Top 10 Notre Dame Football Teams of All-Time

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Athlon Sports ranks the best Fighting Irish teams since the AP Poll debuted in 1934.

<p> Top 10 Notre Dame Football Teams of All-Time</p>

Notre Dame has experienced a sustained stretch of "lean" years since claiming its last national title in 1988, failing to compete on a national level for elite bowls or championships (at least until the 2012 season). That still doesn't take away from the one of the most storied histories in all of college football. National championships, high-profile traditions, decades of winning, hundreds of NFL players, elite coaches and a picturesque campus have made the Fighting Irish one of the most powerful brands in the nation.

Even the College Football Hall of Fame is located in South Bend, Ind.

But how would Manti Te'o match up against The Gipper? Could Tim Brown make Ara Parseghian's disciplined teams pull their hair out? The Irish claim 11 consensus national championships and eight of those took place during the AP era (1934-present), so which one is the best? The fact of the matter is no one will ever know for sure, so trying to rank the best teams in Notre Dame history is virtually impossible. But we're going to try anyway.

1. 1988 (12-0)
Head Coach: Lou Holtz
Holtz and a star-studded coaching staff led the last Notre Dame team to win the National Championship and he did it in style. The only 12-0 team in Irish history rolled through the regular season, defeating four top 10 opponents, including No. 1 Miami, No. 2 USC and No. 3 West Virginia (in the Fiesta Bowl). Holtz was aided by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez on the defense and Jim Strong on offense for a team that defeated 10 of 12 opponents by double figures. The '88 group featured 29 future NFL players and 11 first- or second-round draft picks. The offense was led by two Heisman finalists in quarterback Tony Rice and Raghib Ismail, Tony Brooks, Anthony Johnson and Ricky Waters in the backfield and Andy Heck and Tim Grunhard paving the way. Defensively, all three layers of the defense had star power. Todd Lyght led the secondary while Mike Stonebreaker and Chris Zorich starred in the front seven. This was one of the most complete and utterly talented teams ever assembled.

2. 1947 (9-0)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Johnny Lujack is considered by some to be the greatest player in Notre Dame history and he led his '47 Irish squad to an unbeaten National Championship. Lujack claimed the Heisman Trophy on a team that featured five All-Americans, seven NCAA Hall of Famers and an astonishing 41 future NFL players. The defense pitched three shutouts and allowed more than seven points only once all season (19 at Northwestern). The season was capped by a dominating 38-7 win over rival and No. 3-ranked USC. Strangely enough, ND only played four of its nine games at home in South Bend that year. Yes, an unbeaten Michigan claims the National Championship in 1947 as well, but that doesn't have any relevance on how great this team ranks in Irish lore.

3. 1949 (10-0)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Two years after Lujack won the national title and Heisman, Leon Hart followed suit by claiming the stiff-armed trophy when he led the Irish to an unbeaten National Championship. Unbelievably, Hart was one of three Heisman finalists on this team (Bob Williams, Emil Stiko). And rightly so, this team didn't just beat opponents, it crushed them. This group outscored its opposition 360-86, with wins over No. 4 Tulane, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 17 USC. Six players were selected in the following NFL Draft (1950) and five players off of this powerhouse went on to become NCAA Hall of Famers.

4. 1966 (9-0-1)
Head Coach: Ara Parseghian
Arguably the best team coached by Ara Parseghian, the '66 squad boasted a ridiculous 12 All-Americans including Heisman finalists Terry Hanratty and Nick Eddy as well as Maxwell Award winner Jim Lynch. Historic Irish great Alan Page led a defense that was simply impenetrable, pitching six shutouts and only twice allowing more than seven points. The controversial tie, a 10-10 decision against No. 2 Michigan State in East Lansing, was highlighted by an extremely conservative game plan due to injuries to the star backfield of Hanratty and Eddy. The team returned to full strength following the tie and proceeded to destroy No. 10 USC 51-0 in Los Angeles to clinch the National Championship. Eight seniors off of this title team got drafted the following spring by the NFL.

5. 1973 (11-0)
Head Coach: Ara Parseghian
A deep, talented and speedy backfield helped propel the Irish to an unbeaten 10-0 regular-season mark and meeting with No. 1 undefeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Tom Clements quarterbacked this historic group by finishing his season with a national title-clinching, game-winning drive trailing by two in the final minutes of the game. When Bob Thomas' field goal sailed through the uprights, ND took the 24-23 lead and claimed the AP National Title. Dave Casper and Mike Townshend led an eight-man draft class the following spring.

6. 1977 (11-1)
Head Coach: Dan Devine
The best team of the fairly short Dan Devine era was long on NFL talent. Joe Montana led the offense while Ross Browner, Willie Fry and Bob Golic spearheaded a salty defensive side of the ball. A Week 2 loss to Ole Miss in Jackson, Miss., didn't stop the Irish from eventually matching-up with No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Despite entering the game No. 5 in the polls, a 38-10 beatdown of the Burnt Orange allowed the Irish to jump to No. 1 in the standings and gave Devine his only championship. Browner claimed the Lombardi and Maxwell Awards after his 1976 Outland Trophy while Ken MacAfee earned the Walter Camp Award. Both finished in the top five of the Heisman voting. The '77 team featured seven All-American and eight 1978 NFL Draft picks — none of which was the one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football.

7. 1993 (11-1)
Head Coach: Lou Holtz
The best Notre Dame team not to win a national title came so close to capturing what would have been Holtz' second championship. After rolling through the first ten weeks of the regular season, No. 2 Notre Dame defeated No. 1 Florida State 31-24 to put the Irish squarely in the National Championship driver's seat. However, a painful 41-39 home loss to No. 12 Boston College derailed the Irish's title hopes. A Cotton Bowl win over No. 6 Texas A&M did little to ease the pain of the season finale loss to the Eagles. Lombardi winner and NFL All-Pro Aaron Taylor and Derrick Mayes starred on offense while stud nose tackle Bryant Young paced the defense. This is easily one of the most talented teams Notre Dame has ever assembled and it came two points shy of being ranked much higher on this list.

8. 1946 (8-0-1)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Not only did the 1946 squad go undefeated and claim a national title but it began a 37-0-2 dynasty that led to three championships for head coach Frank Leahy. The only non-victory on the season was a famous 0-0 tie with No. 1 Army in a game played in Yankee Stadium. This team posted five shutouts and didn't allow more than six points in any game. This team outscored its opponents 271 to 24, George Connor won the Outland Trophy, four players were All-Americans and seven players went on to the NCAA Hall of Fame.

9. 1989 (12-1)
Head Coach: Lou Holtz
The year after claiming an unbeaten title, Unitas Award winner Tony Rice returned to lead a loaded Irish backfield. With wins over nationally ranked Michigan (No. 2), USC (No. 9), Air Force (No. 17) and Penn State (No. 17), the Irish were cruising to a second straight national title before a trip to Miami ended any and all hope of a repeat. The No. 7 Hurricanes toppled ND 27-10 and dropped the Irish to No. 4 in the polls. Holtz' squad went on to manhandle No. 1 Colorado 21-6 in the Orange Bowl, leaving Irish fans to wonder what could have been.

10. 1943 (9-1)
Head Coach: Frank Leahy
Angelo Bertelli won the Irish's first Heisman Trophy by spearheading a national championship run in just Leahy's third season in South Bend. Bertelli was one of six All-Americans who defeated No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Navy, No. 3 Army, No. 8 Northwestern and No. 2 Iowa en route to an unblemished 9-0 record. The season finale loss against Great Lakes in Chicago, Ill., didn't stop the Associated Press from awarding Notre Dame with its first AP title.

The best of the rest:

11. 2012 (12-1)
Brian Kelly shocked the world by returning the Irish to the title game. It marked one of two 12-0 regular seasons in the history of Notre Dame football.

12. 1964 (9-1)
Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte earned a share of the national championship under first-year head coach Ara Parseghian.

13. 1992 (10-1-1)
A loaded backfield featuring Rick Mirer, Reggie Brooks and Jerome Bettis only lost to No. 18 Stanford.

14. 1948 (9-0-1)
A team in the heart of the Leahy Dynasty didn't get beat but a season-ending 14-14 tie with USC allowed Michigan to finish No. 1 in the polls.

15. 1941 (8-0-1)
Yet another 0-0 tie with No. 14 Army kept the Irish from topping Minnesota or Alabama for the title.

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