Which gravity-defying, ball-hawking, defensive playmakers make it into the CFB records books for the most career interceptions? While film vs. statistics arguments devalues interceptions as a defining characteristic of great defensive back play, there are few things in football more visually pleasing than a fantastic interception. Which players have the most in college football history?
CFB records: Career interceptions
The NCAA records book for CFB lists Illinois’ Al Brosky as the player with the most career interceptions. From 1950 to 1952, Brosky snagged 29 interceptions, averaging 1.1 interceptions per game across 27 games. Meanwhile, Tom Collins of DII Indianapolis registered 37 interceptions between 1982 and 1985.
However, as the NCAA doesn’t provide a comprehensive list of player statistics, we’ve used sports-reference.com to compile this list of career interceptions, using data from 1976 onwards.
1) Martin Bayless, Bowling Green State
Players like Martin Bayless aren’t meant to be in the CFB records books. And yet, it’s players like Bayless who make college football what it is. A former walk-on out of Dayton Belmont High School, Bayless wasn’t a flashy high school recruit with colleges beating a path to his door to secure his signature. Now, his 27 interceptions rank amongst the most in college football history.
Despite being a walk-on, Bayless earned the starting role as a freshman and never looked back. He secured five interceptions in his first season with the Falcons and finished his career in 1983 with a career-high 10. At 6’2″ and 205 pounds, he was also a physical presence who earned the nickname “Bam-Bam” at the NFL level. Unsurprisingly, the impactful defensive back has a place in the Bowling Green State Hall of Fame.
2) Tony Thurman, Boston College
Inside Boston College, Tony Thurman is a legend. A consensus All-American from the Cotton Bowl-winning 1984 team, Thurman also resides in the Boston College Varsity Club Athletic Hall of Fame. He was named an ACC Legend in 2010, and his legendary No. 17 jersey is one of just a handful retired by the program.
Thurman also holds a number of program records, but it’s his 26 career interceptions that place him in the CFB records books.
After snagging two interceptions as a freshman, the Boston College defensive back only got better and better, culminating with 12 interceptions in the 1984 season. That ranks tied for third in single-season interceptions in college football history. Thurman’s final interception came in the famous 1984 comeback win over Alabama.
3) Tracy Saul, Texas Tech
College football players don’t come much more decorated than Texas Tech safety Tracy Saul. Having earned All-Southwest Conference honors in each of his four playing seasons, the former Red Raider was named to the SWC Hall of Fame in 2015. In addition, following a distinguished career as a kicker, safety, and quarterback for Idalou High School, Saul also resides in the Texas High School Hall of Fame.
Yet, it’s his 25 college career interceptions that earn him his place in the CFB records book. Logging eight interceptions in his freshman season, Saul repeated the feat two years later in the 1991 season. He finished his college career with five interceptions in the 1992 season. Additionally, the safety continued to showcase the versatility from his high school days as an impactful punt returner.
4) Lamont Thompson, Washington State
When you log three interceptions in the Apple Cup rivalry, there’s a chance that you’re going to etch your name into Washington State folklore. Not only did Lamont Thompson do that as a freshman in 1997, but he also put himself into the CFB records book with 22 career interceptions. Thompson was also a 2015 inductee into the Washington State Hall of Fame.
During his first campaign for the Cougars, while playing safety, Thompson logged six interceptions. For 1998 and 1999, he switched to cornerback, and despite a difficult period for Washington State, Thompson still tallied eight interceptions in two seasons.
According to Sports Reference, Thompson finished his career with eight interceptions in 2001, having missed the entire 2000 campaign with a neck injury. However, Washington State claims 10 interceptions for their DB, which would give him 24 career interceptions.
Career interceptions | 5-10
Normally in these pieces, we highlight the top five players in the books of CFB records. However, there are six players who all tallied 21 interceptions during their college careers.
FSU’s Terrell Buckley deserves an honorable mention, with his 12 interceptions during the 1991 season tying for the third-most single-season interceptions in college football history. Meanwhile, each of the defensive impact-makers listed below had at least one season where they led the nation in interceptions.
5) Terrell Buckley
Florida State, 21 interceptions
6) Chuck Cecil
Arizona, 21 interceptions
7) Jamar Fletcher
Wisconsin, 21 interceptions
8) Jim Leonhard
Wisconsin, 21 interceptions
9) Ed Reed
Miami (FL), 21 interceptions
10) Alphonso Smith
Wake Forest, 21 interceptions