M vs. ND; All-Time Wins and Winning Percentage. EDITED for Yay Notre Dame.

Submitted by J.W. Wells Co. on September 23rd, 2016 at 9:54 AM

EDIT:  So Notre Dame obliged us by doing their best impression of basketball season, and Michigan now leads, .7307 to .7306.  Wolverine 247 is reporting it, but their numbers are way off.  They're reporting .7324 to .7323.  I have no idea how they came up with those numbers; they don't make sense at all.  Even Notre Dame's preseason media guide reported their all-time percentage as .732 (with a preseason record of 892-313-42); there's no way a 1-3 record puts them at .7323.

EDITED AGAIN:  Wolverine 247 has corrected their numbers.


A few MGoUsers have noted that Michigan can retake the lead from Notre Dame in all-time winning percentage tomorrow, if Michigan beats Penn State and Notre Dame loses to Duke.  Anyone want to delve deeper into both the races for all-time winning percentage and number of wins?

The current records of the schools are:

Notre Dame:  893-315-42, 1250 GP, .7312

MICHIGAN:  928-331-36, 1295 GP, .7305

(Note that the NCAA figures a tie as half won and half lost.)


All-Time Best Winning Percentage:

Until 2004, for decades Notre Dame easily had the highest all-time winning percentage among all schools.  I suspect that during most of that time, if Michigan was not #2, it was at least third or fourth on the list; the point-a-minute era gave Michigan a good head start over most schools, Crisler righted the ship a bit in the ‘40s, and then Bo came along.

Notre Dame first overtook Michigan in all-time winning percentage in 1920, as the Rockne Era was just ramping up and Fielding Yost was starting to slow down a bit at Michigan.  The big day was October 23, 1920, when Michigan lost to Illinois and Notre Dame beat Valparaiso; Notre Dame slipped ahead that afternoon, .7917 to .7898, and didn’t look back for more than 80 years.

Flash ahead to the end of the 2003 season, when Notre Dame’s 84-year lead was shaved to just .0001 after Chris Perry and John Navarre beat Ohio State with Notre Dame not playing that day.

On opening day in 2004, Michigan took over the lead, .7461 to .7454, with a win over Miami (Ohio) and a Notre Dame loss at BYU.  But the very next week in South Bend, Garrett Rivas kicked field goals instead of a rookie Chad Henne throwing touchdowns, and the unranked Irish upset the Wolverines 28-20.  Notre Dame retook the lead, .7457 to .7454, and maintained that lead for three weeks.  On October 2, Notre Dame lost to Purdue and Michigan won at Indiana to retake the lead .7461 to .7456; this time, instead of just a week, Michigan would hold a very thin lead for nine years.

December 28, 2013 was our next pivotal moment, with Michigan losing to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and Notre Dame beating Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.  Notre Dame retook the lead .7330 to .7324, and that’s more or less where we are today.

If Michigan beats Penn State tomorrow and Notre Dame loses to Duke, Michigan will inch ahead of the Irish by the narrowest of margins, .7307 to .7306.

Looking ahead, if you’d easily like to predict the course of the percentages over the season, given the two schools’ number of games played and percentages of past wins and ties, a win these days raises the school’s percentage by about .0002.  A loss lowers the school’s percentage by about .0006.

It’s fascinating to look at a graph of the two schools’ season-end winning percentages over the past 100 years:

The rise and fall over the century is nearly identical.  Rockne took the lead over from Michigan and built it up.  Both schools experienced similar drops in the 1930s until rising again in the Leahy and Crisler years.  Both took dips again in the 1950s.  Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine righted the ship for the Irish in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Bo did the same for Michigan.  The difference then was that aside from Lou Holtz’s uptick in the late ‘80s, Notre Dame experienced a slow but steady decline starting with the Gerry Faust years, while Bo, Gary Moeller, and Lloyd Carr continued slowly but surely to build the numbers for Michigan.

The highest winning percentage Michigan ever reached was .8228, on November 25, 1905.  The Wolverines beat Oberlin at Regents Field that day, 75-0, in the last win of Fielding Yost’s amazing point-a-minute unbeaten streak.  The next week Michigan would lose to Chicago 2-0 at Marshall Field in “The First Greatest Game of the Century” when Amos Alonzo Stagg had finally bought enough players to beat Yost (plug for John Kryk's fabulous and fascinating book: "Stagg vs. Yost: The Birth of Cutthroat Football").

Notre Dame’s highest ever winning percentage was .8221, reached on November 14, 1931 in a 20-0 win over Navy in Baltimore.  The Irish would lose their next game at home to USC, 16-14.

So not only do the schools' historical rise and fall in percentage roughly match on the graph, but each school reached its historical apex at roughly .822, and could climb no higher.

Biting at the heels of Notre Dame and Michigan are (current percentages as of last weekend):

1.  Notre Dame .7312

2.  MICHIGAN .7305

3.  Boise State .7254

4.  Ohio State .7230

5.  Oklahoma .7204

6.  Alabama .7187

7.  Texas .7105

Ohio State is particularly alarming on that list, given (1) the recent gaudy record juggernaut in Columbus that doesn't look like it's stopping anytime soon; and (2) a Michigan loss to Ohio State corresponds to a roughly .0008 swing in all-time percentage -- Michigan really needs to stop losing to the Buckeyes, obvs.


All-Time Number of Wins:

Michigan started playing football nine years before Notre Dame, and played more games than the Irish did in Notre Dame’s first few years.  As of today Michigan has played 45 more games.

Michigan always had a commanding lead on Notre Dame in number of wins until the 1960s, when Bump Elliot’s lean tenure at Michigan coincided with Ara Parseghian’s reboot of Notre Dame’s program.

Notre Dame finally caught Michigan in all-time wins on November 24, 1967.  On the day after Thanksgiving, Notre Dame won at Miami to tie Michigan’s 501 wins; Michigan lost the next day to Ohio State, and the teams would open 1968 tied.

1968 opened with Notre Dame beating Oklahoma and Michigan losing to California, for a ND one-win lead.  The next week the tie was on again, with a Michigan win at Duke and a Notre Dame loss to Purdue.  Bump’s last season was one of his best, and Michigan didn’t lose a game the rest of the way except to Woody Hayes’s national champs; 1968 finished with Michigan one win ahead, 509-508.

Bo kept that one-win lead through 1969, with the year finishing 517-516, advantage Good Guys.

Notre Dame would tie Michigan again at the end of the 1970 season, with a win over No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl; 526-526.

Michigan finally pulled ahead for good  in 1971; right away Michigan beat Northwestern for win #527 while Notre Dame didn’t play on opening weekend.  Michigan’s 11-1 season vs. Notre Dame’s 8-2 put Michigan ahead 537-534.  Notre Dame kept relatively close to Michigan until 1981, when ND’s 5-6 record really put them behind the 8-ball against Michigan’s 9-3.

As with winning percentage, in total wins Michigan was greatly helped by the Bo/Mo/Lloyd relatively steady hands at the wheel while ND foundered with Gerry Faust, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis.  And Bo’s record in the ‘70s was good enough to leave just about everyone in the dust, even Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine.

A few seasons back, before Texas fell off the cliff for a few years, the Longhorns briefly moved ahead of Notre Dame for #2 on the wins list.

Next up on the wins list behind Michigan and Notre Dame are (as of last weekend):

1.  MICHIGAN, 928

2.  Notre Dame, 893

3.  Texas, 888

4.  Nebraska, 883

5.  Ohio State, 878

6.  Alabama, 867

7.  Oklahoma, 861



September 23rd, 2016 at 10:09 AM ^

About small % margins and straight-up win totals, this was not only entertaining but quite educational. Thanks for the awesome post!


I'm interested to see how OSU is gonna end up whenever the Meyer era ends in Columbus. Could easily see them move to 3rd in both lists in short time. Scary thoughts...


September 23rd, 2016 at 10:19 AM ^

Is based on very basic math (72 wins to 1000, average 9 wins a year), but I'll bet they get there in about 8 seasons.


Even if OSU won 11 games a year, it would take 11+ seasons. Notre Dame would have to essentially make the playoff every year to have a punchers chance at a Michigan program that looks poised to average at least 8 wins a season.


Long story short, with Harbaugh around, we have little to fear when it comes to getting to 1000 wins first.


September 23rd, 2016 at 11:38 AM ^

The big thing is getting to 1,000 wins first while I'm still alive to see it.

I'm not as old as MGrowold, but I have a fatalistic view of life. Thanks to Harbaugh, I think we'll get to 1000 first and I'll be around to see it. I wasn't so sure during the RichRod and Hoke years.


September 23rd, 2016 at 10:16 AM ^

I was pretty much aware of the winning percentage stats. (And yes, I'm still bitter about losing to that shitty Notre Dame team in 2004, even though we overtook them a couple weeks later.).

The real eye opener is OSU, thanks to Tressel and Meyer. I wasn't paying attention enough to know that they closed in THAT much and are now only 50 wins behind us. Those assholes need (and deserve) a decade of RichRod/Hoke results...if there were any justice in this world.

And a small correction even though I'm too lazy to look it up. I doubt Oklahoma has only 681 wins. Is that a typo on your part?

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


September 23rd, 2016 at 10:18 AM ^

It's like you wrote this just for me!  I have wondered about exactly this history in the past, I remember thinking we were in good shape for a long time when ND had a 3-9 season, it turned out to not be very long at all until we had our own.

Thanks for doing this.

J.W. Wells Co.

September 23rd, 2016 at 10:52 AM ^

Ha yes, good point.  I'll let you argue that one for history.  Every school started off at either .000, .500, or 1.000.

And for that matter, Michigan's win percentage after the 1880 season was .8333 (2-0-1), but it seems silly to count that... like something STAEE would do. 

M Ascending

September 23rd, 2016 at 11:21 AM ^

Boise State needs to join a Power 5 conference.  Otherwise, with far fewer total games played, and a weak schedule each year, they may ascend to No. 1 very soon.  That would be an absolute travesty!


September 23rd, 2016 at 11:42 AM ^

Ohio State and Boise State are both bigger threats than Notre Dame in the long run to this record. 

I have confidence we will wrest it away from the Irish and build a decent margin in the next 5 years or so. 

OSU looks poised to keep gaining. 


God damn, we really need Harbaugh to beat them this year. 


September 23rd, 2016 at 3:50 PM ^

If my math is correct, OSU will take over with the highest win percentage if they win roughly 8 more games than UM and ND over the next few years. That would be unbearable. Harbaugh and company need to start beating OSU regularly so that doesn't happen.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


September 23rd, 2016 at 11:20 PM ^

Awesome post, informative and entertaining, thanks for sharing. One quick question, where did you pull your win/loss/tie stats from? I have an nd pal trying to convince me that this is accurate, http://www.cfbdatawarehouse.com/data/misc/div_ia_winning_pct.php and while the numbers are quite similar to the ones you quote, each category favors nd a bit and gives them a larger % cushion as a result.

J.W. Wells Co.

September 24th, 2016 at 7:21 AM ^

No, it's not even that the page you've linked isn't updated yet for this season... it's just completely wrong.

Notre Dame's official online media guide for this season (http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/nd/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2016-17/misc_non_event/16-media-guide.pdf ... scroll to page 139) lists the Irish's all-time record as 892-313-42 (now 893-315-42 after three games).  Your buddy's link lists 892-314-41.  I don't know how you reconcile that at all, except to say that whoever runs the site at that link was working with very poor information or has very fat thumbs.

Michigan's official game notes for this week (http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/mich/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2016-17/release/release_20160919aaa.pdf ... scroll to page 2) lists the Wolverines' all-time record (updated as of last weekend) as 928-331-36.  Your buddy's link lists 925-333-38.  Again, I have no idea how you reconcile that.

(Also, to review the history of the winning percentage and wins races, I went season-by-season for each school, adding up the cumulative record per each school's official season record history... in each case, the totals added up to each school's published official all-time record, as one would expect.)

Your buddy and his goofy site are just plain wrong.