The Wolverines opened the season number one ranked but were upset by the Wisconsin Badgers. The Fighting Irish won their first game impressively over LSU and took over the top ranking. Going into week two of the season Notre Dame was the favorite and had all the momentum. Anthony Carter and Butch Woolfolk had other ideas as they beat the Irish 25 – 7. The loss turned to be the turning point for the Fighting Irish as they tail-spinned to finish the season at 5-6. Michigan finished 1981 9-3 in the Blue Bonnet Bowl with a win over UCLA.