If it seems like the passing game gets harder to defend with each passing season (get it?), that’s because it does.
The 2018 season was officially the most efficient passing season on record in college football. According to NCAA data published by CBS Sports, the average passing play across FBS in 2018 went for 7.397 yards, a new record that narrowly edges out the previous record of 7.391, set all the way back in 2016.
FBS quarterbacks completed 59.887 percent of their passes, the third best rate in history. On the whole, teams scored 3.76 touchdowns and 29.56 points per game, also the third most in college football history.
But it wasn’t just the passing game that succeeded in 2018. Running plays went for 4.505 yards per play last season, creating an average of 5.78 yards per play. Both of those figures rank second all-time, narrowly missing out on records set in 2016 (5.86 yards per play per, 4.59 per rush).
Six teams averaged right at 7.5 yards per pass attempt in 2018, placing them at the exact median in 2018, tied for 61st in the nation. Those same teams would have placed 40th in 2009, and 53rd as recently as 2017.
At the elite level, 2018 was the first season in which two teams — Oklahoma and Alabama — averaged at least 11 yards per attempt while throwing at least 400 passes.
While Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray beat out Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for the Heisman Trophy, Tagovailoa edged out Murray for the FBS passing efficiency rating record. Tagovailoa connected on an even 69 percent of his 355 passes for 3,966 yards (11.2 per attempt) with 43 touchdowns against six interceptions — good for a 199.44 rating, beating Murray by .24 points. Both players broke the record set by Baker Mayfield in 2017, who booked a 198.92 rating en route to his Heisman.
Russell Wilson in 2011 set the FBS efficiency record at 191.78, a mark that stood for four seasons. Wilson is now in fifth place, trailing Tagovailoa, Murray and Mayfield’s 2016 and 2017 campaigns.
On the flip side, it’s become undeniably harder to defend the pass in college football.
Consider that Miami led the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2018 with a 101.39 opponent efficiency rating. Those Hurricanes would have ranked 12th in 2009.