Duke-Notre Dame Has Never Meant This Much

Duke and Notre Dame have played seven times, but due to a variety of circumstances, no meeting has had as much implications as this one.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Duke 5-2
Source: Winston-Salem Journal

Duke and Notre Dame are two schools on opposite ends of the college football lexicon. Even casual fans know this fact. Despite the two programs having opposite fortunes on the gridiron, the two schools have seven meetings in a series that dates back to the Eisenhower administration (1958).

Unfortunately, neither team has come into a meeting where both were in the midst of a great season. Either one team was excellent, or neither was. Look at this comparison of Duke and Notre Dame's records in years where they played each other.

  • 1958: Notre Dame (6-4) vs. Duke (5-5)
  • 1961: Notre Dame (5-5) vs. Duke (7-3)
  • 2007: Notre Dame (3-9) vs. Duke (1-11)
  • 2016: Notre Dame (4-8) vs. Duke (4-8)
  • 2019: Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Duke (5-7)
  • 2020: Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Duke (2-9)

The perfect examples of this were in 2007 and 2016. It is a strange coincidence that Duke appeared on the schedule in two of Notre Dame's worst seasons over the past 60 years. In 2007, Notre Dame came into their penultimate game with a 1-9 record and the Blue Devils had their own 1-9 record to match. Nine years later, Duke beat Notre Dame in a season where both finished 4-8.

The most common occurrence in the series is one school earning national attention while the other has a season that makes them an afterthought. For instance, people remember Notre Dame's wins over Michigan State and USC in their 1966 national title year, but few people realize they beat Duke 64-0 the week before "The Game of the Century."

The roles flipped five years earlier in 1961 when Notre Dame visited Duke. The Fighting Irish were Duke's final opponent in their ACC Championship season. Despite having a 6-3 record, the Blue Devils received no bowl offers, so the Notre Dame game was their quasi-bowl.

Unfortunately, being deep in the doldrums of the Joe Kuharich years, the Fighting Irish only amassed a 5-4 record to that point. Duke dominated the Irish 37-13 in a game forgotten by both fanbases.

The only Duke-Notre Dame games that may have had the hype of this weekend's game are the aforementioned 1961 game or the 1958 game. In 1957, Duke went 6-3-2 and earned a bid to the Orange Bowl, where they lost to Oklahoma, while Notre Dame went 7-3 the year before.

However, both teams underperformed before their October 18 meeting, with Duke starting 2-2 and Notre Dame starting 2-1. Notre Dame was the only ranked team in the matchup, at number 12, as they survived with a 9-7 win.

This weekend's Notre Dame-Duke game is uncharted territory. The most shocking development is this game is a playoff resume-builder for Duke.

While there is no room for error for Notre Dame, Duke can strengthen their playoff resume immensely with a win over the Fighting Irish. It could be a needed boost should Duke win the ACC with a 12-1 record and split the regular season and ACC Championship meetings with Florida State.

The Fighting Irish and Blue Devils have waited nearly 70 years for a meeting of this magnitude. This game deserves special attention because implications of this magnitude may never surround this matchup again.