Heisman Winners Who Didn’t Deserve The Honor

Football | 11/17/21

Since its inception in 1935, there have been over 80 Heisman Trophy Award winners. These men are crowned as the best player in college football the season they won. But how often has the final vote felt… wrong? Not every Heisman winner deserved the honor, and these are the ones who should definitely consider giving theirs back.

Paul Hornung – 1956

paul hornung
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 almost by default because he was the quarterback for Notre Dame. On his way to the award, he only won two games and had four times as many interceptions as touchdowns.

The man who deserved the trophy was none other than Syracuse’s Jim Brown, who ran for more yards than Hornung threw for and scored 13 touchdowns.

John David Crow – 1957

john david crow
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1957, the Heisman was awarded to Texas A&M running back John David Crow. He rushed for 562 yards for the 8-3 Aggies, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. While his stats were good, another running back was even more impressive.

Walt Kowalczyk of Michigan State rushed for 545 yards with 28 less carries, giving him a better per-yard average than Crow. He also scored three more touchdowns.

Gary Beban – 1967

gary beban
John Beard/The Denver Post via Getty Images
John Beard/The Denver Post via Getty Images

It’s no surprise that golden boy quarterback Gary Beban of UCLA won the Heisman in 1967. What’s surprising are the stats he won the trophy with – a paltry 56 completion percentage and only eight touchdowns.

If the Bruins weren’t the topped ranked team in 1967, there’s a good chance another player at a Southern California school would have won. O.J. Simpson ran for over 1,500 yards for USC and finished second in voting.

Pat Sullivan – 1971

pat sullivan
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan was a very solid player the year he won the Heisman Trophy. He threw for over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. There was another player who was even more potent in the end zone, though.

Running back Ed Marinaro rushed for 1,881 yards for Cornell, scored 24 touchdowns, and lost the Heisman to Sullivan.

Archie Griffin – 1975

Archie Griffin Poses with the Heisman Trophy
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Archie Griffin won his second Heisman Trophy in 1975, despite his numbers falling from the year before. When he won in 1974, he ran for nearly 1,700 yards and rushed for a dozen touchdowns.

In 1975, Griffin failed to eclipse 1,500 yards and only found the end zone four times. He didn’t even outperform his stablemate, Pete Johnson, who scored more than 20 touchdowns!

Gino Torretta – 1992

gino torretta
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

How did Miami quarterback Gino Torretta beat San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk to win the Heisman Trophy in 1992? The answer might just be in the name of their programs – the Hurricanes have far more respect in the world of college football than the Aztecs.

Still, the numbers don’t lie, and Torretta only completed 56 percent of his passes and 19 touchdowns. Faulk, on the other hand, rushed for 1,630 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Eric Crouch – 2001

eric crouch
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Tom Hauck/Getty Images

In 2001, Rex Grossman threw for nearly 4,000 yards while tossing 34 touchdown passes. He should have been a shoo-in for the Heisman, right? Unfortunately for Rex, he was only a sophomore, and Eric Crouch’s athleticism was hard to deny.

A dual-threat QB, Crouch rushed for 1,100 yards and added another 1,500 through the air. He also threw more interceptions than touchdowns.

Mark Ingram – 2009

mark ingram
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

This inclusion might be debatable, but considering the competition that Mark Ingram was up against in 2009, it’s not far-fetched to say he didn’t deserve the Heisman. Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards and scored 17 touchdowns on one of the best teams in the country, but do you know who had even better numbers?

Toby Gerhart rushed for 1,871 yards and scored 28 times in 2009 for Stanford. He also won the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the best running back in college football.

Charles Woodson – 1997

charles woodson
Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

In 1997, the entire college football world assumed that Peyton Manning would take home the Heisman Trophy. He was widely considered the best college football player in the nation and finished the season with 3,819 yards and 36 touchdown passes.

Maybe it was that total dominance that became Manning’s downfall. The storyline quickly turned to if anyone could catch up – and that person ended up being Charles Woodson. Woodson was good in 1997 and became the first defensive player to win the award, But he wasn’t on Peyton Manning’s level.

Jason White – 2003

jason white
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Between Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jason White, who do you think would have won the Heisman Trophy in 2003? Despite putting up subpar numbers all year, White won the award for unknown reasons.

Fitzgerald arguably should have won the Heisman. He caught 92 passes for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Tim Brown – 1987

tim brown
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In 1987, wide receiver Tim Brown caught 39 passes for 846 yards and three touchdowns. But he played at Notre Dame, and that was really all that mattered.

Other players with more impressive seasons were QB Don McPherson (2,341 yards passing and 22 TDs) and running backs Lorenzo White (1,572 yards), Craig Heyward (1,791 yards), and Thurman Thomas (1,613yards).

Matt Leinart – 2004

Matt Leinart
Jeff Zelevansky/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
Jeff Zelevansky/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

If Adrian Peterson hadn’t been a freshman in 2004, it’s more than likely he would have won the Heisman instead of Matt Leinart. Leinart was the QB for USC and was a great player, but what Peterson did that year was just… better.

Peterson rushed for over 2,000 yards, led the nation in carries, and scored 15 touchdowns.

Rashaan Salaam – 1994

RASHAAN SALAAM
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine that a 2,000-yard rusher didn’t deserve to win the Heisman, but 1994 was a special year for college football. The University of Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam was sensational, but so were QBs Kerry Collins and Steve McNair as well as RB Ki Jana Carter.

McNair would even go on to be taken with the third overall pick in the draft thanks to his Heisman-worthy numbers at Alcorn State.

Troy Smith – 2006

troy smith
Kelly Kline/Getty Images
Kelly Kline/Getty Images

Playing QB for Ohio State in 2006 was very good for Troy Smith. His numbers were good, but not great – 2,542 yards passing and 30 touchdown passes. Was there an athlete with better numbers? Probably, but they didn’t play for Ohio State.

Smith also ran 72 times, amassing 204 yards on the ground and adding one more touchdown to his record.

Johnny Manziel – 2012

johnny manziel
Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Not many college football players have been more fun to watch the Johnny Manziel was in 2012. The QB for Texas A&M, the young star had the ability to take a broken play and turn it into a touchdown.

Our issue is that Manziel wasn’t really a great QB. He only threw 26 touchdown passes. His big advantage came with his legs, which he used to rush for 1,410 yards and another 21 touchdowns.

Tim Tebow – 2007

tim tebow
Charles Sonnenblick/WireImage
Charles Sonnenblick/WireImage

Tim Tebow was really good in 2007 playing QB for the Florida Gators. But we have bad news, he wasn’t Heisman Trophy good. Tebow completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,286 yards.

He also added 895 yards on the ground, which is nice but seems almost pedestrian considering what other dual-threat QBs have done.

Carson Palmer – 2002

carson palmer
Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In 2002, USC QB Carson Palmer threw for nearly 4,000 yards, finding the endzone 33 times. He also threw 10 interceptions on his way to winning the Heisman.

Palmer didn’t add value to his season on the ground, being a pure pocket passer. If he played for a lesser respected program, he wouldn’t even have been a Heisman finalist.

Charlie Ward – 1993

charlie ward
Scott Halleran /Allsport/Getty Images
Scott Halleran /Allsport/Getty Images

A Heisman-winning QB with underwhelming stats isn’t surprising, especially when you play for a big program. Charlie Ward was exactly that in 1993 lining up under center for Florida State.

Ward barely threw for more than 3,000 yards and only tossed 27 touchdowns. His 339 yards running doesn’t make up for that lack of production, either.

Johnny Lattner – 1953

Johnny Lattner Holding Football Under Arm
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

A do it all player for Notre Dame, Johnny Lattner was good at a lot of things, but never great. Still, that versatility is likely one of the reasons he won the Heisman in 1953.

That year, Lattner rushed for 651 yards, caught 14 passes for 204 yards, and tallied four interceptions on the defensive side of the ball.

John Huarte – 1964

Quarterback John Huarte
Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Tell us if you’ve heard this story before – a Notre Dame player with subpar stats wins the Heisman over a non-Notre Dame player with stellar stats. It’s a story as old as time, and one that happened in 1964 when John Huarte won the award over Jerry Rhome.

The bottom line is that Rhome threw twice as many touchdown passes and one-third fewer interceptions than Huarte.