Welcome back to the Greatest Wins in Notre Dame Football History!
In Part 1, we saw the Irish become a national power. Today, we watch Frank Leahy lay waste to the college football landscape.
Part 1: 1887-1940
It was the first year of new head coach Frank Leahy, and the Irish had breezed through their first 5 games before tying Army 0-0 in Yankee Stadium on the first day of November. Up next was No. 6 ranked Navy at Baltimore Stadium. Just 29 days before the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the Irish won a close game and handed the Middies their only loss on the season. Notre Dame would finish unbeaten but without a title at No. 3 in the country.
35-12 win at Michigan
In Part 1 of this series we told you how Michigan did not schedule Notre Dame after losing the 1909 contest. Finally, in 1942 the teams met again and the Wolverines beat ND at home. However, Leahy's Lads would return the favor in '43 with an easy victory in Ann Arbor in the first ever AP Poll matchup between the No. 1 team (Irish) and No. 2 team (Michigan) in the country. Although never given the "Game of the Century" tag this was considered the "Game of the Decade" as Notre Dame gave Michigan its only loss on the season.
33-6 win vs. Navy (Cleveland)
Following the big win over Michigan, the Irish blanked Wisconsin and Illinois by a combined 97-0. Up next was No. 3 Navy in the Forest City. The Irish had no trouble and ran away with the game in the second half.
26-0 win vs. Army (Yankee Stadium)
The brutal scheduled continued as Notre Dame--now the No. 1 team in the country for the 5th straight week--played its second straight No. 3 squad in Army, who moved up in the polls after a tie against Pennsylvania. The big story in this game was Notre Dame playing without star quarterback Angelo Bertelli, who went off to war following the victory over Navy. The team hardly missed a beat as Johnny Lujack directed the offense splendidly.
25-6 win at Northwestern
It was Notre Dame's third straight week away from home and the third straight game against a top 10 opponent as Northwestern came into this one at No. 8 in the country with a 5-1 record. This game set a new attendance record at Northwestern. The game was never close as the Irish led 25-0 with the Wildcats picking up a garbage time score.
14-13 win vs. Iowa Pre-Flight
The Navy commissioned several pre-flight schools in the lead up to American intervention in World War II, and the base on the University of Iowa quickly became a football power in 1943. The Seahawks were unbeaten at this point, leading to Notre Dame's second No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup of the season. This game was billed as the a National Championship game and the Irish rallied twice to win Leahy's first title.
Notre Dame actually lost the next week against Great Lakes Naval Station (another war-time squad assembling talent from all over the country) but were still named champs having beaten the final No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 9, No. 11, and No. 13 teams in the nation.
38-7 win at Southern California
Following the powerful 1943 National Championship season, head coach Frank Leahy (along with dozens of Notre Dame's best players) went off to war. He was back in 1946, quickly won another title, and carried a 17-game unbeaten streak in Los Angeles against 7-0-1 and No. 3 ranked USC for the season finale. The game was never close as the Irish won their second straight National Championship and third of the Leahy era.
12-7 win vs. Northwestern
As the defending back-to-back champions, Notre Dame hosted No. 8 Northwestern, now riding a 24-game unbeaten streak under Frank Leahy. Facing some key injuries on a drab South Bend afternoon, the Irish trailed 7-6 but found enough in reserve to score the game-winning touchdown in the second half. Several turnovers and a couple missed field goals made the score closer than it should have been as Notre Dame out-gained Northwestern 369 to 166 yards. The Irish would go on to tie the regular season finale at USC and narrowly miss out on another title.
32-0 win vs. Southern California
By the time this late November game rolled around, Frank Leahy had been head coach in South Bend for 66 games and he had only lost three times. The Irish unbeaten streak at this point was sitting at an absurd 36 games and the team was once again No. 1 in the country. Earlier in the season Notre Dame had beaten No. 4 Tulane and No. 10 Michigan State but the Green Wave would finish the season unranked and the Spartans down at No. 19 in the country. This late-season game against USC was effectively for another National Championship. This was a ranked Trojan team but they didn't finish in the polls either. However, this game was notable at the time as the largest margin of victory for the Irish in the rivalry.
14-3 win at Texas
27-21 win vs. Oklahoma
9-0 win vs. Southern California
1952 was an up and down year for the Irish against a brutally tough schedule. 6 out of the 10 opponents were ranked at the time of the games with 4 of those teams inside the top 5 in the country. The Irish fell early in the season at home to unranked Pitt and later lost to eventual National Champion Michigan State in East Lansing. However, Notre Dame still put up some big wins and finished No. 3 in the nation. No. 5 Texas was on the schedule for the first time in 20 years and were upset in Austin. The first-ever matchup between the Irish and Sooners happened 5 weeks later with Notre Dame beating No. 4 Oklahoma. To cap off the season the Irish beat No. 2 and undefeated USC in South Bend.
28-21 win at Oklahoma
27-14 win vs. Georgia Tech
1953 was an interesting year in college football. Michigan State joined the Big Ten and the ACC became a conference. Notre Dame opened the season as the No. 1 team in the country and defeated No. 6 Oklahoma on the road in week one. This would be the last time Oklahoma lost a game for several years (see below). A few weeks later the Irish defeated No. 4 and eventual Sugar Bowl-winning Georgia Tech, as well. However, a mid-November tie to Iowa dropped Notre Dame down to No. 2 in the country. Maryland finished No. 1 following the regular season and was awarded the National Championship--the school's first and in the ACC's first year no less. The Terps would go on to lose to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl while Notre Dame was voted No. 1 in the country by 10 different polls.
20-19 win vs. Michigan State
Notre Dame and Michigan State fought some major battles in the late 1940's and early 50's with both programs usually ranked highly at kickoff. This wasn't exactly one of those games. The Spartans would only win 1 game in conference play and were unranked in mid-October before facing the Irish. However, MSU jumped out to a 13-0 lead early in the game stunning the home crowd. The No. 8 Irish (who fell in the polls a couple weeks earlier following a loss as the No. 1 team) eventually crawled back into the game and won. At the time this was tied for the biggest comeback in school history.
7-0 win at Oklahoma
Surely one of the greatest wins in school history, the 1957 upset in Norman was a tremendous dish of revenge. The prior year, the Sooners destroyed Notre Dame 40-0 in South Bend. By the time of this game's kickoff, Oklahoma was riding a NCAA-record 47-game winning streak as two-time defending National Champs, was also holding a record for consecutive games without being shutout, and was an 18-point favorite. The game was scoreless until Notre Dame scored on fourth down from the 3-yard line late in the final quarter. Oklahoma tried to rally, but were picked off in the end zone. The Irish took a knee and carried head coach Terry Brennan off the field.
17-14 win vs. Southern California
Notre Dame only won 2 games in 1963 but one of them was a great win. After opening up the season 0-2 the unranked Irish upset No. 7 USC who were defending National Champions. Although the Trojans had already lost earlier to Oklahoma, this was sweet revenge for a 25-0 blasting at the hands of the Trojans in 1962.