The Most Unbreakable Records in College Football

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2015

The Most Unbreakable Records in College Football

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    Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard and Arnold Tucker at Army in 1946
    Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard and Arnold Tucker at Army in 1946Associated Press

    What makes a record unbreakable?

    Is it the wideness of the gap between the old record and the new, or how rare it is for a player/team to even come close to breaking it?

    How about a record’s age?

    Think about it, if a record hasn’t been broken in 50 or 75 years, does that make it more unbreakable?

    Age may be the only quantifiable way to define the likeliness of shattering an all-time mark.

    Even though the game of college football has changed immeasurably since 1869, when Rutgers and Princeton squared off in what looked more like a Rugby match, certain records have stood the test of time.

    According to the NCAA FBS Record Book, following are 25 of the oldest records in the history of college football.

    As a note, records co-held by players, groups of players or teams are not included.   Single-game, team records mentioned include at least one current FBS team.

25. Fewest Yards of Total Offense Gained, Single Game

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    Syracuse in 1959
    Syracuse in 1959HF/Associated Press

    Date:  Oct. 18, 1947

    Record Holder:  Syracuse

    Record:  -47 yards

    Syracuse passed for 60 yards and rushed for minus-107 in its 40-0 loss to No. 9 Penn State in 1947.  The Orange finished the season 3-6, averaging a mere 8.6 points per game.

    The performance also earned the Penn State defense the NCAA FBS record for fewest yards allowed in a single game.

24. Fewest Rushing Yards Allowed per Game

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    Penn State in 1955
    Penn State in 1955Paul Vathis/Associated Press

    Date:  1947

    Record Holder:  Penn State

    Record:  17 yards per game

    Penn State’s 1947 rush defense is the most prolific in college football history, allowing a total of 153 rushing yards in nine games.  To compare, the best performance in the last decade came in 2006, when Michigan’s D held opponents to an average of 43.4 rushing yards per game.

    The Nittany Lions finished 1947 with a 9-0-1 record and a No. 4 ranking in the final AP poll. They also set the NCAA FBS record for the lowest average yards allowed per rush (minimum 240 rushes), 0.64 yards.

23. Most Yards Gained per Rush, Career (Minimum 300 carries)

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    Davis in 1943, his first season at Army
    Davis in 1943, his first season at ArmyAnonymous/Associated Press

    Date:  1943-46

    Record Holder:  Glenn Davis, Army

    Record:  8.26 yards per rush

    Army’s Mr. Outside rushed 358 times as a collegian, racking up 2,957 yards along the way.  To compare, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon just wrapped up his impressive career with 4,915 yards on 631 carries. That’s 7.79 yards per carry, a half yard per rush off Glenn’s all-world mark.

    Davis also holds the record for the most yards gained per rush, season (minimum 75 rushes), set in 1945 with 11.51 yards per rush.

22. Most Passes Attempted Without Completion, Single Game

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    West Virginia in action in 1950
    West Virginia in action in 1950Uncredited/Associated Press

    Date:  Oct. 18, 1946

    Record Holder:  West Virginia

    Record:  18 passes attempted

    The Mountaineers threw 18 passes without a completion in their 6-0 loss to Temple back in 1946.  They finished the season 5-5 and averaged 12 points per game, earning them the No. 90 slot out of the 120 teams nationally.

21. Most Kickoff Returns, Single Game

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    Arizona State and Nevada in 2006
    Arizona State and Nevada in 2006Harry How/Getty Images

    Date:  Oct. 12, 1946

    Record Holder:  Arizona State

    Record:  14 kickoff returns

    Arizona State returned 14 kickoffs for 290 yards in its 74-2 loss to Nevada in 1946.  The Sun Devils were outscored 313-93 that year, finishing 2-7-2, including a 67-0 loss to Arizona.

    To compare, Bowling Green returned 62 kicks in 14 games in 2014, more than any other team in the FBS.  That works out to 4.4 returns per game, or 10 fewer than the record.

20. Most Yards on Punt Returns, Single Game

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    Texas A&M in 1970
    Texas A&M in 1970Anonymous/Associated Press

    Date:  Sept. 21, 1946

    Record Holder:  Texas A&M

    Record:  319 yards

    The Aggies returned 10 punts for a whopping 319 yards in their 47-0 shellacking of North Texas in the 1946 season opener.  The game was the high point for a season that ended in a 4-6 finish and 125 total points scored.

    Only 13 of the 128 FBS teams in 2014 (or 10 percent) finished the entire season with more than 319 yards in punt returns.  One of the biggest days came when Ohio State racked up 142 punt return yards in its 66-0 beatdown of Kent State.

19. Highest Average Gain per Rush, Season (Minimum 400 rushes)

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    The 1945 Army football team at Yankee Stadium
    The 1945 Army football team at Yankee StadiumTOM FITZSIMMONS/Associated Press

    Date:  1945

    Record Holder:  Army

    Record:  7.64 yards per rush

    Army rushed 424 times for 3,238 yards in 1945, the same season it went 9-0 and captured the second of its three consecutive national titles.

    The closest any team has come to the mark since 2000 is Nevada, rushing 607 times for 4,484 yards in 2009, an average of 7.39 yards per carry.

18. Fewest Passes Attempted, Both Teams, Single Game

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    Michigan State and Maryland in 2014, the two combined for 54 passes in the game
    Michigan State and Maryland in 2014, the two combined for 54 passes in the gameMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Date:  Oct. 20, 1944

    Record Holder:  Michigan State and Maryland

    Record:  One pass attempted

    Maryland was the only team to attempt a pass in the entire 60 minutes of its 1944 game with Michigan State.  The one try wasn’t completed, and the Terrapins fell to the Spartans 8-0 on their way to a 1-7-1 record.

    Michigan State went 6-1 that year, outscoring its opponents 167-31.

17. Fewest Yards of Total Offense Gained by a Winning Team

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    N.C. State in 2010
    N.C. State in 2010Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Date:  Sept. 30, 1944

    Record Holder:  North Carolina State

    Record:  10 yards

    The Wolfpack cranked out a whopping 10 yards in their 13-0 win over Virginia in 1944.  N.C. State finished the season 7-2, while the Cavaliers went 6-1-2.

16. Most Points per Game, Season

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    Associated Press

    Date:  1944

    Record Holder:  Army

    Record:  56 points per game

    In what might be the most shocking statistic, Army scored 504 points in nine games in 1944, the same year it won a national title.  Compare the team’s 56 points per game to Baylor’s 52.4 in 2013, the highest mark in the last decade.

    The ’44 Black Knights also hold the record for the highest scoring margin (52.11) and the most touchdowns per game (8.22).  

15. Fewest Passing Yards Gained, Both Teams

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    Penn State in 1959
    Penn State in 1959Associated Press

    Date:  Nov. 13, 1943

    Record Holder:  North Carolina and Penn State

    Record:  -13 yards

    The Tar Heels went 1-of-7 for minus-seven yards through the air while the Nittany Lions went 2-of-12 for minus-six yards in their blockbuster 1943 meeting. 

    North Carolina won the game 19-0 on the way to a 6-3 finish, Penn State went on to post a 5-3-1 record.

14. Most Turnovers by a Winning Team

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    Purdue in 1951
    Purdue in 1951Uncredited/Associated Press

    Date:  Oct. 2, 1943

    Record Holder:  Purdue

    Record:  11 turnovers

    Purdue coughed up nine fumbles and two interceptions in its 1943 clash with Illinois but still managed to win, 40-21.  The unlikely victory catapulted the Boilermakers to a 9-0 finish, including a shared Big Ten title and a No. 5 rank in the final AP poll.  Illinois went 3-7 that year.

    Since 2008, no FBS team has turned the ball over more than Idaho’s 2012 product, posting 39 turnovers.  The Vandals' season lows came at North Carolina and at BYU when they turned the ball over five times each. Even combined, the total still leaves them one short of Purdue’s single-game record.


13. Most Punt Returns per Game, Single Season

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    Texas A&M in 1945
    Texas A&M in 1945Associated Press

    Date:  1943

    Record Holder:  Texas A&M

    Record:  6.9 punt returns per game

    The 1943 Aggies forced their 10 opponents to punt the ball an average of six times per game. That’s a far cry from the 2014 leader in punt returns, Virginia Tech, averaging 3.5 per game. 

    Texas A&M’s defense held opponents to a mere 6.5 points per game in ’43, the 11th-best mark in the nation.  The Aggies finished the season 7-2-1, losing 19-14 to LSU in the Orange Bowl.

12. Most Passes Intercepted by a Linebacker, Single Season

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    Notre Dame linebacker Manti T'eo had seven interceptions in 2012
    Notre Dame linebacker Manti T'eo had seven interceptions in 2012JOE RAYMOND/Associated Press

    Date:  1941

    Record Holder:  Bill Sibley, Texas A&M

    Record:  9 interceptions

    No linebacker has scored more interceptions in a single season than Texas A&M’s Bill Sibley, who hauled in nine in 1941.  The best a linebacker has done since 2008 was Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, posting seven in 2012.

    The Aggies finished the ’41 season 9-2, capturing the Southwest Conference Championship and ultimately losing 29-21 to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

11. Most Consecutive Non-Losing Seasons

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    Penn State-Nebraska 1982
    Penn State-Nebraska 1982RUSTY KENNEDY/Associated Press

    Date:  1939-87

    Record Holder:  Penn State

    Record:  49 seasons

    The only thing holding Penn State back from besting Notre Dame’s record of 42 consecutive winning seasons (1889-1932) is its back-to-back 5-5 finishes in 1965-66.  The missteps came during the final season of the Rip Engle era and the first of Joe Paterno’s tenure.

    The Nittany Lions finished ranked in one of the major polls 28 of the 49 years of the streak (57 percent) and won national championships twice (1982 and 1986).

10. Most Consecutive Shutouts (Regular Season)

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    Tennessee head coach Bob Neyland scouts Ole Miss in 1938
    Tennessee head coach Bob Neyland scouts Ole Miss in 1938Associated Press

    Date:  1938-40

    Record Holder:  Tennessee

    Record:  17 shutouts

    Tennessee’s 17 consecutive regular-season shutouts might be the most impressive record in the bunch.  The streak started on Nov. 30, 1938 when it blanked Tennessee-Chattanooga 45-0 and didn’t end until Oct. 19, 1940, when Alabama scored 12 points in a 27-12 loss to the Vols.

    The record doesn’t include the postseason games from the same time period:  A 17-0 win over Oklahoma in the 1939 Orange Bowl and a 14-0 loss to USC in the 1940 Rose Bowl.

    Tennessee outscored its 17 opponents 479-0 during run, a time frame that produced three consecutive SEC titles and the 1938 national championship.

    The Vols also hold the NCAA FBS record for the most consecutive quarters opponents held scoreless, 71.  That streak lasted from the second quarter of the 14-6 win over LSU on Oct. 29, 1938 until the second quarter of the 27-12 win over Alabama on Oct. 19, 1940.

9. Fewest Yards Gained, Total Offense, Both Teams

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    Texas Tech in 1973
    Texas Tech in 1973MTF/Associated Press

    Date:  Nov. 11, 1939

    Record Holder:  Texas Tech and Centenary (Louisiana)

    Record:  30 yards total offense

    Texas Tech and Centenary’s 0-0 tie on Nov. 11, 1939 set at least nine NCAA FBS records.  The two teams combined for 33 plays in the game, Tech gaining minus-one yard and Centenary posting 33.

    Single-game combined records shared by both teams include:  fewest plays (33), fewest rushes (28), most punts (77) and most punt returns (42)

    According to the NCAA FBS Record Book,

    The game was played in a heavy down-pour in Shreveport, Louisiana.  Forty-two punts were returned, 19 went out of bounds, 10 were downed, 1 went into the end zone for a touchback, 4 were blocked and 1 was fair caught.  Sixty-seven punts (34 by Texas Tech and 33 by Centenary) occurred on first-down plays, including 22 consecutively in the third and fourth quarters.

    The Red Raiders hold the single-game record for fewest plays (12).  Additionally, Texas Tech’s Charlie Calhoun holds the record for most punts in a single game (36) and Milton Hill holds the record for most punt returns in a single game (20).     

    Centenary holds the single-game record for fewest plays allowed (12).

8. Fewest Kickoff Returns per Game

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    Boston College in the 1941 Sugar Bowl
    Boston College in the 1941 Sugar BowlAssociated Press

    Date:  1939

    Record Holder:  Boston College

    Record:  0.70 kickoff returns per game

    Boston College returned a mere seven kickoffs in 10 games in 1939, a stat that tells the story of a defense that gave up 46 points during the entire season.

    The closest any FBS team has come to the mark since 2008 was last season when Nevada returned 18 kickoffs in 13 games, an average 1.4, or double the Eagles’ record.

7. Fewest Passing Yards Allowed per Game

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    Alabama led the FBS in pass defense in 2011, but gave up 98 yards more per game than Penn State did in 1938
    Alabama led the FBS in pass defense in 2011, but gave up 98 yards more per game than Penn State did in 1938Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Date:  1938

    Record Holder:  Penn State

    Record:  13.13 passing yards allowed per game

    The school with most prolific rush defense in history also holds the record for the best pass defense, only where Penn State shut down the run in 1947 it obliterated the pass 11 years earlier, in 1938.

    The Nittany Lions gave up a total of 105 passing yards to its eight opponents that season.  Compare that with the best FBS pass defense since 2008, Alabama, which gave up an average of 111.5 yards per game in 2011.

6. Most Yards on Punts, Season

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    Michigan State in the 1938 Orange Bowl
    Michigan State in the 1938 Orange BowlAssociated Press

    Date:  1938

    Record Holder:  Johnny Pingel, Michigan State

    Record:  4,138 yards

    It took Michigan State’s Johnny Pingel 99 punts in nine games to set the all-time record for punting yards back in 1938.  Pingel was an All-American halfback for the Spartans in 1938 and 1939, selected seventh overall by the Detroit Lions in the 1939 NFL draft.

    Compare that to Idaho’s Bobby Cowan, the only guy since 2008 to crest the 4,000-yard mark, he needed 88 punts in 12 games to hit 4,084 in 2011.

5. Most Scoreless Tie Games in a Season

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    Pacific's A.A. Stagg and Temple's Pop Warner in 1935
    Pacific's A.A. Stagg and Temple's Pop Warner in 1935Associated Press

    Date:  1937

    Record Holder:  Temple

    Record:  Four scoreless ties

    A record that will never be broken due to the overtime rule being added in 1996, Temple had four games end in a 0-0 draw during in its 1937 campaign.

    The Owls enjoyed scoreless draws with Ole Miss, Boston College, Holy Cross and Bucknell that year, finishing 3-2-4 under then-coach Pop Warner.

4. Most Punts per Game, Single Season

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    Tennessee in the 1939 Orange Bowl
    Tennessee in the 1939 Orange BowlAnonymous/Associated Press

    Date:  1937

    Record Holder:  Tennessee

    Record:  13.9 punts per game

    Tennessee punted the ball away a record 139 times in its 10 games in 1939.  That’s double the average of seven that Kansas—the nation’s top punting team—managed in 2014.  The Jayhawks, along with Texas-San Antonio and Eastern Michigan, all punted 84 times in 12 games last season.

    The ’37 Vols finished the season 6-3-1.

3. Most Consecutive Games without a Defeat

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    College football in 1922
    College football in 1922Associated Press

    Date:  1907-17

    Record Holder:  Washington

    Record:  64 games

    In a streak that kicked off more than 100 years ago, Washington didn’t lose a game between its   scoreless tie with Whitman on Nov. 28, 1907 and its 14-6 win over the same team on Oct. 20, 1917.  The run ended on Nov. 3, 1917 when the Huskies traveled to Berkeley and got shut out 27-0 by Cal.

    What prevents Washington from overtaking Oklahoma’s 47-game mark for the most consecutive victories are three ties: a 6-6 decision with Washington State in 1908, a 0-0 outcome with Oregon State in 1914 and a 0-0 game with Oregon in 1916.

2. Most-Played Rivalry

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    Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2014
    Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2014Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Date:  1890-2014

    Record Holder:  Minnesota-Wisconsin

    Record:  124 games

    The Minnesota-Wisconsin series is four games longer than its closest competitor Kansas-Missouri, a rivalry which ended after 2011 when the Tigers bolted for the SEC.

    The Golden Gophers and Badgers also hold the NCAA FBS record for the longest uninterrupted series.  The duo’s mark of 108 games (played since 1907) is three up on Clemson-South Carolina.

1. Most Consecutive Winning Seasons

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    The Four Horseman of Notre Dame, 1924
    The Four Horseman of Notre Dame, 1924Notre Dame University/Getty Images

    Date:  1889-1932

    Record Holder:  Notre Dame

    Record:  42

    The oldest record in the book, because the clock started ticking 126 years ago, is Notre Dame’s 42 consecutive winning seasons.

    The run began with the 1889 team that went 1-0 and ended with the 1932 product that went 7-2.  The ’33 Irish went 3-5-1, the only losing team until 1956’s 2-8 finish.  It’s worth noting that the school didn’t field a team in 1890 and 1891.

    The program with the most consecutive winning seasons since 1937 is Nebraska, who rolled up 40 straight from 1962-2001.

    Statistics courtesy of CFBStats and Sports Reference-College Football.  Records courtesy of the NCAA FBS Record Book.


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