Perhaps fittingly, one of Florida State’s most prominent and frequent out-of-conference opponents, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, first took the field against the garnet and gold during a brash and unprecedented 5-game road stretch for FSU.
The year was 1981, and the Seminoles’ head coach Bobby Bowden decided to further build Florida State’s brand by challenging 5 of the greatest college football powers in history- in 5 consecutive road games. Even though they only finished with a 6-5 record on the year, FSU turned heads when they went 3-2 at Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and LSU.
Sandwiched in the middle as the third game of the famed “October-fest,” the Noles’ first-ever tilt with the Fighting Irish in South Bend came down to the fourth quarter. Quarterback Rick Stockstill threw his second touchdown pass to break a 13-13 tie seven minutes remaining. FSU held on for a 19-13 win.
At the time of their first matchup, Notre Dame had 10 national titles to their name and were in the midst of their 74th season, while upstart Florida State were in just their 28th year of existence.
As FSU looked to settle the score on the national championship-discrepancy with the old power, they would often be forced to overcome the Irish on their run to a title.
“October-fest” turned heads, but the “Game of the Century” war 12 years later between FSU and ND grabbed the attention of the sports world on November 13, 1993. ESPN’s “College Gameday” realized they stumbled upon a perfect format when Nole alum Lee Corso picked the game in live on-site for the first time.
#1 Florida State wished they stumbled upon a better defense against #2 Notre Dame’s option attack, falling behind 24-7 in the third quarter. Wide receiver Kez McCorvey caught a heroic 11 passes for 138 yards, including a bobbled 20-yard touchdown from Heisman-frontrunning quarterback Charlie Ward with under 3 minutes remaining to cut the lead to just 7.
If Boston College hadn’t saved FSU a week later with 41-39 upset of ND, Ward’s batted pass attempt to tie the game on the final play of the 31-24 loss could have been of much more consequence for Florida State. Nevertheless, the Irish couldn’t capitalize on the great victory, and the Seminoles got the last laugh with their first national championship in ’93.
The second of three contests in a three-year span between the teams came in 1994. It was Florida State’s turn for a dominant run game, and a victory, as running backs Warrick Dunn and Rock Preston each had over 160 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The spectacular Dunn ran his in with under 3 minutes left to win 23-16 in Orlando.
An Orange Bowl shootout on New Year’s Day 1996 saw Notre Dame and FSU combine for over 900 total yards of offense. Senior quarterback Danny Kanell’s final game was one to remember: a 31-26 fourth-quarter comeback win and 4 touchdown passes (3 to wideout Andre Cooper).
For the first time, the two schools met in Doak Campbell Stadium in 2002. Adrian McPherson relieved Chris Rix at quarterback for save face with 2 late touchdowns, but not before the Irish pounded FSU in the third quarter to go up 34-10. Future NFL all-pro Anquan Bolden had 9 catches for 175 yards and a score in the 34-24 loss.
In 2003, tables were turned on Notre Dame’s newfound success in the matchup as well as the season overall. After starting 8-0 the year before, ND fell to 2-6 when Florida State went up to South Bend and destroyed the Irish 37-0. In one of the most complete performances of the “lost decade” for FSU, receiver Craphonso Thorpe had a breakout 217 receiving yards and 2 explosive touchdowns.
A sneak peek at the 2013 National Champs and an upstart undefeated regular season 2012 Notre Dame team came in Orlando in December 2011. In the second bowl matchup between FSU and ND, second-year head coaches Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly still had a lot to prove after dually average 8-4 seasons.
A few of the stars of those future dominant teams rose to the forefront in the Champs Sports Bowl when linebacker Manti Te’o forced a fumble on Florida State’s opening possession that was scooped and scored for a touchdown. Just one play before, safety Lamarcus Joyner had picked off ND to end their opening drive. FSU frustratingly gave the turnover right back.
ESPN’s broadcast cut to a very distressed, young 15-year old with a questionable hair cut when Notre Dame took the 7-0 lead- yours truly. My one moment of TV fame came as fodder for ESPN’s standard “angry fan in stands” camera shot.
(Editor’s note: HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA NEVER LET THE CAMERA CATCH YOU SLIPPING)
Florida State went into halftime still down 7-0 and ND extended their lead to 14 in the third quarter. Hope was scarce until Joyner completely turned the game around, running with as much passion and vigor as any player who has ever worn the garnet and gold when he returned a kickoff 77 yards to set up a Noles field goal. Quarterback E.J. Manuel threw for two scores in the second half and true freshman wideout Rashad Greene had an electric 5 catches for 99 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
FSU went 39-2 in their next 41 games with 3 ACC titles and the final BCS National Championship after the exciting 18-14 bowl win to end 2011.
One of their dramatic victories to keep their 29-game winning streak alive came against the Irish when they met up for the eighth time in 2014.
College Gameday, now a fully-established Saturday tradition, made their way to Tallahassee for #2 Florida State versus #5 Notre Dame. With a stifled run game and a struggling defense, superstar quarterback Jameis Winston took matters into his own hands, completing 23 of 31 passes for 273 yards and 2 touchdowns and converting time and time again on third down (often to Greene).
In a breathtaking finish, Notre Dame’s go-ahead touchdown was called back for offensive pass interference in one of the timeliest penalties in the history of Florida State football. There were just 13 seconds left when future FSU transfer Everett Golson’s pass was picked off on fourth down the next play. FSU squeaked by, as they did all season, 31-27.
Two years ago, Notre Dame racked up 495 total yards and 24 first downs, jumping out to a large halftime lead and cruising to a 42-13 win.
While it may not get the same notoriety as Catholics vs. Criminals, the FSU-Notre Dame game still has the crown jewel of the 1993 contest as well as several other memorable endings and performances. Six of the nine games have had a margin of victory by a possession or less.
Saturday night, current head coach Mike Norvell will look to keep the game close against the heavily-favored Irish.
(FSU 6 Wins, ND 3 Wins):
1981: Florida State 19, Notre Dame 13
1993: Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24
1994: Florida State 23, Notre Dame 16
1995: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 26 (*Orange Bowl: game played on 1/1/1996)
2002: Notre Dame 34, Florida State 24
2003: Florida State 37, Notre Dame 0
2011: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14 (*Champs Sports Bowl)
2014: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27
2018: Notre Dame 42, Florida State 13