25 Best College Football Players Not To Win Heisman Trophy

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Who is the Best to Never Win a Heisman?

Who is the Best to Never Win a Heisman?
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY SPORTS

There is no award in any level of any sport quite like the Heisman Trophy. No award carries quite the same amount of hype both before and after it is given away each December.

The conversation for who wins the next Heisman Trophy begins right after the previous one is awarded. The debate lasts from before spring practices throughout the bowl selection process. No MVP Award in any professional sport is talked about as much as the Heisman Trophy.

It seams like more years than not there is a player whom some believe “should have” won the award, leading to a long list of players who graduated from college football without bestowing the honor. Many Heisman candidates, whether they won the trophy during their collegiate careers or not, go on to lead capture successful careers in the NFL.

Winning the Heisman Trophy does anything but guarantee success at the NFL level, however. The Heisman Trophy has been awarded 78 times to 77 different winners and only five of those players went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Archie Griffin, the only man to win the Heisman Trophy twice, had a somewhat disappointing seven-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals totaling just 2,808 rushing yards and seven career touchdowns.

There have been some phenomenal football players to not win the award, however. Some of the greatest professional football players of all time never won the award. Here are the 25 best college football players to never receive college football’s highest honor.

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25. Jim McMahon, QB, BYU

25. Jim McMahon, QB, BYU
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Jim McMahon set NCAA records during his junior season with 4,571 passing yards, 47 passing touchdowns and a passer rating of 176.9. McMahon went on to become an infamous member of the “Super Bowl Shuffle” crew on Super Bowl XX Champion Chicago Bears.

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24. Lawrence Taylor, LB, North Carolina

24. Lawrence Taylor, LB, North Carolina
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Lawrence Taylor is known as one of the most feared linebackers in NFL history, and in college at North Carolina he was no joke either. He earned All-American honors and the ACC’s Player of the Year Award in 1980. The 10-time NFL Pro Bowler would go on to accumulate over 1,000 tackles over his 13-year career with the New York Giants.

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23. LaDanian Tomlinson, RB, TCU

23. LaDanian Tomlinson, RB, TCU
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LaDanian Tomlinson finished fourth in the 2000 Heisman voting despite leading the nation in rushing and did not receive any votes in 1999 when he led the nation in rushing touchdowns. He rushed for a career 5,387 yards and 56 touchdowns at TCU and went on to have a Hall of Fame worthy career in the NFL.

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22. Ed Marinaro, RB, Cornell

22. Ed Marinaro, RB, Cornell
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Marinaro led the nation in rushing yards for a second consecutive season in 1971, but was beat out for the Heisman by Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivans. Marinaro did end up with the Maxwell Award, but he is considered one of the biggest snubs in the trophy’s history.

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21. Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech

21. Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech
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Michael Vick really was something to watch at Virginia Tech. The eventual first-overall pick in 1999 to the Atlanta Falcons was just as explosive with the Hokies as he was in the NFL. He won the Big East Offensive Player of the Year award in 1999 during his freshman season after leading the nation in passing yards per attempt. Despite a drop in numbers during his sophomore season, Vick left for the NFL and experienced a very up and down career.

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20. Ndamukong Suh, DL, Nebraska

20. Ndamukong Suh, DL, Nebraska
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SPORTS

Ndamukong Suh is relentless on the football field, and this toughness was formed well before his NFL days. He finished fourth in the 2009 Heisman vote, which is admirable for a defensive player. He led the NCAA with two interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2009. That year he also took home the Chuck Bendarik Award, Rotary Lombardi Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Bill Willis Award.

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19. Chuck Long, QB, Iowa

19. Chuck Long, QB, Iowa
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Chuck Long lost out on the 1984 Heisman to Doug Flutie despite a great junior season at Iowa, then lost next year’s race to Bo Jackson is the closest voting result until 2009. Long’s best season came in his junior year after leading the Hawkeyes to a Freedom Bowl win over Texas; he led the nation with a 67.1 completion percentage and a 156.4 passer rating.

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18. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall

18. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall
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During his only season at Marshall, Randy Moss led the nation and set an NCAA record with 26 touchdown receptions in 1997. He also led the nation with 1,820 receiving yards. Moss finished fourth in the Heisman poll, but did receive the Fred Biletnikoff Award and All-American honors that season.

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17. Bob Griese, QB, Purdue

17. Bob Griese, QB, Purdue
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Bob Griese finished his career at Purdue with 4,402 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. He finished second in the 1966 Heisman voting to Steve Spurrier.

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16. Steve Young, QB, BYU

16. Steve Young, QB, BYU
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Steve Young finished second in the 1983 Heisman race despite a spectacular senior season. He was named an All-American and was awarded the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award that season. Young was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001 with a resume of 7,733 yards and 56 touchdowns in the air, along with 1,048 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.

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15. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

15. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
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Andrew Luck was the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy after finishing second to Cam Newton one year prior. However, Robert Griffin III sneaked out and took it from his grasp, leading to another second-place finish. In 2011, Luck took home a bevy of honors including the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Luck, however, did the better of Griffin III in the NFL Draft as well as through their first two seasons in the NFL.

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14. Vince Young, QB, Texas

14. Vince Young, QB, Texas
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Vince Young finished second in the 2005 Heisman race to Reggie Bush despite leading a thrilling Rose Bowl comeback over Bush’s Trojans. In addition, Bush has since been forced to revoke his Heisman that season for receiving improper benefits while at USC. Young did however walk away with the Davey O’Brien, Manning and Maxwell Awards.

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13. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

13. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
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Darren McFadden finished second in the Heisman voting twice while at Arkansas, the first in 2006 to Troy Smith and again in 2007 to Tim Tebow. In three years with the Razorbacks, McFadden gained more than 5,000 yards and a total of 51 touchdowns.

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12. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh

12. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh
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Larry Fitzgerald led the nation in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2003 at Pittsburgh, but finished second in the Heisman voting to Jason White ok Oklahoma. Fitzgerald was as dominant in college as he is in the NFL, winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award in 2003.

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11. Dan Marino, QB, Pittsburgh

11. Dan Marino, QB, Pittsburgh
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Dan Marino is known to be the best player in NFL history to not win a Super Bowl title. While he’s not the best to never win a Heisman Trophy, he still led a great collegiate career at Pittsburgh. He never finished higher than fourth in the Heisman voting despite leading the nation in completion percentage during his junior season in 1981.

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10. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas

10. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
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You could make the case that Colt McCoy should have won the Heisman Trophy twice. He finished second to Sam Bradford in 2008 and third behind Toby Gerhart and winner Mark Ingram. He ended his career as the Big 12’s leader in completion percentage at 70.3 and is sixth all-time in NCAA history with 14,824 total yards.

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9. Joe Theismann, QB, Notre Dame

9. Joe Theismann, QB, Notre Dame
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Joe Theisman lived in the shadow of Stanford star quarterback and Heisman winner Jim Plunkett during the 1970 season. During that year, Theisman set school single-season records for passing yards with 2,429 and touchdowns with 16. His 4,441 career passing yards rank fifth in Notre Dame school history.

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8. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State

8. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State
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Defensive players very rarely contend for the Heisman Trophy, even during a time when college football was so offensively advanced. Not only was Sanders probably the best cornerback to ever play college football, he was also a phenomenal special teams player. He led nation with 1988 with 15.2 yards per return.

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7. Dick Butkus, LB/C, Illinois

7. Dick Butkus, LB/C, Illinois
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Dick Butkus played both sides of the football during his career at Illinois at one outstanding at every facet of the game. He finished third in the 1964 Heisman voting, and went on to become one of the greatest linebackers in football history.

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6. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State

6. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State
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Three times during his career at San Diego State did Marshall Faulk finish in the top-10 in Heisman voting; he finished second in 1992 to Gino Torretta and fourth in 1993. He currently ranks 11th in NCAA history with 57 rushing touchdowns and is the WAC’s career leader in touchdowns from scrimmage. Faulk was drafted second overall in the 1994 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts and went on to have an illustrious career.

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5. Reggie Bush, RB, USC

5. Reggie Bush, RB, USC
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Because Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman Trophy was revoked by the NCAA, he is officially eligible for this list. Bush earned that Heisman Trophy on the field, but the rules he violated off the field are what got him into trouble. He led the nation in 2005 with an astonishing average of 8.7 yards per carry and 2,218 total yards from scrimmage. He does not own many conference or national records because his stay at USC was so short, but he will always be known as one of the most electrifying players college football has every seen.

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4. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee

4. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee
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Peyton Manning finished in the top eight in Heisman voting three times; he was beat out for the award following his senior season by Charles Woodson. Defensive players usually don’t win the Heisman Trophy, so being upset by Woodson counts Manning as one of the greatest snubs ever. He finished his Tennessee career with 11,201 yards and 89 passing touchdowns.

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3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma

3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma
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Perhaps you could say Adrian Peterson blossomed too early to win the Heisman Trophy. His best season by far in the NCAA was during his freshman year, and at that point no freshman was every awarded the trophy so his odds were significantly decreased. That season he led the NCAA with 339 rush attempts and ranked third with 1,925 yards. He was eventually selected seventh in the 2004 draft by the Minnesota Vikings and has since had a fantastic career in the NFL.

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2. John Elway, QB, Stanford

2. John Elway, QB, Stanford
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Much like fellow Stanford QB Andrew Luck in 2011, Elway was favored to win the Heisman Trophy until Herschel Walker had an out-of-this-world season in 1982. He led the NCAA in passing touchdowns that year with 24 and was third with 3,242 passing yards. Elway went on to win two Super Bowl titles with the Denver Broncos.

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1. Jim Brown, RB, Syracuse

1. Jim Brown, RB, Syracuse
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Jim Brown played just one season in college at Syracuse before being selected sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 1957 NFL Draft. He finished fifth in Heisman voting in 1956 with 986 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. Brown went on to lead the NFL in rushing eight times, win four MVPs, go to nine Pro Bowls, and is currently the NFL’s ninth all-time leading rusher with 12,312 yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

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