Heisman Trophy: Ranking The All-Time Winners

    Ranking the Heisman Trophy winners. Who had the greatest seasons ever? Which winners didn't quite measure up to the legends?

    December 12, 2015


    Who are the ten greatest Heisman winners of all-time? Which players were the best of the best in their respective trophy-winning seasons? Here the all-time greatest individual seasons.


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    Ten Greatest Heisman Winners

    1. RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State, 1988

    It’s the standard by which all great statistical seasons are measured. The greatest single season in the history of college football is made more amazing considering today’s day and age of gaudy, outsized stats – at least compared to past eras. Sanders ran for 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns, caught 19 passes for 106 yards, returned 421 yards worth of kickoffs and 94 yards worth of punts. To put this into perspective, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey had a Heisman-caliber 2015 season with 3,496 yards of total offense in 13 games. Sanders came up with 3,249 yards in just 11. Throw in the bowl game stats like the NCAA does now – obviously, these don’t have anything to do with the Heisman – and Sanders’ 2,850 rushing yards in 12 games were more than all but 15 teams came up with by the end of the 2015 regular season.

    2. RB Tony Dorsett, Pitt, 1976

    T.D. carried the Panthers to the national title, but first he took home the Heisman after closing out his career as the leading rusher in college football history. It wasn’t just the 1,948 yards and 23 scores; it was the way he did it. The Panther defense did its part, but Dorsett carries the offense at times in the clutch averaging well over 200 yards per game over the final seven games of the season. The bowl stats don’t count in the NCAA record books on in the Heisman voting, but counting his performance against Georgia for the national championship, he finished his year with 2,150 yards.

    3. RB Marcus Allen, USC, 1981

    It took something truly special to keep Herschel Walker – who ran for 1,891 yards and scored 20 times – from winning the Heisman, and Marcus Allen was able to do it. Considering the bowl stats didn’t count until 2002, Allen officially became the first 2,000-yard rusher cranking up 2,342 in the regular season as he ripped apart the record books. Not just a runner, the ultimate workhorse carried the ball 433 times on the season and led the team with 34 catches.

    4. QB Cam Newton, Auburn, 2010

    It came from out of nowhere. Auburn wasn’t expected to be a player for the 2010 national title, but Newton came up with the greatest all-around season by any quarterback in college football history. Not only did he run for 20 touchdowns and throw for 28 more, but he tore off over 1,409 rushing yards to go along with his 2,589 regular season passing yards on the way to the SEC championship and, eventually, the national title to close out a perfect season.

    5. RB Herschel Walker, Georgia, 1982

    Herschel probably deserved to win the 1980 Heisman as a freshman, and he would’ve won it in just about any other year but 1981 – USC’s Marcus Allen came up with a record-setting campaign – but it was a no-brainer in junior season with 1,752 yards and 16 scores. Adding to his legend was how he fought through a broken thumb and a horrible opener against Clemson to carry the Bulldog offense. Once the thumb healed, he became even more unstoppable on the way to the national title game – and then Penn State stopped him in the Sugar Bowl.

    6. RB O.J. Simpson, USC, 1968

    The best player in 1967 should’ve won the Heisman over UCLA quarterback Gary Beban. O.J. Simpson didn’t leave any doubt in 1968, tearing of 1,880 yards and 23 touchdowns while catching 26 passes for 211 yards. The season was more of a Heisman coronation than a true campaign – he won that year by the largest margin ever.

    7. QB Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007

    Strangely enough, he had a stronger year as a leader and playmaker in 2008 leading Florida to the national title – with an epic promise speech made along the way – and he was part of the national title season as a freshman in 2006. But it was 2007 that put him at a whole other level as the first quarterback to ever throw for 20 touchdowns and run for 20 scores in a season. More than that, he broke through the underclassmen barrier as the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman.

    8. QB Danny Wuerffel, Florida, 1996

    It took something special to be Steve Spurrier’s greatest quarterback. Wuerffel eventually led the Gators to the national title, but before that he took home the Heisman after throwing for 3,625 yards and 39 touchdowns against one of the nation’s toughest schedules. He had a more efficient season in 1995, but by his senior year he had the Spurrier system down – the Ball Coach never won another national title.

    9. RB Mike Rozier, Nebraska, 1983

    Marcus Allen had already broken the 2,000-yard barrier, but he did it by grinding out most of his runs. Rozier did it with panache averaging a gaudy 7.8 yards per carry – then an NCAA record – for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns for one of the greatest offensive juggernauts of all-time. Steady, he topped 100 yards in every game.

    10. WR Desmond Howard, Michigan, 1991

    The statistics don’t look quite so eye-popping now, but at the time his 985 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns were terrific. But it was more than that, turning in a huge and dramatic year as a return man averaging 27.5 yards per kickoff return and 14.1 yards per punt return while finishing with an NCAA-record 23 total scores.


    MORE: Ranking the 2015 Heisman Finalists: Who should win?


    How do you possibly compare a statistical monster with a great all-around playmaker? How do you take a Jameis Winston and compare what he was able to do with what Les Horvath at quarterback for Ohio State back in 1944? Trying to take into account the other options in the respective Heisman races, and what each player meant to each season, here’s the best of the rest.

    11. 1955 Howard Cassady, RB Ohio State

    12. 1998 Ricky Williams, RB Texas

    13. 1978 Billy Sims, RB Oklahoma

    14. 1984 Doug Flutie, QB Boston College

    15. 1977 Earl Campbell, RB Texas

    16. 2008 Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma

    17. 1999 Ron Dayne, RB Wisconsin

    18. 2013 Jameis Winston, QB Florida State

    19. 1974 Archie Griffin, RB Ohio State

    20. 1960 Joe Bellino, RB Navy

    21. 1952 Billy Vessels, RB Oklahoma

    22. 1986 Vinny Testaverde, QB Miami 

    23. 2005 Derrick Henry, RB Alabama  

    24. 1979 Charles White, RB USC

    25. 1997 Charles Woodson, CB Michigan

    26. 1963 Roger Staubach, QB Navy

    27. 1946 Glenn Davis, RB Army

    28. 1941 Bruce Smith, HB Minnesota

    29. 1951 Dick Kazmaier, RB Princeton

    30. 1939 Nile Kinnick, RB Iowa

    31. 1938 Davey O’Brien, QB TCU

    32. 1940 Tom Harmon, RB Michigan

    33. 1995 Eddie George, RB Ohio State

    34. 2006 Troy Smith, QB Ohio State

    35. 2004 Matt Leinart, QB USC

    36. 1965 Mike Garrett, RB USC

    37. 1935 Jay Berwanger, RB Chicago

    38. 1942 Frank Sinkwich, HB Georgia

    39. 1944 Les Horvath, QB Ohio State

    40. 1993 Charlie Ward, QB Florida State

    41. 2000 Chris Weinke, QB Florida State

    42. 1945 Doc Blanchard, RB Army

    43. 2006 Reggie Bush, RB USC

    44. 1970 Jim Plunkett, QB Stanford

    45. 1961 Ernie Davis, RB Syracuse

    46. 2011 Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor

    47. 1990 Ty Detmer, QB BYU

    48. 2014 Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon

    49. 1985 Bo Jackson, RB Auburn

    50. 1973 John Cappelletti, RB Penn State

    51. 1980 George Rogers, RB South Carolina

    52. 1954 Alan Ameche, FB Wisconsin

    53. 1950 Vic Janowicz, RB Ohio State

    54. 1989 Andre Ware, QB Houston

    55. 1962 Terry Baker, QB Oregon State

    56. 2012 Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M

    57. 1969 Steve Owens, RB Oklahoma

    58. 1994 Rashaan Salaam, RB Colorado

    59. 1937 Clint Frank, QB Yale

    60. 1948 Doak Walker, RB SMU

    61. 1936 Larry Kelley, E Yale

    62. 1972 Johnny Rodgers, WR Nebraska

    63. 1949 Leon Hart, E Notre Dame

    64. 1966 Steve Spurrier, QB Florida

    65. 2003 Jason White, QB Oklahoma

    66. 1987 Tim Brown, WR Notre Dame

    67. 1943 Angelo Bertelli, QB Notre Dame

    68. 2002 Carson Palmer, QB USC

    69. 2009 Mark Ingram, RB Alabama

    70. 1975 Archie Griffin, RB Ohio State

    71. 1957 John David Crow, RB Texas A&M

    72. 1964 John Huarte, QB Notre Dame

    73. 1959 Billy Cannon, HB LSU

    74. 1958 Pete Dawkins, RB Army

    75. 1971 Pat Sullivan, QB Auburn

    76. 1947 Johnny Lujack, QB Notre Dame

    77. 1956 Paul Hornung, QB Notre Dame

    78. 1992 Gino Torretta, QB Miami

    79. 2001 Eric Crouch, QB Nebraska

    80. 1953 Johnny Lattner, HB Notre Dame

    81. 1967 Gary Beban, QB UCLA

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