Looking back, it’s hard to believe that an area of uncertainty surrounding the Oklahoma State Cowboys entering the 1988 season was the running back position.

Thirty-eight NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision records later, no questions remained.

Thurman Thomas had just completed his second first-team All-American campaign and departed Stillwater, Okla., as the school’s all-time leading rusher. His replacement was junior Barry Sanders, who had obvious talent (he was an All-American kick returner) but big shoes to fill, with just 928 rushing yards to his name through two seasons.

“I’m not going to sit here and say we thought he was going to run for 2,800 yards, but we felt like the guy was pretty special,” then-Oklahoma State head coach Pat Jones said.

What ensued was a season Jones called “astounding.”  Sanders set highs for: most rushing yards in a single-season (2,628), most touchdowns in a single season (39), most all-purpose yards (3,250) and most rushing yards per game (238.9; no other individual has even broken 200) on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

“It would be like watching someone hit about 85 home runs in a Major League [Baseball] season,” Jones said. “It was that kind of deal.”

Sanders’ remarkable run toward history not only impacted the record books, but the Big Eight Conference as well. The Cowboys finished a 10-2 season ranked 11th in the nation after a 62-14 trouncing of Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl, a game in which Sanders racked up 222 rushing yards and five touchdowns that didn’t even count toward his season statistics.

The team’s success is what drove Sanders the most, as Jones noted the running back “cared nothing about records.” This attitude was best exemplified by a Dec. 4 matchup with Texas Tech in Tokyo, the morning of which Sanders had to wake up at an odd hour to accept the Heisman Trophy on television.

“We can’t really think about it right now,” Sanders said in his acceptance interview. “I’ll have time to think about it and let it soak in after the game today.”

Sanders rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-42 victory for the Cowboys.

As amazing as Sanders’ campaign was, the numbers could have been even more remarkable. Jones estimated that, due to large margins of victory and Sanders’ lack of emphasis on statistics, he didn’t even play one third of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps.

“He could’ve had 1,000 more yards,” Jones said. “Very easily.”

Barry Sanders' Records
Record Type
*Records are records no longer held by Barry Sanders.
** This record was removed from the record book at some point. Current record is unknown.
Rushing Yards Season
Rushing Yards per game Season
Earliest game reaching 1,000 yards rushing Season (tie)
*Most games gaining 100 yards Season (tie)
Most consecutive games gaining 200 yards rushing Season (tie)
Most games gaining 300 yards rushing Season
Most games gaining 300 yards rushing Career
*Most yards gained in two consecutive games  
Most yards gained in three consecutive games  
Most yards gained in four consecutive games  
Most yards gained in five consecutive games  
Two opposing players with 200 yards rushing Game (tie); with Mike Gaddis, Oklahoma
Most yards gained rushing by two players on same team Season; with Gerald Hudson (who had 369 rushing)
Most yards gained per game rushing by two players on same team Season; with Gerald Hudson
Most yards per rush attempt Season (min. 282 rushes)
Most TDs rushing Season
Most TDs rushing per game Season
Most games scoring two or more TDs rushing Season
Most consecutive games scoring 2 or more TDs rushing Season
**Most yards gained rushing by brothers Season (with Byron Sanders at Northwestern who had 1,062)
Only player to score TDs on Team’s opening kickoff of the season two consecutive years  
Most all-purpose yards gained Season
Most all-purpose yards gained per game Season
Most points scored Season
*Most points scored Two Years
Most Points scored per game Season
*Most Points scored per game Two Years
Most TDs scored Season
Most TDs score per game Season
*Most TDs scored Two Seasons
*Most TDs scored per game Two Seasons
*Most games scoring TD Season (tie)
Most games scoring 2 or more TDs Season
Most consecutive games scoring 2 or more TDs Season
Most consecutive games scoring 2 or more TDs Career
Most games scoring 3 or more TDs Season
Most consecutive games scoring 3 or more TDs Season
Most TDs & Points scored by two players, same team Season (with Hart Lee Dykes)