On this day in 1978, Notre Dame walloped Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl to win the national title. For those who find themselves griping every year about how the Bowl Championship System (BCS) screws at least one deserving team over each year, this is a shining example of how arbitrary the system used to be.
Going into the bowl season, Earl Campbell and the undefeated, number-one ranked Texas Longhorns were scheduled to play Joe Montana and the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl. No. 2 Oklahoma was facing off against no. 6 Arkansas in the Orange Bowl. Third-ranked Alabama was playing ninth-ranked Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, and no. 4 Michigan was pitted against Pacific-8 Champion Washington in the Rose Bowl. In theory, five teams had legitimate shot at the national title, provided that they win and everybody else lose.
Notre Dame kicked off the festivities with its crushing defeat of Texas as running back Vegas Fergus ran for three touchdowns. Michigan was unable to capitalize and dropped a 27-20 loss to Washington. Knowing that the national title was within its grasp, Oklahoma was still drubbed by Arkansas 31-6 in what would be the worst loss of Barry Switzer’s college coaching career.
Alabama, however, took care of business with a 35-6 win over Ohio State. Nevertheless, Associated Press voters were so impressed with the Fighting Irish that they awarded them the national championship.
Thirty-five years later, this is by no means a travesty (but I would not be shocked if some Alabamans are still poring over every poll from 1977 with the hope of listing another national title in Bryant-Denny Stadium). Yet is important for the fans that screamed “Death to the BCS” – and got their wish – to remember that things used to be a hell of a lot worse.