Former Houston quarterback Ken Bailey remembers well the last time he played in the Astrodome. Bailey was on the sideline soaking in the spoils of another large victory. The game was down to its final minutes when he noticed the chants.
"We want 100! We want 100!"
Larry Gatlin, who would later team up with his brothers and go on to fame as a country recording artist, had just recorded his first and only career reception, a 26-yard touchdown pass to give the Cougars a 93-6 lead (Yes, that's ninety-three points) over the visiting Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The dogs had long ago been called off, but Gatlin's family was in town from Lubbock and he managed to talk his teammates into throwing one more pass to give him a taste of glory. Now within striking distance of triple digits, the Houston faithful smelled blood. The Cougars on the sideline smelled it too.
Coach Bill Yeoman heard the calls from the crowd and wanted nothing to do with them. Instructions made their way down the sideline that the third-string offense was to kneel on the ball if it had to take the field again. The defense, which included senior linebacker Wade Phillips (Yes, that's NFL coaching veteran Wade Phillips), caught wind of the plan and decided they wanted to make an attempt to appease the crowd.
Tulsa, badly overmatched to begin with and further exhausted by a flu bug that had knocked a good chunk of the depth chart off its feet during the week, quickly churned through its first three downs and sent its punt team on to the field again. Most of the Tulsa roster, which included a freshman linebacker named Phil McGraw (Yes, that's the one who has since shed the "McGraw" for a Dr. prefix and a daytime television show) had given up at least a quarter ago.
Phillips doesn't remember who made the decision to put the first-team defense back on the field with about two minutes to play. But he knows he was lined up to block when Tulsa punted, and cornerback Mike Simpson promptly returned it for a touchdown -- Houston's 14th of the game. An extra point later and they had reached 100.
"We had scored a lot of points before, but all the sudden it just got out of hand," Phillips said. "...To be honest, I'm surprised someone else hasn't done it yet."
It has been 49 years since Houston hit the century mark in the Astrodome, and no Division I football team has matched the mark since. Despite the explosion in offensive efficiency in the 21st century, no team in the past 10 years has come within two touchdowns of matching the 1968 Cougars' biggest day. Which raises the question: Will anyone do it again?
"That would be really cool," says Drew Lock, who threw for five touchdowns in Missouri's 79-0 rout of Delaware State last September -- the highest point total of the 2016 season. The Tigers opened up a 58-0 lead before both teams agreed to play 10-minute quarters in the second half. Lock says it might be tough in SEC country, but he believes reaching 100 is feasible in the right circumstances.
Houston reached 70-plus points in two other games earlier that year thanks largely to its revolutionary veer offense, but the Cougars needed a near-perfect storm to make the sizable leap to 100. Some of the elements that helped them get there are still easy enough to imagine in a game today. Others might be harder to come by.
College football is once again in an era when offenses are evolving at a faster rate than defenses. There are roughly a dozen games per year (11 in 2016 and 13 in 2015) in which the winner scored 70-plus points. Compare that to a decade earlier in 2006 when no team reached the 70-point mark and only 15 games topped 60-plus points.
Today's offenses are engineered to score quickly. Thanks to ESPN's Stats & Information, we know the average length of all scoring drives (touchdowns and field goals) for FBS teams during the 2016 season was 2:51. It's not a fluke, either, as offenses are gradually speeding up. In 2006, the average time per scoring drive was 3:05. In 2011, it was 2:56.
The fastest offenses in the nation have all hovered around or just above the two-minute mark during the past decade. There were 28 teams that averaged 2:30 or less per scoring drive in 2016.
So it's not uncommon for a team to drive down the field and score in less than two minutes. If an offense were to line up 15 of those drives in a row, it could break the 100-point mark while splitting time of possession evenly with its opponent.
In theory, it's not hard to imagine. The best offenses have no problem putting together dozens of drives each year that take less than two minutes. From a probability standpoint, it's only a matter of time before one group manages to string 15 of them together in one game.
Mismatches might be fading away
The College Football Playoff has discouraged mismatches by emphasizing strength of schedule when grading teams. Some conferences like the Big Ten had gone so far as to stop playing FCS schools altogether, although it has softened its stance recently.
While there might be fewer of them, the mismatches that produce outlandish scores still exist. The closest this century has come to seeing a team hit the century mark came in 2012 when Oklahoma State (No. 3 offense in the FBS that year) posted 84 points on Savannah State (1-10 in the MEAC) to start the season. The Cowboys were mostly scoring at will that day except for a stretch in the second quarter when they fell out of stride with a measly 35-0 lead. In three consecutive drives, Oklahoma State threw an interception, fumbled and missed a field goal attempt. Had they kicked the field goal and scored on the first two drives, the Cowboys could have ended the game with 101 points.
North Carolina came close a year later, posting 80 points on Old Dominion before the coaches agreed to shorten the fourth quarter by five minutes. Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora had his offense take a knee on a fourth-and-goal play with two minutes remaining. He said it was as uncomfortable as he has ever felt coaching a football game.
"If everything happened right, we could see it," Fedora said. "It could happen, but I don't want it to happen. I can only imagine what that feels like on the other side, and I wouldn't want that feeling."
Breaking the code
The biggest thing standing in the way of a team scoring 100 points might be the short list of coaches who are interested in doing so. No one, it seems, wants to be the guy to hang a Benjamin on another member of the coaching fraternity.
"I don't think any coach is going to take it there," Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury said. "I think they'd find a way to not get in the end zone at that point. I would hope so."
Other coaches, like Fedora, have a little less faith in some of their colleagues to show mercy. ("You can figure them out yourselves," he said.) They aren't as certain that some in the profession would draw the line at style points aimed at impressing a bowl committee for the playoff selectors versus embarrassing an opponent. Due to the number of former coaches on the playoff committee, it might actually be a detriment to a team's playoff case to beat up a weaker opponent to such an extreme.
Some coaches believe that if a team is going to get to 100, it will need to be prodded on by an opponent that is also scoring at will. Kingsbury's team, for example, has allowed 60-plus points on six occasions in the past two years. His offense is potent enough that opponents need a serous cushion before they feel comfortable taking a foot off the gas. The closest a game has come to that type of scoring free-for-all was Pittsburgh's 76-61 win over Syracuse last fall.
"Did you pay any attention to the Pitt-Syracuse game last year?" West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said when asked if he thinks triple digits are coming. "We're approaching it. Hopefully, I'm not a part of a game like that."
The 1968 Tulsa team was in no way threatening to commit any acts of repeat offense in late November at the Astrodome. Houston, nonetheless, scored 49 of its 100 points in the fourth quarter despite emptying its bench.
The thought of hitting that milestone, Phillips and Bailey both said, didn't occur to the Cougars' players before Gatlin's personal quest to reach the end zone pulled them to within one score. At that point, they figured they might as well give the people what they wanted. They maintain that their thirst for retribution (Tulsa had upset Houston on the road the previous year) didn't cause them to ignore the game's code of sportsmanship ethics. It was simply too hard not to score on the thoroughly depleted Golden Hurricane team due to the game's unique set of circumstances.
"I think it can be done again," Bailey said. "Especially with the way people throw the ball around now, the prospects are there and things in life are made to be repeated."