Notre Dame played “leap frog” to gain its 10th national championship in 1977 when the Irish capped the year with a convincing 38-10 win over previously undefeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl. That victory catapulted the Irish from No. 5 to No. 1 in the final polls, capping off a magnificent season for Coach Dan Devine’s team.
After an early-season misstep against Mississippi, the Irish ran the table against their opponents, including convincing wins over Michigan State, USC (49-19), Georgia Tech (69-14), and Miami (48-10). Notre Dame’s defense was anchored by Outland Trophy winner Ross Browner at one end and Willie Fry at the other. Supporting cast member were led by all-American Bob Golic. The offense was powered by quarterback Joe Montana and running backs Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson. Montana earned his nickname “The Comeback Kid” by engineering rallies over Purdue (31-24) and 15th-ranked Clemson (21-17). The matchup of the 10-1 Irish vs. the undefeated Longhorns was a matchup that remains one of the great games in the history of the Cotton Bowl.
Notre Dame streaked to a 24-10 halftime lead that left Texas and its famed running back Earl Campbell in almost disbelief. The Irish forced six Texas turnovers in the game, and turned five of them into scores. A second-half blitz by the Irish buried Texas and the final 38-10 score left little doubt in the minds of the national pollsters as to who deserved to be No. 1.