(6) Ohio State Buckeyes 3-0 (1-0) v. (9) Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4-0
While there is no doubt that the rivalry between The Ohio State Buckeyes and That Team Up North is the greatest in all of sports, the unassuming rivalry between the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish comes close. There is an unspoken disdain between the two schools not dissimilar to the level of hatred between The U and the Irish, and the aura of superiority from both sides is palpable. Still, not many people outside the respective fandoms even consider this much of a matchup, much less a rivalry.
Two of the best football programs in the country are only separated by 257 miles. The Buckeyes have the second most wins all-time with 956 and boast the best winning percentage overall (73.3%); the Irish, on the other hand, are 14 wins shy, good for fourth best overall. Of course, the Bucks can brag about having 39 more conference championships than the Golden Domers. However, that’s because the Irish have never played in a conference, choosing to remain independent since being snubbed by Michigan as they attempted to enter the Big 10 conference. The Irish have claimed 11 national titles, while the Buckeyes have won eight, which is good for second and sixth most in the nation, respectively. Interestingly, Notre Dame and The Ohio State share the same number of Heisman Trophy winners, 7-tied for most in the nation (an accolade awarded to the overall best player in college football during a given season).
However, most of the schools’ battles have taken place on the recruiting trail as they’ve only played against one another seven times, including two bowl games. They will meet this Saturday night for only the eighth time in the storied sagas of the two programs.
The late, great Bucks coach, Woody Hayes, refused to play Notre Dame as he was unsure of dividing Ohio’s Catholic population. Others (including then ND athletic director Edward Krause) would claim that Hayes feared having more than Michigan on their schedule. There were even rumors that Hayes himself joked that he was the greatest recruiter for Notre Dame football because if he couldn’t get the kid to sign for the Buckeyes, he would try to steer them to South Bend instead of Ann Arbor.
Over seven previous meetings, the Buckeyes have taken five games, including last season’s 21-10 clash in Columbus. Arguably, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman has more talent this season, and now, with an entire season as a head coach, he may be poised to overcome the Bucks in South Bend.
Date: Saturday, 9/23/23
Time: 7:30 PM, Eastern
Venue: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana (Capacity: 77,622)
Series: Ohio State leads 5-2 (including two Fiesta Bowl victories)
Last Meeting: Ohio State over Notre Dame 21-10 (2022)
What to Watch For:
The Luck of the Irish:
The Irish have decided to roll out their latest incarnation of the green uniform. We’ll have to wait and see if they come out in the Trojan Horse or what sort of fanfare they’ll give the folks down in South Bend. Since its initial introduction, Notre Dame has gone 42-11-5 in the green jersey/gold dome combination. Although they are currently on a five-game winning streak in green, Ohio State will pose the most significant threat in recent history.
Freeman’s Inside Track Against the Buckeyes:
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman is an Ohio native, former Buckeye, and Luke Fickell (former player and coach at Ohio State) disciple. This should give Freeman a unique, if not distinct, advantage as the Buckeyes come to town Saturday night. He has a defensive background as the former defensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati under Luke Fickell. There, he was able to work with future NFL- talent cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner as he transformed the Bearcats into one of the AAC’s best defenses. By 2018, Freeman had his defense leading the conference (top 15 in the nation) in rushing defense, scoring defense, and total defense. The Buckeyes even offered him a position coach spot on their staff prior to the ‘21 season. The college football world still might be trying to figure out Freeman’s style, but one thing is certain: he has placed a high emphasis on putting the right people beside him and recruiting. During the initial press conferences, Freeman made it clear that he wanted the small town of South Bend to be the number one destination for recruits and transfers. Using the transfer portal, Freeman was able to snag quarterback Sam Hartman from Wake Forest, and thus far, it has paid off quite nicely as the Irish are 4-0 and look impressive on offense.
Speaking of Quarterbacks:
It wouldn’t be an Ohio State preview article if we neglected to discuss the quarterbacks of each school. Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, Sam Hartman (and his beard), has become the Gandalf of college QBs as he is set to make his 50th start, which is only one start less than the past three Bucks QBs Fields, Stroud, and McCord combined. This year, Hartman has the statistics to cause worry for the Buckeyes by having already gone 64 of 90 with over 1,000 yards passing (5th in the nation), 13 touchdowns (1st in the nation), and 0 interceptions in his first four games. Although he has scored two touchdowns on the ground, he appears to be containable, as he’s gotten negative yardage on his 16 rushing attempts. He’s also been sacked four times, but expect the Silver Bullets to put a bit more pressure on him than Notre Dame’s previous opponents.
On the other hand, Kyle McCord has improved each game the Buckeyes have played this season. His numbers don’t show it, but the film does. His 815 passing yards (32nd), six touchdowns (38th), with one interception over three games paint a rather bleak, if not conservative, picture of his abilities. However, as pressure mounts, McCord continues to make better reads, has better footwork, is more confident, and looks more like the leader the Buckeyes need. Everyone should remember it is only his fifth start, and going up against a Freeman-led Irish defense may look like a step backward, but have faith, Buckeye nation; this roster is too deep and too talented to let McCord fail.
Saturday night will be an exciting matchup from start to finish, with Notre Dame at home, under the lights, in their lucky green jerseys. The Buckeyes are coming into the most significant matchup of their young season on the heels of their most dominant performance thus far. The two quarterbacks, McCord and Hartman, will go blow for blow early, but I suspect the Buckeye defense will start taking over around the end of the second quarter, allowing the offense to breathe comfortably, expand on the lead, and win the game 38-24 for the Scarlet and Gray.
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)