ND Once Mowed Down Four Straight Top 10 Teams

Mississippi State ascended to the top of the college football rankings this week after recording its third straight victory over a Top 10 opponent – something media sources said had only been accomplished five previous times in college football history.

One of those times was actually a four-week stretch of wins over Top 10 foes…by Notre Dame’s 1943 national champions.

Frank Leahy’s third Notre Dame team opened with a 41-0 rout of Pittsburgh, and then hammered Georgia Tech 55-13 in its home opener. Next was a trip to Ann Arbor, where the top-ranked Irish took on #2 Michigan before 86,408 fans and extensive national attention. Notre Dame prevailed 35-12, then followed with shutouts of Wisconsin (50-0) and Illinois (47-0).

Notre Dame vs. Navy: The first of 4 straight wins over top 10 opponents.

Notre Dame vs. Navy: The first of 4 straight wins over top 10 opponents.

After five games, the Irish had outscored their opponents, 228-25. But the schedule was just starting to get interesting. Here is what happened the next four Saturdays:

Oct. 30: A capacity crowd of 77,900 at Cleveland watched the Irish tear apart No. 3 Navy, 33-6, handing the Middies their only loss in an 8-1 season.

Nov. 6: Red Blaik’s 5-0-1 Army team replaced their arch-rivals as the third-ranked team in the land, but were also no match for Leahy’s forces, who bulled their way to a 26-0 triumph before 75,121 at Yankee Stadium.

Nov. 13: The Irish traveled to Evanston to meet No. 8 Northwestern. Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf had brought the Wildcats, coming off a 1-9 record in 1942, to 5-1, including consecutive victories over Ohio State (13-0), Minnesota (42-6) and Wisconsin (41-0). But the Irish express kept rolling, dominating the ‘Cats, 25-6.

Nov. 20: The game of the year, at Notre Dame Stadium. The visitor – the No. 2 ranked Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks. The previous year, the U.S. Navy commissioned pre-flight schools at several colleges, including the University of Iowa. There, the schools conducted three months of rigorous physical training and instruction in basic aerial navigation and communications. Graduates were then sent to basic flight schools and advanced flight training before assignment to the Pacific Fleet.

Frank Leahy's 1943 Notre Dame football national champions.

Frank Leahy’s 1943 Notre Dame football national champions.

Athletics and physical training were among the skills emphasized at the pre-flight schools, where numerous professional and college athletes worked as instructors. Several of them played on the pre-flight schools’ football teams, making them instantly strong in the world of college football, where many schools were missing their top players due to service obligations. The Seahawks lineup included players such as Dick Todd, all-time great from Texas A&M who had already played four seasons with the Washington Redskins: and Frank Maznicki of Boston College who had a standout NFL rookie season with the Chicago Bears in 1942.

The 1943 Iowa Seahawks also had a Hall of Fame coaching lineup. The head coach was former Missouri coach Don Faurot, assisted by two young coaches – Bud Wilkinson and Jim Tatum – who would go on to win national championships at Oklahoma and Maryland, respectively. The Seahwaks were 8-0 and had defeated Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa, Iowa State, and Missouri, all by 14 points or more.

The game would be broadcast on national network radio. Notre Dame, which had now outscored its eight opponents, 312-37, was considered the favorite. Star quarterback Angelo Bertelli had been called to active military service a few weeks earlier, but Johnny Lujack proved to be an ample replacement. Second-generation All-American Creighton Miller – whose father Red Miller starred for the Irish in their 1909 upset of Michigan – was leading the nation in rushing. But it was the Seahawks who took a 7-0 lead into halftime.

Second-generation ND All-American Creighton Miller

Second-generation ND All-American Creighton Miller

The Irish got rolling in the third quarter, with Bob Kelly scoring from a yard out to cap a 65-yard drive, tying the game at 7-7. Later, the Seahawks converted an Irish fumble into a short scoring drive, but the point-after hit the upright, a crucial mistake that made the lead only 13-7. Notre Dame took the ensuing kickoff and marched the length of the field, Creighton Miller scoring from six yards out to tie it. Fred Earley’s extra-point spelled the difference in the final margin, 14-13. Notre Dame batted down a series of long pass attempts by the Seahwaks in the closing minute.

The victory was enough to assure a consensus national championship for Notre Dame, its first since the last of Knute Rockne’s three national titles, in 1930.

Notre Dame’s 1943 victories over Michigan and Iowa Pre-Flight were the first two No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in the history of the AP college football poll, which began in 1936.