The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are a blue blood of college football, and with 11 national championships, seven Heisman winners and over 100 All-Americans, few others in the sport match their prestige
College football is full of other storied programs with similar histories, all of whom have struggled against Notre Dame. The Alabama Crimson Tide, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the USC Trojans and the Oklahoma Sooners to name a few. Yet only two teams have played multiple games against the Fighting Irish and never lost; the highly-decorated Georgia Bulldogs and… the Oregon State Beavers?
Oregon State has played Notre Dame twice in the program’s history and has come out on top both times. And not in some obscure game played in the early 1900s, but instead in two bowl games, each played in the 2000s. One of those games, the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, capped off the winningest season in program history, a season celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
For the current generation of Oregon State students, a group that has seen only two winning seasons in the past 10 years and a combined record of 14-46 since 2015, the Beavers’ success at the turn of the century might come as a surprise. But the program’s recent rough streak has not always been the case for Oregon State football.
The 2000s were a much different time for the Beavers. Head coaches Dennis Erickson and Mike Riley led Oregon State to nine bowl games and had only two losing seasons from 1999 to 2009. Given that the Beavers had only been to six bowls in the other 92 years in the program's history, the 2000s can be considered the program’s glory years.
Yet, for all of its regular-season success with an 11-1 record, that 2000 team that capped off its PAC10-winning season with a 41-9 win of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl could be considered the best of the era.
The year before, Erickson’s first as head coach, was Oregon State’s first winning season in 29 years. It was a moment Beavers fans everywhere were waiting for, including superfan Marvin “Beaverman” Yonamine, who is known for having worn Oregon State gear for over 7,000 days and counting.
“In 1999 when we had a winning season and became bowl eligible I cried,” Yonamine said.
While that 29-year streak was broken and expectations were raised, a 7-5 debut season for Erickson at Oregon State, one that ended in a loss to Hawaii at the Oahu Classic, pales in comparison to all that the Beavers achieved the following season.
That year, Oregon State won their conference for the first time in 36 years. They beat USC for the first time in 33 years. They had 10 or more wins for the first time in program history, with their only loss being a close one on the road to a Washington Huskies team that finished the season ranked #3 in the country.
Had the Beavers won that game, they likely would have finished undefeated and in the National Championship game. Instead, the consolation prize was playing in the program’s first Fiesta Bowl against perennial contender Notre Dame to prove that they belonged at the top of college football.
Oregon State proved they belonged and then some, handing the Fighting Irish their second-most lopsided loss ever in a bowl. Only a late touchdown for Notre Dame prevented it from being their worst ever bowl loss, an honor that instead goes to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who beat the Fighting Irish 40-6 in the 1973 Orange Bowl.
The Beavers dominated Notre Dame on both sides of the ball. Current Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith lobbed three touchdown passes to future NFL Pro Bowlers Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh, while the defense held Notre Dame to only 155 yards all game.
“The score doesn’t indicate how lopsided the game was,” Yonamine said. “Again after the game, I cried driving home.”
It was a signature win for a program that had been an afterthought in the sport for the past 30 years; a period where Notre Dame had claimed three national titles.
“Notre Dame is the most storied program in college football history,” Yonamine said. “There were no college football playoffs then but OSU was the best team in the nation on Jan. 1 2001. Beaver Nation was on top of the world after the Fiesta Bowl.”
The win meant so much to Yonamine, that that became the day that he started counting his streak of wearing Beavers gear, a streak that continues to this day.
That win landed Oregon State at number four in the final AP Poll of the season, setting the expectations high for the future. The Beavers backed that hype up with multiple bowl trips in the following years. This included an eventual rematch with the Fighting Irish in the 2004 Insight Bowl.
Even with a completely different cast of characters, Mike Riley as head coach and a much different roster, the Beavers were able to blow out the Fighting Irish again, this time with a 38-21 scoreline. The Oregon State offense was led by Derek Anderson this time, who’s 358 passing yards in the game gave him 11,249 for his entire career. This was good for the second-most passing yards in conference history at the time, behind only former Heisman winner Carson Palmer of USC.
Oregon State and Notre Dame have not faced off since or before those two meetings and thus the Beavers have maintained their undefeated record against the Fighting Irish. Meanwhile, the other PAC-12 teams in the Pacific Northwest, Washington, the Oregon Ducks, and the Washington State Cougars, have never beaten Notre Dame. Combined, they’ve gone 0-11-1 against the Fighting Irish.
In a sport that’s dominated by the usual suspects year after year, Oregon State besting Notre Dame twice is a rare feat. And in 2020, the Beavers will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of their first victory-- and the 11-1 season that went with it.