What would happen if you took all of the Heisman winners and tried to figure out who were the most worthy and who had the best seasons in their respective campaigns?
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The Heisman is supposed to go to the player who had the best year, so throwing out everything else you know about many of the greatest college football players ever, and only going by their Heisman winning years – and NOT factoring in how they did in the pros – here’s how their respective winning seasons would stack up.
This isn’t a ranking of the best players of all-time. It’s a ranking of how good each Heisman-winning season was compared to the rest of the field, and put into a historical sense.
There are several things to take into account about these rankings.
– The information available now is night-and-day better than it was in past eras.
With the Internet, ESPN, on-demand stats, better television coverage, better direct marketing campaigns, and more sophisticated sports information departments, the Heisman voting is generally stronger than it was in the old days when you needed to either play for a powerhouse to be considered.
That’s why many of the older winners are further down the list – they weren’t necessarily the best candidates. However, that didn’t stop a few major mistakes in recent seasons, too.
– Historically, the Heisman almost always went to junior or senior offensive skill players – underclassmen winning the thing is relatively new.
– Don’t forget the race factor before 1961 when Syracuse’s Ernie Davis won. Several African-Americans were deserving before Davis, but didn’t win.
– Don’t just go by statistics. Different eras meant different things to the numbers.
– Who was the signature player in each season? That was debatable, but a whole lot of older winners won because it was their turn, and not necessarily because they were the biggest stars or had the best campaigns.
– And finally, several players on this list had better seasons than their Heisman winning years, but they don’t count. For example, Army’s Glenn Davis would’ve probably ended up in the top three if either of the two seasons before his Heisman winning year were included. Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers was better in 1971 than he was in 1972 when he won the Heisman. Only the Heisman winning seasons count.
And with that …
84. 1967 Gary Beban, QB UCLA
runner-up: O.J. Simpson, RB USC
The strangest of all Heisman victories, Beban only threw for 1,359 yards with eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His one shining moment came on national television completing 16 of 24 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against USC. There was one problem … UCLA lost thanks to a scintillating performance from Trojan star RB O.J. Simpson.
Simpson led his team to the national title thanks to a historic 64-yard touchdown run against the Bruins to finish with 1,543 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. Beban did run for 11 scores on the season, but he only gained 227 yards.
83. 1953 Johnny Lattner, HB Notre Dame
runner-up: Paul Giel, HB Minnesota
Call this one for the Notre Dame hype machine. Lattner didn’t even lead the Irish in passing, rushing, receiving or scoring. He was a great all-purpose player and a fantastic defensive back, but his close win over Minnesota’s Paul Giel is among Heisman historians’ all-time arguments.
82. 2001 Eric Crouch, QB Nebraska
runner-up: Rex Grossman, QB Florida
Had Florida’s Rex Grossman been a senior and Nebraska’s Eric Crouch been a sophomore, and not the other way around, it would’ve been a Grossman landslide. Crouch had a great year rushing, but his claim to the honor was a touchdown catch to seal a win over Oklahoma. Grossman threw for fewer than 300 yards once, 290 in the win over Florida State, and in the team’s biggest games he threw for 362 against Tennessee, 464 against LSU and 407 against Georgia.
81. 1971 Pat Sullivan, QB Auburn
runner-up: Ed Marinaro, RB Cornell
Sullivan was a fine passer, but he was known more for being a great winner and leader, getting Auburn to a 9-0 start. However, he had his worst performance in the biggest game of the year, throwing for only 121 yards with two interceptions in a 31-7 loss to Alabama. On the year, he threw for 2,262 yards and 21 touchdowns with 13 picks, and he ran for 66 yards and two scores. He won partly because he was tremendous the year before – he had a better 1970 season.
80. 1992 Gino Torretta, QB Miami
runner-up: Marshall Faulk, RB San Diego State
Torretta’s name has become unfairly become synonymous for players who win the Heisman when voters can’t decide on a candidate. He threw for a solid 3,060 yards and 19 touchdowns with seven interceptions before the Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama, but it helped that he was a senior, and San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk and Georgia’s Garrison Hearst weren’t.
79. 1956 Paul Hornung, QB Notre Dame
runner-up: Johnny Majors, RB Tennessee
Either you could say Hornung won because of the Notre Dame name, or you can just call him a victim of circumstance as he was a great player on a lousy team. The only Heisman winner from a losing team, he only ran for 420 yards and racked up 1,337 yards of total offense. However, stats don’t measure quite how good he was on an awful team.
78. 1947 Johnny Lujack, QB Notre Dame
runner-up: Bob Chappus, HB Michigan
Sort of the early version of Gino Torretta, Lujack won the Heisman as the signature player on a ridiculously talented team. Along with being one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the first half of the 20th Century, he was also known for being a top tackler.
77. 1975 Archie Griffin, RB Ohio State
runner-up: Chuck Muncie, RB California
One of the great Heisman debates, Griffin won his second straight award despite only rushing for only four touchdowns – Pete Johnson took carries and stats away rushing for 1,059 yards and 26 touchdowns. Cal’s Chuck Muncie ran for 1,460 yards averaging 6.4 yards per carry with 13 touchdowns. Worse yet, Griffin had his only non-100-yard day against Michigan with a 46-yard performance. The Buckeyes still won and went off to the Rose Bowl where they lost to UCLA – Griffin ran for 93 yards.
76. 1958 Pete Dawkins, RB Army
runner-up: Randy Duncan, QB Iowa
Dawkins was the leader of a mighty Army team that went 8-0-1. He ran for 12 touchdowns and was a decent kick returner, but he primarily won the Heisman for being the American ideal. He was smart, good-looking, and the top player for the high-powered Army team.
75. 1959 Billy Cannon, HB LSU
runner-up: Rich Lucas, QB Penn State
Cannon was the heart and soul of the 11-0 LSU team … in 1958. He was good in 1959, remembered for a legendary performance in a 7-3 win over Ole Miss, but he won the Award off the year before. Had he won it in 1958, Cannon would be much, much higher on this list.
74. 1964 John Huarte, QB Notre Dame
runner-up: Jerry Rhome, QB Tulsa
Huarte had a good season leading the Irish to a 9-1 record, but it was nothing special, only completing 57% of his passes for 2,062 yards and 16 touchdowns.
73. 1957 John David Crow, RB Texas A&M
runner-up: Alex Karras, DT Iowa
Crow had a good year, but not a sensational one for a Heisman winner, playing in only seven games due to injuries and rushing for 562 yards with six touchdowns. However, he picked off five passes as A&M won its first eight games before losing the final three by a total of six points.
72. 2009 Mark Ingram, RB Alabama
runner-up: Toby Gerhart, RB Alabama
Ingram finished 11th in the nation in rushing with 1,658 yards and 17 scores, but he came through in the biggest games. He ran for 113 yards and three score and caught two passes for 76 yards in the SEC Championship win over Florida, and he tore off 246 yards against South Carolina and 144 yards against LSU. Call this an MVP award as he helped take Alabama to a national title.
71. 2002 Carson Palmer, QB USC
runner-up: Brad Banks, QB Iowa
Palmer was terrific in 2002, throwing for 3,942 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions leading the Trojans to the Orange Bowl. He’d be higher if USC had played for the national title or had even won the Pac-10 title outright – the Trojans lost to Washington State. An argument could be made that the Cougars’ Jason Gesser was the conference’s best quarterback.
70. 1943 Angelo Bertelli, QB Notre Dame
runner-up: Bob Odell, HB Penn
How do you fairly judge Bertelli’s Heisman season? He threw ten touchdown passes as Notre Dame won its first six games by a combined score of 261 to 31, but his campaign was cut short thanks to a petty little annoyance … World War II. Bertelli was drafted into the Army, but he still won the Heisman.
69. 1987 Tim Brown, WR Notre Dame
runner-up: Don McPherson, QB Syracuse
Brown was the star just before Lou Holtz’s Irish teams became special. In his Heisman winning season, Brown was the ultimate game-changer with his kick returns as well as his pass catching and rushing skills, coming up with 34 catches for 846 yards and eight scores.
68. 2003 Jason White, QB Oklahoma
runner-up: Larry Fitzgerald, WR Pittsburgh
White had a great year, but unfortunately, he’ll mostly be remembered for his end-of-the-year collapse – a 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship; the biggest game of the season – than his phenomenal 3,846-yard, 40 touchdown pass performance.
67. 1966 Steve Spurrier, QB Florida
runner-up: Bob Griese, QB Purdue
The young Ball Coach actually could throw a little bit and was a better runner than most of the stars he coached. He led the Gators to a 9-2 record as an all-around yardage machine – for the era – throwing for 2,012 yards and 16 touchdowns with eight picks, and running for 66 yards.
66. 1949 Leon Hart, E Notre Dame
runner-up: Charlie Justice, RB North Carolina
Hart was the star on one of Notre Dame’s most dominant teams as an offensive lineman, pass catcher, top pass rusher and bruising fullback. This might have been the best all-around true football player pick – the stats didn’t matter for what he was worth.
65. 1972 Johnny Rodgers, WR Nebraska
runner-up: Greg Pruitt, RB Oklahoma
While he didn’t have quite the season he had in 1971, Rodgers was still an electrifying all-purpose star as Nebraska went 9-2-1 with an Orange Bowl win. He caught 58 passes for 1,013 yards and nine scores.
64. 1936 Larry Kelley, E Yale
runner-up: Sam Francis, FB Nebraska
How many linemen are also home-run hitting receivers? Kelley was not only the nation’s best offensive lineman, but he was also the team’s top receiver with 54 and 46-yard touchdown grabs – catching 17 passes for 372 yards and four scores – for a great Yale team that finished 7-1.
63. 1948 Doak Walker, RB SMU
runner-up: Charlie Justice, RB North Carolina
Walker won the Heisman as a junior leading the Mustangs to the Cotton Bowl rushing for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. The stats weren’t great, but he was the star of the college football season.
62. 1937 Clint Frank, QB Yale
runner-up: Byron White, RB Colorado
One of the best combinations of speed out of the backfield and passing accuracy, Frank also was one of the nation’s top defensive players in 1937. He threw or 465 yards and ran or 667 yards and 11 scores – just blow off his 29% completion rate.
61. 1994 Rashaan Salaam, RB Colorado
runner-up: Ki-Jana Carter, RB Penn State
Salaam ran for more yards, but Carter was the better player in 1994. Salaam’s highlight was a 317-yard day against Texas. He ran for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns in 1994, leading the Buffaloes to an 11-1 season.