It is hard to believe that Texas is hoping to beat Notre Dame this Sunday for the first time since 1970. The Fighting Irish have a 9-2 lead in what has proven to be a very one-sided series between college football’s two most storied programs. Look no further than last year’s meeting, a 38-3 season-opening rout by Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Still, there have been some great games along the way, including two that secured a national championship for each program. Here are the five best.
5. Notre Dame 38, Texas 10
Dallas – Jan. 2, 1978
How’s this for national championship chaos? Top-ranked and undefeated Texas, led by running back Earl Campbell, had battered its competition en route to an undefeated regular season. With No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Michigan all committed to other bowls, the Longhorns signed to face No. 5 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. There Texas met an Irish defense that swarmed the Longhorns’ rushing attack, holding it 131 yards on the ground. Notre Dame’s offense, led by Joe Montana, had an easy day with six scoring drives of 50 yards or less. The overwhelming win prompted AP voters to move 11-1 Notre Dame ahead of Alabama, the only other team in the top five to win its bowl game, and crown the Irish national champions. Folks in Tuscaloosa are still bitter.
4. Texas 7, Notre Dame 6
South Bend, Ind. – Oct. 6, 1934
The Irish hosted Texas in Elmer Layden’s first game as head coach. In a typical war of attrition akin to 1930s football, Texas scored in the first quarter and Notre Dame responded with its own in the second, but Wayne Millner missed the extra point. Neither team scored in the second half and that missed PAT proved to be the outcome of the game. Texas’ program had been considered a power in the southwest for many years, but this win vaulted it into national prominence.
3. Notre Dame 24, Texas 11
Dallas – Jan. 1, 1971
The Longhorns went into the Cotton Bowl undefeated with a national championship in their grasp. The Irish were out of contention after having their defense shredded by USC a month earlier. With nothing to lose, Notre Dame stacked nine men on the line of scrimmage and dared Texas to abandon its wishbone attack and throw. The gamble worked and the Irish took a commanding 24-11 halftime lead and held it for the remainder of the game to clinch the upset.
2. Notre Dame 27, Texas 24
Austin, Texas – Sept. 21, 1996
Both teams were undefeated and ranked in the top 10 when they met early in the season. The Longhorns led 24-17 in the fourth quarter, but a ricocheted pass snagged by Irish linebacker Lyron Cobbins on the Texas 34-yard line gave Notre Dame new life. Facing fourth-and-goal, Irish running back Autry Denson sprinted five yards in the end zone with 2:54 left and the game now tied. A weak Texas punt gave Notre Dame the ball on its own 44-yard line with 59 seconds left and a 21-yard run by Denson and 13-yard pass from quarterback Ron Powlus to Malcom Johnson put the Irish on Texas’ 22-yard line. Jim Sanson sealed the game with a 39-yard field goal as time expired.
1. Texas 21, Notre Dame 17
Dallas – Jan. 1, 1970
The Irish decided to lift its “no bowl game policy” and the 1970 Cotton Bowl marked its first postseason appearance since 1925. Their return would be in one of the best bowl games of all-time. The two teams were evenly matched with Texas sporting a wishbone attack that amassed 331 yards on the ground and the Irish responding with a passing attack led by quarterback Joe Theismann. With 6:52 left in the fourth quarter, Theismann hit end Jim Yoder with a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Irish a 17-14 lead. Texas got the ball back on its own 24-yard line and put together a 76-yard drive that chewed up nearly six minutes and included two fourth-down conversions. Running back Billy Dale made it into the end zone with 1:08 left to give Texas the 21-17 lead and the national title. That is the last time Texas has beaten Notre Dame.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)