Friday, June 8, 2012
Barry Sanders' 1988 season has no equal
By David Ubben
Today, there are more than 100 FBS teams with rosters that often broach around 100 players. In simplified math, the game has seen more than 500,000 players take the field over the past 50 years.
Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders set 25 NCAA records and rushed for over 300 yards four times during the 1988 season.
Barry Sanders' 1988 season was better than every single one of them. Nobody's really even that close.
Future NFL Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas left the program to a little-known junior who had rushed for just over 600 yards as a sophomore in 1987.
Over the next year, Sanders wrote his legacy every single week with the single greatest season of college football ever played. His 2,850 yards are more than even some of the best running backs log in a career. That NCAA record still stands, and it's one of 34 he set that season. Winning the Heisman Trophy that season is laughably far down the list of remarkable accomplishments for Sanders in a season to remember in Stillwater.
He scored 39 touchdowns, 44 if you count his five in the Holiday Bowl. The NCAA didn't begin counting bowl stats in the official record books until 2002. He rushed for 300 yards in four games during the season, and his lowest total of the entire season came against Missouri, with a paltry 154 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
He scored at least two touchdowns in every game, and set the tone for the entire season by returning the opening kick against Miami (OH) 100 yards for a touchdown.
He scored at least four touchdowns in seven games that season, helping Oklahoma State go 10-2, which tied what was then the best record in school history.
Sanders' hips swiveled like no one else's, and he embarrassed defenders on what seemed like every run. He was quicker than everyone, shiftier than everyone, and when he reached the open field, proved he was faster than everyone.
Sanders saved his best for last. He was awarded the Heisman before the final game against Texas Tech in Tokyo and proceeded to carry his team to a 45-42 win over the Red Raiders with a career-high 332 yards on a career-high 44 carries. His coach, Pat Jones, loved to call the Kansas native "The Wichita Comet."
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When the dust settled on a blowout win over Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl, Sanders had averaged 7.6 yards per carry on 373 carries and stood alone atop the list of the greatest seasons in college football history. He averaged just under 240 yards per game. In 2011, nine teams in college football averaged more rushing yards per game than Sanders did in 1988.
Sanders' season forecasted one of the greatest NFL careers ever, though Sanders abruptly ended it in 1999, within striking distance of Walter Payton, who held the NFL career rushing record.
Sanders was a quiet personality who kept to himself and never liked to talk about his exploits, even declining to dispute his father's contention that he wasn't the greatest running back in the history of the game. That didn't stop others from acknowledging the greatness he showcased every week of the 1988 season at Oklahoma State.
After his record-breaking season, he left Stillwater for the NFL, where he spent 10 more record-breaking seasons with the Detroit Lions.