LAS VEGAS — BYU’s football program has a large national following, thanks in part to the school being sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

There are members of the church everywhere, and millions of them religiously follow Cougar sports, particularly football. It is not uncommon to see 10,000 or more BYU fans at venues thousands of miles away from Provo, such as last month when BYU walloped South Florida 50-21 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

However, BYU’s following pales in comparison to that of the University of Notre Dame, the private Catholic university in South Bend, Indiana. Not only does Notre Dame have a huge, worldwide following, it also has dozens, if not hundreds, of reporters that cover the football program’s every move.

“I think for most Irish fans, the Cougars are the epitome of a capable, dangerous, veteran team that should not beat Notre Dame.” — Tim O’Malley of Irish Illustrated on BYU

In the week leading up to Saturday’s showdown between the No. 16 Cougars and the unranked Fighting Irish at Allegiant Stadium (5:30 p.m. MDT, NBC), the Deseret News reached out to a couple of those reporters to get their perspective on the series, and whether or not the game pitting two of the largest private schools in the country means as much to Notre Dame as it does to also-independent BYU.

Todd Burlage has covered Notre Dame football the past 23 years, most recently as a contributor to Blue and Gold Illustrated and BlueandGold.com and as co-host of “The Gold Standard” podcast.

Related
Commentary: Was Notre Dame ever really BYU’s friend?

Tim O’Malley is a writer for Irish Illustrated, 247sports.com and Fox Sports, among other outlets and publications.

Here are their answers to various questions posed by the Deseret News; some responses have been edited for clarity and brevity:

Burlage on the perception of BYU among Notre Dame players, coaches and fans:

“Honestly, BYU doesn’t much move the ND needle, though it might after this weekend. It’s a really good and well-coached Cougar team. The 1994 BYU/ND game to me holds the most significance other than 2012. 

“BYU came to ND and won 21-14. It was ND’s second-straight loss (at Boston College a week earlier) and third of the season. 

“That loss to BYU knocked Lou Holtz and his previously No. 17 Irish out of the Top 25 for the first time since the 1987 preseason poll to start Holtz second season at ND.

“It was like a nine-year stretch of being ranked for ND. That ’94 BYU loss very much changed perceptions and accelerated the departure of Lou Holtz.”

BYU coach LaVell Edwards and Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz talk at midfield following game Oct. 15, 1994.
BYU coach LaVell Edwards and Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz talk at midfield following game Oct. 15, 1994. | Mark Philbrick, BYU Photo

O’Malley on perception of BYU among Notre Dame players, coaches and fans:

“I think for most Irish fans, the Cougars are the epitome of a capable, dangerous, veteran team that should not beat Notre Dame. For instance, BYU’s best teams over the last few years — 2020, 2021, 2022 — have coincided with Notre Dame also going 25-6 with a playoff appearance in that span.

“This game was earmarked in the preseason as Notre Dame’s “trap” but that assumed a 3-1, top-10-ranked Irish team vs. 4-1 BYU due to a split against Baylor/Oregon. Only the latter pertains today. 

Related
Remembering 1994 and 2004: BYU’s wins over mighty Notre Dame have been few and far between

“Physicality and good quarterback play would be the generic description of the Cougars program from most Irish fans. They certainly grabbed every fan’s attention in 2020 for the quickly-scheduled contest with fellow undefeated Coastal Carolina, so in that respect, they earned respect and have continued a strong run since.”

Burlage on whether Notre Dame feels a link of commonality with BYU due to being a college football independent and a faith-based institution:

“Again, not trying to be disrespectful or dismissive, (but) these two have played only eight games, with very little on the line, historically speaking. This is not a frequent enough meeting to elicit feelings like it does with Boston College (a private, Jesuit research institution in Massachusetts).

“BYU and ND had the independent connection, but I don’t think that amounted to much optically. There aren’t many recruiting battles, regionally or mission-based. I personally think ND and BYU should have played every year. I love the BYU program. 

“I don’t know how good BYU was in 1993, but No. 3 ND played out there and won big in a prime-time game. That’s the 11-1 season with the (No. 1 vs. No. 2) matchup with Florida State, a week before the epic loss to BC.”

O’Malley on the connection between BYU and Notre Dame:

“If they did (have a connection), the allure of the playoff dollar has greatly mitigated, if not eradicated it. Couple that with the uncertainty of conference alignment and I don’t think Brigham Young is viewed as a partner in that regard. They could’ve been one of the partners, had other programs capable of independence — Texas, for instance — chosen that route.”

O’Malley on whether this is just another Shamrock Series game for the Irish, or more than that:

“The timing of this question is pertinent because most of these Shamrock games are set up to be a walk-in-the-park for the Irish. A blowout of No. 12 Syracuse in 2018 and last year’s 41-13 blowout upset of six-point favorite Wisconsin stand out among two handfuls of mismatches in the Shamrock Series.

“No one feels that way about Brigham Young, though Irish fans have again talked themselves into a win by virtue of Notre Dame’s resurgent offense and the Cougars’ nationally televised sleep-walk affair against Utah State. 

Related
‘This is why we came to BYU’: Playing against Notre Dame, especially in Vegas, will be a thrill for Cougars

“Las Vegas plus a ranked foe — and one respected for its consistency if not playoff-level threat — makes this the second-most anticipated Shamrock game behind last year’s Wisconsin matchup at Soldier Field. 

“We live in a week-to-week sport, and as such, I think 90% of Notre Dame fans expect a victory, but most feel it will be a fourth-quarter finish.”

Burlage on past BYU-Notre Dame game, or games, that stand out:

“In 2012, it felt like Notre Dame was kind of living a lie heading into the BYU game. And when the Cougars went up 14-7 second quarter, it felt like the Irish smoke and mirror show was over, especially with Tommy Rees starting in place of an injured Everett Golson in the game. 

“This game remains memorable because it really looked like this was part of the three-game stretch that was going to derail a fragile undefeated run for Notre Dame and spoil what ended up with a place in the BCS national championship. 

“Before BYU, No. 5 ND was coming off a 20-13 overtime win vs. No. 17 Stanford. Then, one week post-BYU, ND played at No. 8 Oklahoma as a 10.5-point underdog. Given all it took to beat BYU, nobody gave ND a chance against OK. Somehow the Irish won in Norman in what will forever remain Brian Kelly’s grandest moment coaching here. 

“No BYU player to me stood out in that game. The Cougars did very little offensively and ND ran for a bunch of yards, if I remember correctly. 

“In 2013, it was kinda of the same thing. ND already had three losses before that nondescript meeting. It was really a meaningless game for both teams. I think it was snowing. Somehow BYU tragically let Cam McDaniel rush for 100-plus yards, I believe. (BYU quarterback) Taysom Hill had a good all-around game, nothing legendary. 

O’Malley on past Notre Dame-BYU game, or games, that stand out:

“Most ardent Notre Dame fans remember the 2004 and 2005 games more, I think, because the first was such a harsh dose of reality for the program, and the beginning of the end of the Tyrone Willingham era.

“I think the 2012-13 BYU teams are remembered by Irish fans as solid, oddly favorited in the 2013 rematch, and for having Taysom Hill.

“BYU in 2012 had a chance at a fourth-quarter win over undefeated Notre Dame and fill-in quarterback Tommy Rees, but that game was sandwiched on the schedule by Notre Dame’s two most memorable contests — a goal-line stand win vs. Stanford in overtime and a blowout of heavily favored Oklahoma in Norman.”


Cougars on the air

No. 16 BYU (4-1) 

vs. Notre Dame (2-2)

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT

View Comments

Allegiant Stadium

Las Vegas, Nevada

TV: NBC

Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.