Frank Leahy solidified his place among legendary Notre Dame coaches with his third claim to a national title in 1949. Although the team was not as power-packed as the one in 1946 and expectations were not as high for national rankings, Notre Dame nonetheless combined the strength of Heisman Trophy winner Leon Hart with the prowess of quarterback Bob Williams to notch Notre Dame’s fourth national title in the decade.
Notre Dame opened with impressive victories over Indiana, Washington, and Purdue before assuming the No. 1 ranking as it prepared to host then No. 4-ranked Tulane on Oct. 15. The Irish easily dismissed Tulane, 46-7 and then shut out Navy, 40-0 before heading to East Lansing for a tussle with 10th-ranked Michigan State. In that game Williams distinguished himself as the Irish signal caller and led Notre Dame to a 34-21 victory, dispatching doubters who thought the Spartans were ready to knock the Irish out of the top spot in the polls. Williams led the Irish the next week to a thrilling 42-6 win over North Carolina at Yankee Stadium in a game in which Williams threw a daring pass on fourth down from the Notre Dame 19-yard line that sparked the Irish.
Riding a 9-0 record into Dallas for its season-ending game against Southern Methodist, everyone assumed an easy win and another undefeated season for Leahy. But SMU quarterback Kyle Rote had different ideas. He led SMU to two quick scores in the fourth quarter to pull SMU into a 20-20 tie with Notre Dame. The Irish countered with a touchdown to go up 27-20, but Rote drove the Mustangs down the field one final time before Jerry Groom made a game-saving interception on the final play of the game. The win secured the third national title in four years for Leahy and the Irish.