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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 11 Single Game Performances in NCAA Football History

Top 11 Single Game Performances in NCAA Football History

Top 11 performances in NCAA Football history!
Publish Date: 02/22/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis


College Football is full of remarkable achievements, whether it’s by a team, a coach, or a player. Today, we will examine the top 11 single-game performances in College Football history. Many of these players played in one of the greatest College Football Programs of all time!


The most outstanding performance by a player in a single game is a competitive field. Set records in a regular season game, and you can be on this list. Tear it up in a Bowl or championship game and you will be on this list!

11) Joe Montana displays his toughness in the “Chicken Soup Game.”

Team: (9) Notre DameOpponent: (10) HoustonDate: January 1, 1979Stats: 13-34, 163 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT; 7 rushes, 26 yards, 2 TDs

I know how can this rank in the top 10 with the numbers Montana had. This game was not about numbers this was about an all-time great QB overcoming overwhelming odds to win a game he had no business winning.

Montana was terrible in the first half and was so sick at halftime that he stayed in the locker room. Without Montana on the field, the Irish’s deficit continued to grow, ballooning up to a 34-12 Houston lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Despite his condition, Montana returned to the field with 7:37 left facing the same score. Next came a Notre Dame blocked punt TD, followed by Montana captaining two consecutive touchdown-scoring drives (and converting on two straight two-point conversion opportunities). Then, as time expired, he threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to win the game. Montana in his NFL career would become famous for games like this.

Video: The Chicken Soup Game - 125 Years of Notre Dame Football - Moment #114

The Chicken Soup Game – 125 Years of Notre Dame Football – Moment #114

10) Melvin Gordon sets a rushing record that lasts for one week.

Team: (22) Wisconsin
Opponent: (11) Nebraska
Date: November 15, 2014
Stats: 25 rushes, 408 yards, 4 TDs

Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon destroyed Nebraska’s D to the tune of 408 yards. Oh, and he only played three-quarters to do it against a Cornhuskers squad ranked No. 11 in the country.

Gordon finished the contest with 25 carries (16 yards per rush). Not to mention, he broke LaDainian Tomlinson’s 15-year-old single game rushing record of 406 yards. The very next week, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perrine eclipsed Gordon’s mark by posting 427 yards on the ground. To be fair, Perrine did it against a much weaker Kansas team, making Gordon’s mark all the more impressive. Gordon will go down as the greatest running back in Wisconsin Badgers history.

Video: 408 Yards: Melvin Gordon Breaks FBS Single-Game Rushing Record | Nov. 15, 2014 | Big Ten Classics

408 Yards: Melvin Gordon Breaks FBS Single-Game Rushing Record | Nov. 15, 2014 | Big Ten Classics


9) Jim McMahon leads a comeback for the ages in the 1980 Holiday Bowl.

Team: (14) BYU
Opponent: (19) SMU
Date: December 19, 1980
Stats: 32-49, 446 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT; 10 rushes, 36 yards

The 1980 Holiday Bowl can be viewed in one of two ways: it was a textbook example of an unbelievable comeback or a stunningly pathetic choke. It’s your call. But during the game, with his team trailing 45-25 and less than three minutes remaining, BYU quarterback Jim McMahon led three quick scoring drives, the last of which was capped off by a successful 41-yard Hail Mary as the clock ran out. It was an example of what McMahon could do when he was healthy and focused.

Video: Jim McMahon “MIRACLE Bowl” Comeback! (#14 BYU vs. #19 SMU 1980, Holiday Bowl)

Jim McMahon “MIRACLE Bowl” Comeback! (#14 BYU vs. #19 SMU 1980, Holiday Bowl)


8) Johnny Manziel (a quarterback) sets the Cotton Bowl rushing record.

Team: (10) Texas A&M
Opponent: (12) Oklahoma
Date: January 4, 2013
Stats: 22-34, 287 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 17 rushes, 229 yards, 2 TDs

Long before he became a national joke, Johnny Manziel was a great college QB and his greatest performance was against the Sooners in 2013.Texas A&M came into the game as three-point favorites and left after utterly humiliating OU, especially in the second half when they outscored the Sooners 27-0. Manziel led the 41-13 onslaught, tallying 516 yards of offense, which includes 229 rushing yards. That’s good for most rushing yards in the Cotton Bowl’s 80-year history. Manziel was truly special on this day, and he was so special people will always wonder, what could have been?

Video: Manziel Magic in the Cotton Bowl! (Texas A&M vs Oklahoma 2013) | CFB Throwback Highlights

Manziel Magic in the Cotton Bowl! (Texas A&M vs Oklahoma 2013) | CFB Throwback Highlights

7) Tim Tebow caps his career with, what else, a spectacular night.

Team: (5) Florida
Opponent: (4) Cincinnati
Date: January 1, 2010
Stats: 31-35, 482 yards, 3 TDs; 14 rushes, 51 yards, 1 TD

On this night, Tim Tebow completed his first 12 passes and by halftime was 20-for-23 with 320 yards in the air. He finished the game with 482 and did his damage by spreading the ball around to the likes of future NFL bad boys Riley Cooper (181 receiving yards) and Aaron Hernandez (111 receiving yards).

Add Tebow’s 51 rushing yards in the contest, and the southpaw became the only player in college football history with over 500 total yards in a BCS bowl game. With the BCS dead and gone, his record should stick around for eternity.

This was an excellent Cincinnati Bearcats team; people forget they came into this game ranked number 3 in the country. No matter how his NFL career ended up, Tebow will go down as one of the finest college quarterbacks of all time.

Video: Tim Tebow's UNFORGETTABLE Final Game 💯

Tim Tebow’s UNFORGETTABLE Final Game 💯


6) Byron Leftwich puts himself on the map in a big way.

Team: (25) Marshall
Opponent: East Carolina
Date: December 19, 2001
Stats: 41-70, 576 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, one rushing TD

The obscure GMAC Bowl is one of those bowls no one ever really cares about, Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich changed that in 2001.He put on a performance we may never see again. The Thundering Herd came back from a 38-8 halftime deficit to beat East Carolina 64-61 in double overtime. Leftwich threw for a month’s worth of yards (576) and accounted for five of the game’s 16 TDs, with four coming via the pass and another on the ground.

Leftwich’s performance commanded national attention, and it certainly played a huge role in the Jaguars opting to select him seventh overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. Leftwich’s backup throughout his first three years of his pro career was (coincidentally) David Garrard, who just so happened to be the East Carolina quarterback on the losing end of the 64-61 record-setting, offensive exhibition.


Video: Marshall vs. East Carolina 2001 Highlights (GMAC Bowl)

Marshall vs. East Carolina 2001 Highlights (GMAC Bowl)

5)”Hail Flutie” Diminutive Doug Flutie comes up big.

Team: (10) Boston College
Opponent: (12) Miami (FL)
Date: November 23, 1984
Stats: 34-46, 472 yards, 4 TDs

On the day after Thanksgiving, in front of a massive national audience, Doug Flutie had the game (and moment) of his 1984 Heisman Trophy-winning season and his entire football career. It came via 472 passing yards in a back-and-forth contest against Miami and was punctuated by a Hail Mary you’ve likely seen a hundred times. As the game clock expired, Flutie chucked the ball 65 yards, into a 30+ MPH wind, which found the hands of wideout Gerard Phelan to give the Eagles a 47-45 victory over the Hurricanes. After the game, Miami’s defensive backs said they didn’t know the 5-foot-9 Flutie could throw the ball that far, which is why Phelan caught the pass unopposed.

Flutie went on to have a hall of fame career in the Canadian Football League winning multiple Grey Cups. He would finish his career with a few solid seasons in the NFL. It is a shame he was never really given a fair shake by the NFL.


Video: Flutie Hail Mary - full radio audio

Flutie Hail Mary – full radio audio

4) Bobby Layne puts his team on his back and wins the Cotton Bowl

Team: (10) Texas
Opponent: (14) Missouri
Date: January 1, 1946
Stats: 3 rushing TDs, 2 passing TDs, 1 receiving TD, four extra points

Bobby Layne was so great in the NFL he led the Detroit Lions to 3 NFL Championships. In college, he may have been even more dominant and on New Year’s Day in 1946 he proved his greatness beyond a shadow of a doubt. As the Texas quarterback, Bobby Layne torched Missouri’s defense, scoring all 40 of his team’s points to best the 14th ranked Tigers squad that had gone undefeated in the Big Six Conference. In the contest, Layne finished an almost perfect 11-for-12 with two passing touchdowns, three rushing scores, a receiving touchdown, and even booted four extra points. He did it all that day


Video: Bobby Layne Leads Texas Past Missouri in '46 Cotton Bowl

Bobby Layne Leads Texas Past Missouri in ’46 Cotton Bowl

3) Red Grange has his way with Michigan and becomes a legend.

Team: Illinois
Opponent: Michigan
Date: October 18, 1924
Stats: 409 total yards, four rushing TDs, one kick return TD, 1 passing TD

It may be difficult to believe that football was once far more prevalent on the collegiate level than the professional level. But that was undoubtedly the truth in 1924 when Illinois’s Red Grange decimated a Michigan Wolverines team that had its eyes on a national championship.

Grange took the game’s opening kickoff 95 yards to the end zone and continued that theme over the course of the next seven minutes by adding TD runs of 67, 56, and 44 yards. It should be noted that he had as many rushing touchdowns in the first quarter as Michigan had allowed in the previous two years combined. But Grange’s beat-down had only just begun. He ran for a touchdown and threw for another.

Red Grange after college signed with George Halas and the Chicago Bears and helped save professional football. Red Grange is a big reason why the NFL was finally accepted.

Video: 1924 Illinois vs. Michigan

1924 Illinois vs. Michigan

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2). Vince Young becomes Superman and snaps USC’s winning streak to win the National Championship.

College football’s greatest performance happened on it’s biggest stage in Pasadena at the historic Rose Bowl against a team that at the time people thought maybe the greatest ever. Do you think the Longhorns have a coach on the Greatest College Football Coaches of all-time list?

Young’s most heroic moment(s) came in the fourth quarter with less than five minutes remaining. USC led 38-26 as the clock ticked down when Young sprinted for a 12-yard touchdown. Then, with just 26 seconds left in the game, facing a 4th-down-and-5, he capped off the incredible comeback with a 9-yard scramble into the end zone. The play has turned into an iconic college football moment in football history that makes every highlight reel and video package. Oh, and Young also scored a two-point conversion to give the Longhorns a bit of breathing room. They held on to defeat the Trojans 41-38, propelling the Longhorns to the top of the college football mountain for the first time since 1970.

Video: Vince Young Ends USC's 34 Game-Winning Streak to Win Title 🏆

Vince Young Ends USC’s 34 Game-Winning Streak to Win Title 🏆

1) Joe Burrow’s 6 Tds lead LSU over Clemson and Trevor Lawrence

Joe Burrow threw 5 TD passes, ran for another score, and captained one of the most memorable seasons in college football history when No. 1 LSU beat No. 3 Clemson 42-25 to win the national championship.

This small-town Ohio boy became a Louisiana legend and won the Tigers (15-0), their first national championship since 2007. He also took home the fourth overall. His six touchdowns and five TD passes were the highest for a BCS or College Football Playoff championship game.

As LSU ended the 29-game winning streak of Clemson, Burrow became the first major college football quarterback to throw 60 touchdown passes in a season. Trevor Lawrence, the Clemson quarterback, was on the losing side for the first time in his college career.

On this night, Lawrence was only 18 for 37 yards for 234 yards. Burrow, a transfer from Ohio State, was able to match Lawrence’s performance. Burrow had thrown all of 16 touchdown passes last season with LSU. Burrow went from being an after-thought in 2018 to being the number-one pick a year later.

Video: Clemson vs. LSU: CFP National Championship | College Football Highlights

Clemson vs. LSU: CFP National Championship | College Football Highlights

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