NCAA Football

Top 20 Heisman Trophy Winners of All-Time

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Top 20 Heisman Trophy Winners


The Heisman trophy is the most prestigious award that is handed out each college football season. There’s only a select few individuals in the world that can say they were Heisman winners and that’s what makes the award so special.

The Heisman award has been given out each season since 1935 to the outstanding football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. In simpler terms it is awarded to the most outstanding college football player from each season. Since 1935 the trophy has been awarded 77 times to 76 individuals with only one player winning the award twice. Each year that the award is presented to the new winner the majority of the previous winners are on stage to represent the pageantry and tradition that comes along with the award.

Players that are fortunate enough to win the award put up the best numbers or had the best overall performance out of anyone else in the country that season.

Some seasons are better than other and that’s what this list is for. Ranking the top 20 Heisman trophy winners of all time was tough to do. There were some outstanding players that put up phenomenal seasons to win the award but some seasons were better than others.

The basis of this ranking is to look specifically at each Heisman winner and their stats from that specific season. Career numbers do not play a factor in this ranking system, only that player’s stats from the season he won the award.

With that in mind take a look at the top 20 Heisman trophy winners of all time based on that individual’s season.

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20. 1993 QB Charlie Ward, Florida State


In Ward’s junior season he led the Seminoles to a 12-1 record and their first national championship. That year he would throw for 3,032 yards, 27 TDs and just 4 INT. After that outstanding season he won the Heisman in a landslide gaining 84 percent of the first place votes, the most ever up to that point.

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19. 1999 RB Ron Dayne, Wisconsin


Dayne’s senior season at Wisconsin was filled with pretty much every offensive award that was given out and multiple broken records.

Ricky Williams set the all-time rushing record the season before but Dayne broke it the very next year rushing for 1,834 yards to give him 6,397 for his career. The most impressive fact about that numbers is that it does NOT even include the rushing performances in any of his four bowl game appearances.

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18. 1978 RB Billy Sims, Oklahoma

Bob Albright- Daily Oklahoman

With all of the great running backs to don an Oklahoma Sooners jersey, Billy Sims is often considered the best.

His Heisman winning season in 1978 consisted of 1,762 rushing yards and 20 TDs. On top of those numbers he averaged almost eight yards per carry, which is almost unheard of. The numbers he put up in ’78 were off the charts and it was one of the better rushing performances up to that point.

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17. 2004 QB Matt Leinart, USC


Leinart’s legacy at USC will likely always be tied to Reggie Bush and the success that they had there together.

His season in 2004 was one to be remembered as he led the Trojans to a BCS National Championship and put up spectacular numbers. Leinart would finish the season with 3,322 yards and 33 TDs while only throwing six interceptions. With Leinart and Bush in the same backfield that offense was practically unstoppable.

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16. 1985 RB Bo Jackson, Auburn


Jackson turned 50 yesterday but back in his prime he was one of the most exciting, impossible to tackle running backs that ever played.

In 1985 he rushed for 1,786 yards, which was the second best performance in SEC history. Along with the record setting rushing total he finished with 17 TDs and had an average of 6.4 yards per rush, which at the time was the best single season in conference history.

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15. 1994 RB Rashaan Salaam, Colorado


Not many people remember Rashaan Salaam but they should because the year he won the Heisman was one of the best rushing performances in college football history.

He finished his junior season with 2,055 yards and 24 TDs making him only of only four other running backs to ever rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. That year he had four consecutive games where he rushed for over 200 yards including a school record 362 total yards against Texas. To cap off the year he led the buffaloes to Fiesta Bowl victory and a No. 3 finish in the Associated Press Poll.

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14. 2008 QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma


Bradford’s Heisman campaign was one of the greatest passing performances in college football history.

In 2008 he threw for 4,720 yards, 50 touchdowns, a 68 percent completion rate and only eight interceptions. On top of that he finished with a passer rating of 180.84, the highest rating that any quarterback has ever received.

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13. 1997 CB Charles Woodson, Michigan


Woodson is the only true defensive player that has ever won a Heisman trophy and he may be the only one to ever win it if Manti Te’o does not win it this season.

He won practically every major defensive award that season while leading Michigan to an undefeated season and a share of the national championship. Woodson finished the season with eight interceptions and scored touchdowns as a punt returner, receiver and running back.

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12. 2010 QB Cam Newton, Auburn

Richard Mackson- US PRESSWIRE

Cam Newton’s Heisman season was one that people had never seen before. He led Auburn to an undefeated season, an SEC championship and a national championship. He finished the season with 2,854 passing yards for 30 TDs while adding on 1,473 rushing yards and 24 TDs on the ground.

Newton became the third player in FBS history to throw and run for 20 touchdowns in a single season and he was also the first player in SEC history to throw for over 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

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11. 1977 RB Earl Campbell, Texas


It’s hard to compare different season performances from different eras but there’s no doubting the Heisman season Earl Campbell had. Campbell finishes the regular season with 1,744 rushing yards and 18 TDs. His regular season was so dominant that Texas was rarely challenged and they advanced all the way to the Cotton Bowl. Although they would lose to Notre Dame Campbell’s Heisman season would be good in any era.

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10. 1961 RB Ernie Davis, Syracuse


Ernie Davis’ regular season numbers aren’t the best that a Heisman winner ever put up but it’s the conditions that he did it in that make it special. Davis came to Syracuse after Jim Brown and went on to break all of his records but he was able to fully break through the color barrier. His numbers from the regular season only totaled 823 rushing yards and 12 TDs but he didn’t have nearly the rushing attempts modern backs have theses days. Davis was also the first African-American to be awarded the Heisman trophy.

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9. 2005 RB Reggie Bush, USC


Even though Bush relinquished his trophy after being ruled ineligible for his 2005 season his performance that year was something special. He was one of the most electrifying players to ever play college football and any time he touched the ball he had the potential to make something happen. Whether it was in the running game, catching passes out of the backfield or returning kicks Bush did it all and he did it with style. He finished the season with 2,611 all-purpose yards and 18 TDs while helping USC to a national championship appearance. He also has the distinction of being the most clear cut Heisman winner ever by earning 91.77% of the votes.

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8. 1983 RB Mike Rozier, Nebraska


Rozier’s name won’t stand out amongst the other names on the Heisman winners list but his stats from the 1983 season should. His running was the primary weapon on one of the best college football offense in history. That year Rozier ran for 2,148 yards and 29 TDs, becoming one of just four players to ever run for over 2,000 yards in a single season. The most impressive thing about his performance was his yards per carry as he averaged 7.8 yards a pop.

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7. 2007 QB Tim Tebow, Florida


Tim Tebow will go down as one of the most decorated college football players to ever play that game. During his time at Florida he broke numerous records and won two national championships with the Gators. His sophomore campaign earned him the Heisman and he was the first ever sophomore to win the award.

That season he finished with 3,286 passing yards for 32 touchdowns and added 895 yards rushing for 23 more touchdowns. Him and Cam Newton are the only two players to ever throw and run for more than 20 touchdowns in a single season. in 2007 Tebow also broke the SEC season rushing touchdown record (20) and the SEC season total touchdowns (55).

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6. 1999 RB Ricky Williams, Texas


During the 1998 season everyone knew he the best player in the country was and that was Williams. His dominating season consisted of 2,427 rushing yards and 30 TDs as he also set the NCAA all-time rushing record. If not for a poor game against Kansas State, in which he only had 43 yards, his numbers would have been even more impressive. Williams joined elite company by rushing for more than 2,000 yards in a single season and his total is tied for the second most single season rushing yards in NCAA history.

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5. 1968 RB OJ Simpson, USC


After getting overlooked for the Heisman trophy in 1967 Simpson was able to win it a year later. His 1968 win was the most lopsided Heisman vote in history as he won with a 1,750 point margin over the runner-up. Simpson finished the season with 1,880 rushing yards for 23 TDs while leading USC to a No. 2 national ranking and a Rose Bowl appearance.

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4. 1976 RB Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh


Before Ricky Williams broke the record in 1998, Dorsett set the NCAA all-time rushing mark and his 1976 performance cemented his legacy as one of the best Heisman winners ever. He finished out the ’76 campaign with 1,948 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns and averaged over 200 yards rushing per game in the final seven contests that season. Dorsett also helped Pittsburgh win the national championship that year and is now looked at as one of the best running backs in college football history.

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3. 1982 RB Herschel Walker, Georgia


Walker is the only player in NCAA history to finish in the top three of the Heisman vote in all three of his collegiate season but it was in 1982 that he broke through and finally won it. The crazy thing about it was that it wasn’t even his best statistical season but it was impressive nonetheless. Walker finished with 1,752 yards rushing for 17 TDs. Walker is widely considered one of the greatest college football players of all time and his 1982 season was one to remember.

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2. 1981 RB Marcus Allen, USC


Marcus Allen originally went to USC as a defensive back but was switched to running back and did it pay off. Allen’s 1981 season may go down as one of the top Heisman performances of all time. He became the first running back to ever rush for more than 2,000 yards, finishing with 2,342, and was the nation’s leading scorer notching 23 total touchdowns. Allen also won the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award and was named the Pac 10 player of the year.

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1. 1988 RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State


Barry Sanders was one of the shiftiest running backs to ever play the game and his 1988 season at Oklahoma State was arguably the greatest individual season in college football history. Sanders finished his junior campaign with 2,628 yards rushing and 39 TDs. There’s no doubting that performance and how he did it was even more impressive. Sanders averaged 7.6 yards a carry, OVER 200 yards a game and he rushed for over 300 yards in a game FOUR times. It is likely that this type of season will never be duplicated and that’s why his campaign was the greatest Heisman season out of all the decorated players to ever win the award.

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