What exactly makes a record “unbreakable” in Division 1 College Football? It’s an interesting question. So I decided to take a look at some of the current records to see what they had in common. I ended up identifying three things that play a significant role in a record’s staying power. Let’s take a look at them first. Then we can see if any records set in the last five to ten years fit that profile. For this discussion, we will focus on individual records rather than team records. Here we go.
The State of the Game
By this, I am referring to how college football has evolved as well as where it is headed. I think it’s fair to say that most of the big Power 5 programs have pass-oriented offenses. This past season the top 15 passing teams in the country averaged more than 300 yards per game. In 2003, there were only seven. The spread offenses have really opened thing up, which has resulted in some pretty wild games. For example in 2016, Oklahoma beat Texas Tech 66-59, and the two teams combined for over 1,300 passing yards. Red Raider quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw the ball a mind-blowing 88 times for over 750 yards! That game had to have been a defensive coordinator’s nightmare.
My point here is since the game has evolved into one that is more pass happy, any record in that offensive category is vulnerable. So we need to look elsewhere for the records with a longer shelf life. And that means those that involve running the football. But before we do that, let’s take a look at the second factor that impacts the time a record might hang around.
Single Season vs. Career
Individual single season records are no doubt impressive. They are the result of God-given talent, a ton of hard work, and a little bit of good luck also. And by that, I mostly mean staying healthy the entire year. All that said, it is possible to have the stars align for a single season and break an individual record thought to be untouchable. Let’s take Barry Sanders’ single season rushing record as an example. He ran for 2,628 yards in 1988. Most people thought no one could approach that number. But in 2007, Kevin Smith from UCF came really close He rushed for 2,567 yards. If he’d averaged just 4.5 more yards per game, he would be the new record holder. So I think Sanders’ record is reachable. Though it is true that a few things would have to fall into place for that to happen.
That’s one example of where a lofty single season record can be in play under the right circumstances. But if a player can perform at a high level for an entire career, that’s a different story. It’s going to take three to four years of outstanding play to knock that player out of the top spot. That could be a real challenge. So at this point, we are looking at a career record in the rushing category as one that is potentially unbreakable. But we need to cover one more factor that makes breaking a college football record difficult.
This is pretty straightforward. A record such as “Most Yards From Scrimmage” is very broad. It includes quarterbacks (passing and rushing), running backs (rushing and pass catching) and receivers (pass catching and occasional rushing). But if we focus on just one position, that narrows the field quite a bit. That’s what we’re going to do. And now we can get into the two records I would like to break down.
First, let’s take a look at where we are at this point. We know that since college football is heavily pass-oriented now, the rushing records will likely be the ones that last longer. Next, career records are going to be tougher to break because doing so requires at least a few years of consistent, superior performance. And finally, looking at a specific position for a given statistic leaves only a handful of records to consider. We’re going to look at two. One of them is Career Rushing Yards By A Quarterback. The other is Career Touchdowns Scored By A Quarterback. The same player currently owns these two records. And he happens to be the best triple option quarterback to ever play college football.
Navy’s Generational Quarterback
By the time Keenan Reynolds finished up his stellar career at Annapolis, he had set a boatload of school and FBS records. He came off the bench to lead the team to a come from behind win over Air Force his freshman year. The victory turned the Mids’ season around. One game later Reynolds was formally named the starter, and he led them to a 6-2 finish to wind up the year at 8-5.
From 2012 – 2015, Keenan Reynolds ran the Navy triple option attack with near flawless precision. And he was pretty durable too. The Tennessee native only missed two games due to injury and started 45 out of 50 contests his entire career. That’s pretty impressive when you figure the quarterback in the triple option is going to take a hit on just about every play.
Reynolds set numerous records. But his 4,559 career rushing yards and 88 career rushing touchdowns rank among the most impressive. Both meet the criteria discussed earlier. So now we need to determine if they are in fact unbreakable.
What’s It’s Going To Take
I don’t like to speak in absolutes. And clearly, saying that a record will never be broken does just that. Besides, I find it more interesting to look at the record itself and figure out what it will take to break it. That’s the approach we will take with the ones that Keenan Reynolds set. Where would the player who could potentially break them come from?
First of all, we need to focus on teams with offenses that are built on the running game. They can’t just run the ball more than they pass. They need to run it substantially more, which means they probably need to average at least 300 yards per game or very close to it. That eliminates about 95% of the 130 FBS programs out there. The only teams that can consistently put up those kinds of numbers are those that run either a triple option or run-pass option attack.
The second consideration is the length of the player’s career. For anyone with that kind of talent, there is a decent chance of leaving school early to play in the NFL. Just ask Lamar Jackson. The point is that either one of these records will be tough enough to surpass in four years, let alone three. So when we consider the programs where a player is most likely to stay all four years, the list gets a whole lot shorter.
Three Prime Suspects
Any player who challenges Keenan Reynolds NCAA records for rushing yards and touchdowns needs to come from a program that relies almost exclusively on run. And the odds are very good that they would have to stay all four years to have a chance at breaking them. That leaves three programs that could produce such a player: Army, Navy and Air Force.
That said, it’s still not going to be easy. Most quarterbacks take at least a year or two to learn the triple option at the collegiate level. And for any player to have a shot at breaking these records, he needs to be a four year starter. Reynolds is the only quarterback at Navy to start since he was a freshman in the Triple Option era. It was because his football IQ happened to be off the charts. If the defense gave him a different look, he would call an audible to get the offense in the right play. No one has ever done that better than Keenan Reynolds.
Finally, lets look at the numbers. Breaking the career rushing record means averaging about 1,520 yards over three years or 1,140 over four. I don’t see it happening in three years. I do think the number is reachable for a four year starter, but he would also have to stay pretty much injury-free.
The career touchdown record is a different animal. We aren’t just talking about piling up yards any more. We’re talking about consistently getting into the end zone; the exact thing that defenses are trying to prevent. A four year starter would need to average more than 22 touchdowns per year to break the record. In 2019, only two players managed to reach 21; one of them being Navy QB Malcolm Perry. Based on the last 10 years of stats, a really good year for a triple option quarterback is 17-20 rushing touchdowns. Averaging more than 22 a season seems like a really tall order to me. In addition to a durable QB, it means having the depth on the offensive line to reload every year and all of them staying pretty healthy.
Here is the bottom line. While I don’t think it’s likely to happen anytime soon, I’d say there is a chance that Keenan Reynolds career yardage record could be broken under the right circumstances. But there are lots of moving parts.
I can’t say the same thing about Reynolds career touchdown record though. No matter how you slice it, 88 is a really big number. And while I’ve already told you that I don’t deal in absolutes, I will say that it’s going to take one hell of a perfect storm for someone to get to 89.
Until next time . . .