One of the best things about putting together the Notre Dame Hall of Fame Pyramid for this site is reading the Notre Dame record book from cover to cover. The idea for today’s article came after I saw a stat on the back of a tee-shirt and I thought to myself I have to look into that to make sure it’s true. Then, I found more records worth discussing.
Here are the 15 most unbreakable records in Notre Dame football history.
15. Average Punt Return for a Career – Allen Rossum, 15.8 Yards
Some of these records I have to take into account the way football is played today and here is a good example. It’s harder than ever to return punts, a lot of teams don’t really try that much anymore, and you need a bit of luck to break a few touchdowns over your career.
Over the last 5 seasons, only 11 players nationally have put together a single season of at least 15.8 yards per punt return. Over the last 10 seasons, only C.J. Sanders (12.50 in 2016) and Golden Tate (14.25 in 2009) have challenged this mark for a single season–and neither can match the career mark.
Unless the rules on spread punting change and/or Notre Dame begins playing one or two FCS teams each season I don’t see this record being broken any time soon.
14. Rushing Attempts in a Season – Vagas Ferguson – 301 Attempts
This record is 26 more attempts than second place in Notre Dame history. Every season there are a few running backs across the country who get to and pass this amount of carries but it doesn’t seem realistic at a place like Notre Dame that generally uses multiple backs and isn’t running the ball 70% of snaps.
This is 23 attempts per game over a 13-game season, for what it’s worth. No one at Notre Dame in recent years has even come close to carrying the ball that much or staying healthy enough to get to 300 overall.
13. No Back-to-Back Regular Season Losses – Ara Parseghian – 1964-74
The tee-shirts that were made after Ara passed away has this stat on the back. I had never read the back until recently and thought, “Wait, is this actually true?” Well, the regular season disclaimer isn’t on there.
Parseghian lost the 1972 finale at USC by 22 points and then followed that up with a 34-point loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. That was the only time he lost back-to-back games but never during the regular season. And of course, Ara came back from this embarrassing flop to end 1972 to win the National Title in 1973.
12. All-Purpose Yards in a Game – Will Maher – 361 Yards
Not much is known about Willie “Red” Maher except that he was from Madison, Wisconsin and a backup running back from 1921-23. A few years before Maher’s senior season a fellow by the name of George Gipp gained 357 all-purpose yards in 27-17 win over Army.
That record would still be alive 99 seasons later if not for Maher, who broke it 26 games after Gipp. In the 1923 season opener, Notre Dame blasted Kalamazoo 74-0 in one of only 3 games since World War I in which the university scored at least 70 point on an opponent. In reality, the record should still be Gipp’s due to opponent strength.
As it stood, Maher gained 107 rushing, 80 punt return, and 174 kick return yards for the school record. In today’s game, the best rushers and receivers generally don’t get so exposed on special teams. You basically have to run someone into the ground to attempt this record (like Christian McCaffrey in 2015 who broke 361 all-purpose 4 times that season) and it’s generally not a good idea for long-term health.
11. Most All-Americans Honored in a Season – 1966 – 12 Players
The second-most All-Americans in one season is 7 players which was achieved by a few teams in Irish history. More than half of the starters is patently ridiculous. You could make the case this is the most unbreakable record in today’s game for Notre Dame.
10. Most Tackles in a Career – Bob Crable – 521 Tackles
You could maybe stretch your imagination and believe someone some day will have a season like Bob Crable in 1979 when he totaled 187 tackles. Doing what he did across 4 seasons, though? Maybe impossible?
During that 1979 season Irish opponents ran the ball 69.2% of the time compared to 47.9% in 2018. The game has simply moved too far away from “smash mouth up the middle” for a linebacker or any other defender to average 130 tackles per season for 4 full years. It’s absurd.
9. Winning 10 of 11 Against Final Ranked Top 10 Teams – Lou Holtz
When you look at the overall numbers Holtz was an impressive 15-17-1 against teams who finished the season in the top 10. From September 10, 1988 through November 10, 1990 he went 10-1 against these teams with the only loss against 1989 National Champion Miami.
In the span of less than 3 seasons, Holtz won 3 fewer games against Top 10 teams than Frank Leahy did for his entire career and Holtz won 3 more of these games than Parseghian did over his entire career. Notre Dame has only won 4 of these games in the seasons between 1995 and 2018, for more context.
Nearly 19% of Notre Dame’s all-time wins against Top 10 teams came over a 34-game run in the late 80’s and early 90’s, with the only loss coming against maybe the best team of the 1980’s.
8. Most Consecutive Passes Without an Interception – Brady Quinn – 226 Passes
Give or take this is roughly 8 games without an interception. The national record is quite a bit higher which is crazier still. Quinn was throwing to a bunch of tall receivers and tight ends or dumping it off to running backs. Can this be replicated again? He’s 66 straight passes above 2nd place in Notre Dame history, for what its worth.
7. Rushing Attempts in a Career – Allen Pinkett – 889 Attempts
To break this record you need to play quite a bit as a freshman and then have a long and healthy career for 3 more seasons. And the current era isn’t really conducive to one ball carrier getting a ton of carries. To best put this in perspective let’s use Josh Adams as our example. He played quite a lot as a freshman and had 2 seasons worth of starting.
Had Adams returned for his final season he would’ve needed 409 more carries to pass Pinkett’s record.
6. Best Winning Percentage for a Starting Quarterback – Johnny Lujack – .932
We’re now entering the part of the list where any of the remaining records could legitimately be placed at the very top. How difficult would a .932 winning percentage be for a modern quarterback at Notre Dame?
Your best bet would be a shorter, comet-like career. Still, 12-1 as starter just falls short. Even one year where you lose once but go on to win the College Football Playoff gets you a few percentage points short. Basically, you need at least one undefeated season and if you play a second or even third season you can’t really ever lose twice in one year. For example, a run of 12-1, 11-2, and 14-0 only gets you a .925 winning percentage.
5. Most Consecutive Wins – Lou Holtz – 23 Games
This record isn’t too much different than No. 6 in spirit. The bar is literally set at don’t lose a game with this one. In today’s game, you’d need a 14-0 championship followed up by a 10-0 run the following season.
To be fair, several teams have bested this mark in modern times: Miami (34, 2000-02), Texas (30, 1968-70), Miami (29, 1990-92), Florida State (29, 2012-14), Oklahoma (28, 1973-75), Alabama (28, 1978-80), Nebraska (26, 1994-96), and Alabama (26, 2015-16).
Maybe not impossible on the surface, but still ridiculously tough.
4. Fewest Points Per Game Allowed – 1966 – 3.8 Points
The best scoring defense in the Kelly era came in 2012 with 12.8 points per game. So, you only have to be 338% better than that if my math is correct!
Over the last decade only 1 defense in the country has finished under 10 points allowed per game: Alabama in 2011. The modern game makes this record practically impossible. You’d need an unseasonably weak schedule, terrible opponent quarterbacks, injuries from opponents, a ton of turnover luck, and a whole bunch of field goal misses.
3. Best Winning Percentage Coaching Career – Knute Rockne – .881
Needless to say, this is only touchable if you have one of the best coaches in the history of the game. I can only see someone coaching for a very short amount of time and having to leave the game working in this modern era.
Urban Meyer actually bested this winning percentage in 7 seasons at Ohio State, for what it’s worth. That type of run at Notre Dame in today’s game would be truly something else.
2. Fewest Yards Allowed Per Game – 1966 – 187.6 Yards
Is this more difficult to break than this same defense’s 3.8 points per game record above? The 2011 Alabama defense mentioned above actually finished giving up 183.6 yards per game so there is modern precedence. That Tide defense surrendered less than 1,000 rushing yards, broke up 56 passes, and only allowed 6 touchdowns from 17 red zone attempts.
I don’t know though, with some hilarious folly from opponents I could see a super low scoring defense. I simply cannot see Notre Dame not giving up garbage-time yards late in games to where you’d beat about 15 yards per defensive drive each game. There are way too many cheap yards to be had out there.
1. Longest Unbeaten Streak – Frank Leahy – 39 Games
The inability to tie games today (Leahy tied Army in ’46 and USC in ’48 during his streak) in essence adds 16 games to Holtz’ winning streak at Notre Dame. Only 2 teams in the history of college football have won at least 40 games in a row and it hasn’t happened since the middle of the Eisenhower administration.
This is the safest record in Notre Dame’s history books.