On This Date in Sports January 2, 1978

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Notre Dame ranked #5 stuns #1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl 38-10. The win by the Irish throws the National Championship picture into chaos. In the Rose Bowl, #4 Michigan is upset by #13 Washington 27-20, while #2 Oklahoma is beaten by #6 Arkansas 31-6 in the Orange Bowl. In the Sugar Bowl, #3 Alabama beats #9 Ohio State 35-6. However, the pollsters impressed by Notre Dame’s win over Texas chose the Irish as the National Champions.

Ranked #3 at the start of the season, Notre Dame coached by Dan Devine suffered an early setback, when they were upset by Ole Miss in the second week of the season 20-13. The loss dropped the Irish out of the Top Ten. After wins over Purdue, Michigan State, and Army, Notre Dame stuck at #11, jump-started their national title hopes when they came out in Green Jerseys in a 49-19 win over #5 USC in South Bend. Wearing green, the rest of the season, Notre Dame who jumped up to #5, rolled through the rest of their schedule and finished the regular season 10-1.

In an era of bowl conference tie-ins, the rankings were tight between 2-6 as #1 Texas coached by Fred Akers was overwhelmingly viewed as the best team in the Nation. Ranked #1 since the middle of the season, the Longhorns were the only unbeaten team at 11-0 as the dominated nearly everyone. Their closest games came against Oklahoma and Arkansas who each lost just one game and were at the top of the rankings. Powering Texas was running back Earl Campbell, who was the nation’s leading rusher with 1,744 yards with 18 touchdowns to win the Heisman Trophy.

A record Cotton Bowl crowd of 76,701 were on hand in Dallas expect a coronation of the Longhorns, who were the clear favorite going into the game. The two teams had a feeling out period in the first quarter as they traded field goals. In the third quarter, Notre Dame took control of the game, forcing three turnovers which led directly to touchdowns. The first was a fumble recovery by Jim Browner, which set up a six-yard touchdown run by Terry Eurrick. Eurrick scored again on a ten-yard run, following a fumble recovery by Willie Fry. The Irish later made it 24-3 on a 17-yard touchdown pass by Joe Montana to Vagas Ferguson, this was set up by an interception by Doug Becker. Texas, got in the end zone with one second left as Randy McEachern connected with Mike Lockett on a 13-yard touchdown pass. Leading 24-10 at the half, Notre Dame extended the lead on a three-yard run by Ferguson. Once again, the Irish offense was set up by a turnover as Steve Heimkreiter picked off McEachern. Meanwhile, Earl Campbell had a solid game with 116 yards on 29 carries, but the Notre Dame defense prevented the Heisman winner from getting into the end zone. In the fourth quarter, Vagas Ferguson had his third touchdown of the game on a 26-yard run, following an ill-fated fake punt by Texas. Ferguson would be named the Cotton Bowl’s offensive MVP, while Bob Golic was named Defensive MVP as the Irish won the game 38-10.

With the upheaval created in the other major New Year’s Day bowls and the Irish impressive win over Texas, the pollsters in a close vote awarded Notre Dame with their tenth National Championship. Alabama, who had been ranked #3 before being leaped over by Notre Dame, finished with the #2 ranking, while Arkansas finished #3, as Texas dropped to #4.