A look at Notre Dame's 16 other unbeaten regular seasons

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ND Insider

Notre Dame has completed 17 undefeated regular football seasons — which includes ties — since hiring its first full-time head coach, Jesse Harper, in 1913.

The Irish won national championships in 1943 and 1977, but did not finish those regular seasons unscathed. ND earned eight of its 11 official national championships by finishing No. 1 in the AP Poll, which was introduced in 1936.

Below is a brief look at the Irish teams that finished undefeated, along with the regular-season record, excluding the 2018 team.

1913: 7-0. Jesse Harper’s first season.

Harper led ND to wins over Ohio Northern (87-0), South Dakota (20-7), Alma College (62-0), Army (35-13), Penn State (14-7), Christian Brothers (20-7) and Texas (30-7). While future President Dwight D. Eisenhower watched on the sidelines, end Knute Rockne and ND captured an upset victory over Army that marked a turning point for the program.

1919: 9-0. Rockne’s second season.

The Official NCAA Division I Football Records Book denotes ND, Texas A&M, Illinois, Centre and Harvard as having been named 1919 national champions by a reputable entity. The Irish were retroactively named co-national champion by historian Parke H. Davis and the National Championship Foundation. Purdue was ND’s only opponent to score in double-digits against them.

1920: 9-0. Rockne’s third season.

Davis again retroactively named the Irish national champion, as did the Billingsley Report. Senior halfback George Gipp was a consensus All-American and died on Dec. 14, 1920. Rockne was said to have used his, “… win just one for the Gipper” line, which historians doubt is true, to motivate his 1928 team at halftime against Army. Future President Ronald Reagan played Gipp in the 1940 film “Knute Rockne, All American.”

1924: 9-0. ND’s first official national title.

Quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, halfback Don Miller, halfback Jim Crowley and fullback Elmer Layden — dubbed as the “Four Horsemen” by famous sportswriter Grantland Rice — led ND to its first recognized national championship. The Irish won seven of their nine regular season games by double digits. ND capped its perfect season with a 27-10 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

1929: 9-0. ND’s second official national title.

As Cartier Field was torn down to build Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish played all of 1929 without a home. Rockne was limited due to a fight with phlebitis. Offensive lineman Frank Leahy, who later served as ND’s head coach for 11 seasons, helped bring ND its second official national title. Among the handful of close games that season was ND’s 13-12 victory over USC — in year four of the rivalry — at Soldier Field in front of 112,912.

1930: 10-0. Back-to-back titles for ND.

A then-healthy Rockne added a third national championship in his final season, capping off his 105-12-5 record with the Irish. All-American quarterback Frank Carideo returned and was joined by three future All-Americans — halfback Marchmont “Marchy” Schwartz, fullback “Jumpin’ Joe” Savoldi and halfback Marty Brill. The Irish closed out the season with a 7-6 win over Army and 27-0 thumping of USC.

1941: 8-0-1. Year one for Leahy.

ND finished third in the AP Poll, behind unbeaten Minnesota and Duke, respectively. The Irish nearly coughed up their undefeated season down the stretch. ND tied with Army (0-0) before edging Navy (20-13), Northwestern (7-6) and USC (20-18).

1946: 8-0-1. Leahy’s first of four straight unbeaten seasons.

Frank Leahy returned to coaching from World War II and began one of the best four-year runs in college football history. Despite tying Army 0-0, the Irish won their second national championship via the AP Poll. ND was the AP’s national champion in 1943 — Leahy’s final season before serving.

1947: 9-0. All-world talent.

All five of ND’s offensive linemen — Bill Fischer, Leon Hart, Ziggy Czarobski, George Connor and Jim Martin — were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, along with quarterback Johnny Lujack, who won the 1947 Heisman Trophy and led the Irish to one of the most dominating seasons in college football history. The Irish never trailed in any game and won all but one contest by at least 15 points. Future ND head coach Terry Brennan played halfback for the Irish.

1948: 9-0-1. Runner-up.

ND battled with Michigan all season for the top spot in the AP Poll but finished as runner-up behind the 9-0 Wolverines. Tying with USC 14-14 in the regular season finale sealed ND’s fate.

1949: 10-0. The end of Leahy’s run.

Leahy added a third national title to his historic four-year run. The Irish went 36-0-2 during that span and produced Heisman Trophy winners in Lujack (1947) and Hart (1949). It took until the final play of the year for ND to clinch the perfect season, as the Irish squeaked out a 27-20 victory over SMU.

1953: 9-0-1. Leahy’s final season.

Ten polls named ND as the national champion — but not the AP Poll. The Irish were the only squad to finish undefeated. Maryland was the AP’s champion despite losing its final game against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. ND defeated Oklahoma 28-21 in the season opener. The Irish tied Iowa 14-14 in the third-to-last game of the season.

1966: 9-0-1. Parseghian’s first title.

Ara Parseghian led the Irish to another national title via the AP Poll in his third season at the helm. ND dominated almost every game before squaring off against second-ranked Michigan State. The heavyweight matchup ended in a 10-10 tie with quarterback Coley O’Brien replacing injured starter Terry Hanratty. O’Brien then led ND to a 51-0 rout of USC that allowed it to hang on to its top ranking.

1973: 10-0. Parseghian’s second title.

One game decided ND’s sixth wire-service national championship and ninth overall. Alabama head coach Bear Bryant also led his team to an undefeated regular season before meeting the unbeaten Irish in the Sugar Bowl. A game in which the lead changed six times finished with the Irish on top, 24-23.

1988: 11-0. ND’s most recent title.

Lou Holtz’s third season at the helm resulted in ND’s 11th and most recent national championship. The consensus national title came after the Irish dropped then-No. 1 Miami (31-30) and No. 2 USC (27-10), and then-No. 3 West Virginia (34-21) in the Fiesta Bowl. Current cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght started at cornerback. The Irish relied on a stout defense and an efficient running offense led by quarterback Tony Rice.

2012: 12-0. The Manti Te’o season.

Linebacker Manti Te’o led a defense that finished No. 16 in pass efficiency defense, No. 11 in run defense and No. 7 in scoring defense. The Heisman Trophy runner-up led the nation with seven interceptions. ND remained perfect with tight victories over Purdue (20-17), Stanford (20-13; OT), BYU (17-14) and Pittsburgh (29-26; 3OT). Top-ranked Alabama dismantled ND 42-14 in the national championship game.

Notre Dame safety Pat Terrell (15) celebrates after breaking up a two-point conversion attempt against No. 1 Miami to preserve a 31-30 Irish win on Oct. 15, 1988. Notre Dame would go on to post a 12-0 record and win the national championship. Tribune File Photo
Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne poses with players on the 1918 Irish team.