia 238.3
60. Wake Forest 228.3
72. Temple 215.5
79. Stanford 210.9
95. Pittsburgh 195.1
104. Ohio State 187.0
117. Texas 145.9
123. Georgia Tech 121.8
124. Boston College 111.2
126. Navy 92.3

Passing Efficiency
4. Stanford 170.51
11. Navy 162.87
17. USC 156.59
19. Clemson 155.23
23. Notre Dame 154.36
38. Ohio State 141.80
39. Pittsburgh 139.64
65. Temple 129.56
74. Virginia 127.23
93. Texas 120.55
95. Georgia Tech 119.80
102. Massachusetts 115.95
105. Wake Forest 113.42
124. Boston College 92.95

Scoring Offense (pts./game)
15. Clemson 38.5
17. Stanford 37.2
22. Navy 36.2
29. Ohio State 35.0
30. USC 34.9
31. Notre Dame 34.8
52. Temple 30.8
63. Georgia Tech 29.3
70. Pittsburgh 28.0
85. Texas 26.4
89. Virginia 25.8
108. Massachusetts 22.2
120. Wake Forest 17.4
121. Boston College 17.2

Total Defense (yds./game)
1. Boston College 254.3
7. Clemson 295.7
10. Ohio State 303.5
18. Temple 329.5
27. Pittsburgh 344.3
38. Notre Dame 362.4
39. Wake Forest 363.8
43. Navy 367.4
44. Georgia Tech 368.0
50. Stanford 374.5
70. USC 401.3
81. Virginia 411.5
105. Massachusetts 447.8
107. Texas 452.6

Rushing Defense (yds./game)
2. Boston College 82.8
20. Pittsburgh 126.1
21. Temple 126.2
22. Ohio State 127.3
23. Clemson 128.8
32. Navy 138.4
44. Stanford 146.9
45. USC 147.2
53. Virginia 156.6
56. Wake Forest 161.3
61. Georgia Tech 165.1
65. Notre Dame 166.5
95. Massachusetts 192.9
112. Texas 219.2

Passing Yards Allowed
5. Clemson 166.9
8. Boston College 171.5
12. Ohio State 176.2
28. Notre Dame 195.9
35. Wake Forest 202.5
37. Georgia Tech 202.9
38. Temple 203.3
58. Pittsburgh 218.2
71. Stanford 227.6
73. Navy 229.0
78. Texas 233.4
97. USC 254.2
98. Massachusetts 254.9
98. Virginia 254.9

Team Passing Efficiency Defense
6. Ohio State 101.92
7. Clemson 102.19
9. Boston College 104.66
13. Temple 108.52
54. Stanford 122.88
61. Notre Dame 124.08
66. Pittsburgh 125.62
71. Georgia Tech 127.04
85. Massachusetts 134.91
87. Texas 135.47
88. Navy 136.70
95. Wake Forest 138.89
97. USC 139.89
116. Virginia 151.67

Scoring Defense (pts./game) 2. Ohio State 14.0
4. Boston College 15.3
16. Temple 19.2
18. Clemson 20.2
26. Navy 21.3
34. Notre Dame 22.4
38. Stanford 23.1
49. Pittsburgh 24.6
49. Wake Forest 24.6
56. Georgia Tech 25.8
57. USC 25.9
90. Texas 30.3
93. Massachusetts 31.4
96. Virginia 32.2

Turnover Margin
2. Navy +1.42
9. USC 0.92
11. Texas 0.92
46. Temple 0.31
47. Boston College 0.25
52. Ohio State 0.17
52. Pittsburgh 0.17
65. Stanford 0.00
73. Massachusetts -0.08
80. Clemson -0.15
97. Notre Dame -0.42
105. Georgia Tech -0.58
110. Virginia -0.75
119. Wake Forest -1.08

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.