There are a handful of FBS records and milestones that could be broken and reached this season, respectively. (Looking at you, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, and Ohio State wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.)
But scan through the FBS record book and you'll find other records in the highest level of college football that are likely so untouchable — either due to rule changes and the evolution of the game, or due to a flash of brilliance (or the opposite of brilliance) — that we think they'll stand in the history books forever.
Of course, some records are literally unbreakable. It's impossible for someone to break Nevada punter Pat Brady's 99-yard punt without having a touchback, and similarly, no player will ever top the record of a 100-yard return of an extra-point attempt, which is held by eight different players. But we're putting these types of records off to the side, because they're unbreakable based on the size of the playing field and the rules of the game.
Here are seven FBS records that (we think) will never be broken. These opinions are mine and mine alone.
Most games gaining 300 rushing yards or more in a season
Record: Four games
Record-holder: Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State
Sanders, the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner and College Football Hall of Fame inductee, also holds the career record for most games with at least 300 rushing yards. The record? Four games.
So, Sanders' Heisman-winning season in '88 — when he ran for 332 yards against Texas Tech, 320 yards against Kansas State, 312 yards against Kansas and 304 yards against Tulsa — hasn't been matched by any other running back in their career, let alone a single season. Even as the length of the college football season has increased to 15 games for the teams that advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship, in order for Sanders' record to be broken, it would still require a player who plays for a national finalist to rush for at least 300 yards in one out of every three games in a single season.
Rushing for 1,500 yards in a season is a terrific accomplishment for a player — one likely to earn the player all-conference, if not All-America, honors. But to do so in just five games is potentially unsustainable, and that's why Sanders' record, amid a season in which he rushed for 2,628 yards in just 11 games (!), is safe in our opinion.
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Most consecutive passes completed in a season
Record: 36 attempts
Record-holder: Dominique Davis, East Carolina
In the 2020 season, Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz completed his first 17 pass attempts in the Badgers' season-opener against Illinois as he finished 20-for-21 passing for 248 yards and five touchdowns. By any measure, it was a near-perfect performance and the one incompletion was a dropped pass.
For a quarterback to break East Carolina's Dominique Davis' record of 36 consecutive passes completed, he would have to double Mertz's streak of 17 completions in a row, then complete three additional passes for good measure. Davis' record stretched across back-to-back games against Memphis and Navy (he completed his first 26 attempts against the Midshipmen), and given the number of passes Davis completed in a row, it would likely force a potential record-breaker to complete 37 or more passes against two different opponents, which means two different schemes and opposing rosters to diagnose and dominate.
That's why Dominique Davis' record for consecutive completions in a season is unbreakable, even as passing efficiency in college football has improved over the course of the last decade.
Most consecutive passes completed for touchdowns
Record: Six passes
Record-holder: Brooks Dawson, UTEP
UTEP has been on the wrong end of several FBS records — former Houston quarterback Case Keenum holds the record for the most career passing yards gained against one opponent (1,882 yards against UTEP) and former TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson has the record for career rushing yards against one opponent (788 yards against UTEP) — but the Miners are also in the FBS record book for positive reasons, too.
UTEP quarterback Brooks Dawson once threw a touchdown pass on six consecutive attempts against New Mexico and what makes it really unbreakable is that he started the game 6-for-6 with six touchdowns. That will never be topped. The notion of putting up "video-game numbers" can be overstated at times, but a stat line like that to start a game is something you're far more likely to find in an arcade or a friend's basement than on the gridiron in an actual FBS game.
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Most rushing yards gained by two brothers in a season
Record: 3,690 rushing yards
Record-holder: Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State and Byron Sanders, Northwestern
We're going to double dip with Barry Sanders but this time it's a family affair. (And the truth is that we could triple dip, quadruple dip, etc., with Sanders because he was that good and set that many records.) Not only did Sanders win the Heisman in the 1988 season with his all-time great junior campaign — 2,628 rushing yards, 7.6 yards per carry, 37 rushing touchdowns, one punt return touchdown and one kick return touchdown — but his brother, Byron, also turned in a 1,000-yard season with Northwestern the fall of '88.
In order for this record to fall — and reminder, this is two brothers and even a family with three active FBS running backs would struggle to best the Sanders' combined total — it would likely take a pair of brothers to each make a run at a 2,000-yard season in the same season. It's an impressive genetic and familial accomplishment to have siblings that play at the FBS level, but for them to play the same position in the same season, as starters, and both rush for more than 1,000 yards requires countless stars to align.
Most yards gained by two opposing players in a game
Record: 1,383 passing yards
Record-holder: Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech (819 yards) and Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (564 yards)
This Big 12 shootout, which ended in a 66-59 win for Oklahoma, featured a future NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion (Mahomes) and a future Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick in the NFL draft (Mayfield), the former of whom is arguably a generational talent at the position and the latter of whom was named the best player in the country one year later. It was potentially a perfect storm of a conference (Big 12) and its offensive philosophy (the air raid and spread offenses), a startling lack of defense (each team finished with 854 yards of offense) and two special quarterbacks.
In order for this record to be topped, it would take a pair of quarterbacks — likely future NFL starters — to average roughly 700 passing yards apiece. That's not happening.
Most receiving yards gained per game in a career
Record: 140.9 yards per game
Record-holder: Alex Van Dyke, Nevada
The national leader in receiving yards per game during the 2020 season was Ole Miss' consensus All-American wide receiver Elijah Moore, who averaged 149.1 yards per game. That's roughly what Nevada's Alex Van Dyke averaged during his two-year career Nevada. Just look at Moore's freshman (36.2 receiving yards per game) and sophomore (70.8 yards per game) seasons to see that it took Moore time (and potentially a coaching change to offensive mind Lane Kiffin) for him to develop into a receiver who could average that many yards per game.
It's also worth noting that numerous Nevada players from the 1990s and early 2000s hold FBS passing and receiving records, so Van Dyke's record might be a case of the right player in the right system in the right era, which is why it may never be topped.
Most receiving yards gained in a game without scoring a touchdown
Record: 326 yards
Record-holder: Nate Burleson, Nevada
It's almost unfathomable to see a stat line of 12 receptions, 326 yards, 27.2 yards per reception and...zero touchdowns. Burleson's effort against San Jose State ranks tied for eighth all-time in single-game receiving yards and yet, he never made it to the end zone. In fact, he only scored two touchdowns in 2001, despite finishing the season with 53 receptions and 737 receiving yards.
Not only is it remarkable that Burleson didn't reach the end zone that day, but in his previous game, he didn't catch a single pass, and in the game after he set this record, he had a pedestrian four catches for 23 yards. Good luck figuring out exactly what happened in November 2001 and why.