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NCAA Football

2012 Heisman: The 10 Best Races of All Time

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2011 Heisman Trophy Candidates


The Heisman Trophy has been awarded to the man considered the best college football player in the country every year since 1935. From Jay Berwanger then, to Robert Griffin III in 2011, it has remained the most coveted individual award.

The Heisman has been won by 75 men over 76 years, with Archie Griffin of Ohio State winning it twice. Some years, there has been a clear favorite going into the season that went on to win it. In other seasons, a dark horse has come out of nowhere to take home the trophy.

In the 76 years since Berwanger won, there have been some historic battles for the stiff arm posing statue. Every decade since the 1930's has had at least one Heisman race worth remembering. Coming up with the 10 best Heisman Trophy races was not easy, as a couple of good ones had to be left out.

In 1971, quarterback Pat Sullivan of Auburn beat out Cornell running back Ed Marinaro in one of the closest votes of all time. What makes this one memorable, also, is that Marinaro was the last of a dying breed in that he was a candidate who played for an Ivy League school. Though the conference claimed two of the first three winners, no one from the Ivy League has won the Heisman since Dick Kazmaier of Princeton in 1951.

In 1995, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Frazier was edged out by Ohio State running back Eddie George. Though Frazier led his team to its second straight national championship, he missed time due to blood clots while George played every game and put up impressive numbers.

These two races just missed, because the 10 ahead of them had the star power and drama which made them memorable. Not everyone involved went on to NFL stardom, but for one year, they were considered to be among college football's best.

Here are, arguably, the top 10 Heisman Trophy races of all time.

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10. 1945: Felix 'Doc' Blanchard (Army) vs. Glenn Davis (Army)

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Known as 'Mr. Inside' and 'Mr. Outside' respectively, Blanchard and Davis of Army put on the first Heisman race between teammates. Blanchard beat out Davis to become the first player from a service academy to win the award.

Davis came back the next season to win his own trophy. This made Blanchard and Davis the second teammates to win the Heisman. Larry Kelley and Clint Frank of Yale were the first in 1936 and 1937.

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9. 1939: Nile Kinnick (Iowa) vs. Tom Harmon (Michigan)

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Kinnick and Harmon got the chance to decide their Heisman battle on the field as Iowa and Michigan both played in the Big 10. Harmon and Michigan actually won the game, but Kinnick got the Heisman.

Kinnick is Iowa's only Heisman winner and revered in Iowa City. The football stadium bares his name. To understand what he meant to Iowa and college football, one could say that 1963 Heisman winner Roger Staubach of Navy and 2007 winner Tim Tebow of Florida were the Nile Kinnicks' of their generation.

Kinnick was killed serving in World War II when the plane he was flying crashed at sea.

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8. 1956: Paul Hornung (Notre Dame) vs. Johnny Majors (Tennessee)

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Majors was a god at Tennessee. He came back to coach the Volunteers in 1977.

However, there are no bigger football gods than those who play for Notre Dame. Hornung beat out Majors even though he played quarterback on a losing team. The Golden Boy's victory was won by a hard working Fighting Irish publicity staff.

Hornung not only beat out Majors, he won the award over Syracuse fullback Jim Brown. America was not ready for an African-American Heisman Trophy winner at that time, so Brown was pretty much disqualified, because of the color of his skin.

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7. 1979: Charles White (USC) vs. Billy Sims (Oklahoma)

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This race actually began in 1978 when both were juniors. Sims beat out White despite the fact that the latter led his team to a share of the national championship.

The next season, 'Sports Illustrated' put a picture of Sims and White fighting over the trophy on their cover. Sims was trying to join Archie Griffin as the only men to win the Heisman twice, but White got off to a fast start and ran away with the trophy.

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6. 1997 Charles Woodson (Michigan) vs. Peyton Manning (Tennessee)

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Going into the season, Tennessee thought that they would be crowning its first Heisman Trophy winner in Manning, who passed up a chance to go to the NFL and came back for his senior year. But Manning lost to the Florida Gators for the third straight season and this opened the door for Woodson.

Though he played cornerback, Woodson began to garner votes with his all-around play, which included returning punts and stints on offense as a wide receiver. Woodson's stellar play helped Michigan go undefeated. It, also, earned him a place in Heisman history, as the first defensive player to win the award.

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5. 2008 Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) vs. Tim Tebow (Florida) vs. Colt McCoy (Texas)


What makes this Heisman race memorable is that it was the first in which three players earned more than 1,000 votes. Bradford won the award while Tebow finished second and McCoy third. Tebow was trying to win his second Heisman, having won it in 2007.

Tebow would get a measure of revenge on Bradford, as Florida defeated Oklahoma in the BCS title game to win the national championship.

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4. 2011: Robert Griffin III (Baylor) vs. Andrew Luck (Stanford)

Jerome Miron- US PRESSWIRE

Luck went into the season as the favorite and it was his trophy to lose. Then Griffin III became college football's version of Earvin 'Magic' Johnson.

Griffin III pulled off a spectacular victory against Oklahoma which swung the momentum to his side. He became a staple on Youtube and fans ate it up. When all was said and done, RG3 had become the first Heisman winner in Baylor history.

Luck had a great season and did nothing to lose the award. Griffin III simply won it.

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3. 1980 :George Rogers (South Carolina) vs. Hugh Green (Pitt) vs. Herschel Walker (Georgia)

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This may have been the fist race of tradition versus change. Rogers was the senior running back who fit the bill of what almost every Heisman winner before him had been. Green was the best defensive player in the country and no one on that side of the ball had won the award. Walker was a freshman phenom who played the same position as Rogers, but first-year players were barely considered for the Heisman then.

Despite Rogers being outplayed by Walker in a regular season game won by Georgia and Green, again, making first team All-America, tradition won out as Rogers took home the hardware.

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2. 2005: Reggie Bush (USC) vs. Matt Leinart (USC) vs. Vince Young (Texas)

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This race had it all. A returning trophy winner in Leinart. Two men trying to become the third teammates to win it in back to back years in Leinart and Bush. An opponent who thought he was better than both in Young. And two teams that were ranked number one and number two from the first week of the season until the last.

Everyone involved lived up to the hype, so much so that USC and Texas both went undefeated and met for the BCS title. Bush won the award, with Young finishing second and Leinart third.

Young used the Heisman snub as motivation. When the two teams met in January, he all but put on a one man show in leading Texas to a 41-38 victory and the national championship.

This race may have been ranked the best of all if Bush did not have the trophy taken away from him for breaking NCAA rules.

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1. 1967: Gary Beban (UCLA) vs. O.J. Simpson (UCLA)

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This was an epic Heisman race which came down to one Saturday in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Bruins and Trojans met with the Heisman Trophy, the Pacific 8 title, a trip to the Rose Bowl and the national championship all on the line. Never before, or since, has two teams so close in proximity played with so much at stake.

The game, Beban and Simpson all lived up to the moment. Playing with bruised ribs, Beban passed for 301 yards and threw two touchdown passes. Playing with an injured foot, Simpson ran for over 177 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the game winner on a memorable 64 yard run. USC won the game and everything that went with it 21-20.

However, Beban took home the Heisman as he beat out Simpson in a vote that was as close as Southern Cal's victory.