Ranking Top 15 Heisman Trophy Winners of All Time
Who's The Best Heisman Of All Time?
The Heisman Trophy is a very special award, possibly the most distinguished award in any sport. Those who receive the honor are inducted into a exclusive brethren of football players.
The trophy has been given away 78 times to 77 different players. Every one of those winners were very deserving of the honor, though, there have been a few documented “snubs” for the trophy.
Dwindling those 77 recipients down to the top 15 was difficult. Most of the players on the following list, however, come from a more modern style of college football. The game evolved into a more offensive-centric style of play, leading to a dramatic increase in numbers on the offensive side of the football. I did give some old-time football players their due credit, including the only man to ever be named the winner of the Heisman Trophy twice.
Despite the controversy surrounding his name, I will include Southern California’s Reggie Bush on this list. He no longer owns the 2005 Heisman Trophy, but his season that garnered him the honor was one of the best single-season performances in NCAA football history. It was simply too spectacular to pass up. He may not deserve to keep the trophy, but in my book, he deserves to end up on this list. But where exactly did Bush rank among the best Heisman winners of all time?
Only Doak Walker, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders have won the Heisman and then gone on to a Hall of Fame careers in the NFL. Did any of those men end up on this list? Read along and see.
15. Paul Hornung, Notre Dame, 1956
Paul Hornung played quarterback, halfback, placekicker and defense during his two seasons at Notre Dame. During 1956, Hornung led his Fighting Irish in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff and punt returns as well as punting. He also led Notre Dame in passes broken up and finished second on the team in interceptions and tackles made. The Fighting Irish went 2-8 during 1956, making Hornung the only player in the trophy’s history to receive the honor on a losing team.
14. Ernie Davis, Syracuse, 1961
Ernie Davis was the first African-American to ever win the Heisman Trophy. During his Heisman-winning season, Davis rushed for 823 yards and found the end zone a total of 14 times. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
13. Archie Griffin, Ohio State, 1974 & 1975
Archie Griffin is the Heisman Trophy’s lone two-time recipient, yet not many people know of him. Over his two Heisman seasons, Griffin ran for 100 or more yards in 21-consecutive games. His first Heisman season came during his junior year in 1974, when he ran for 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns. His senior season saw a drop in numbers — 1,450 rushing yards for four touchdowns — but nevertheless, Griffin made history with a second Heisman Trophy. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
12. OJ Simpson, Southern California, 1968
O.J. Simpson owns the record for largest margin of victory for the Heisman Trophy, which he won in 1968 by 1,750 points over Leroy Keyes. One year after finishing second in voting, Simpson was able to take home the award after rushing for 1,709 yards and 22 touchdowns. Although Simpson’s name is synonymous with his 1997 murder trial, he went on to become the NFL's first 2,000-yard single-season rusher in 1973.
11. Roger Staubach, Navy, 1963
Roger Staubach is the only player from a U.S. Naval Academy to win the Heisman Trophy. He took home the honor after throwing for 1,474 yards and seven touchdowns during his junior season. He led the Midshipmen to a 9-1 record and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl against the University of Texas.
10. Charles Woodson, Michigan, 1997
Charles Woodson is the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Woodson beat out Peyton Manning for the award after leading Michigan to an undefeated record and a share of the national title during his junior season. Woodson finished his NCAA career with 18 interceptions and 30 passes defended.
9. Herschel Walker, Georgia, 1982
Herschel Walker is the only player in NCAA football history to finish in the top three in Heisman voting in all three of his collegiate seasons. He set an NCAA record for rushing yards by a freshman and became the first true freshman to be named an All-American. Walker won the award following his junior season, in which he ran for 1,752 yards and 16 touchdowns.
8. Vinny Testaverde, Miami, 1986
Vinny Testaverde led the nation with 26 passing touchdowns and a passer rating of 165.8 during his senior season at Miami. He left the Hurricanes as the school’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 48.
7. Cam Newton, Auburn, 2010
For the sake of the college game, it’s really too bad Cam Newton spent just one full season playing NCAA football. Newton passed for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns, and ran for 1,473 yards and 20 more touchdowns. He became just the third player in NCAA history to throw and run for more than 20 touchdowns in a single season. Newton led Auburn to a BCS Championship over the Oregon Ducks to cap off a season that earned him the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft the following year.
6. Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007
Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy after an amazing season in 2007. That year he became the only player in NCAA history to run and throw for 20-plus touchdowns in both categories in a single season. His 23 rushing touchdowns in 2007 is the most by any player in a season in SEC history. He appeared on the ballot two more times, but never won the award again despite leading Florida to two national championships.
5. Ricky Williams, Texas, 1998
Ricky Williams was one of the best running backs college football has ever seen. Williams led the nation in with 2,125 rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns during his Heisman-winning senior season. He also led the NCAA is those categories during his junior year, but finished fifth in the voting that year. He ended his collegiate career as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, a record broken by Ron Dayne one year later.
4. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, 2012
Johnny Manziel’s truly special 2012 season helped him become the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. He’s the first freshman and fifth player overall to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for another 1,000 yards in the same season. Manziel found the end zone a total of 47 times during 2012. He is also the first freshman ever to win the Manning Award and Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.
3. Reggie Bush, Southern California, 2005
To this day, regardless of what he did off the field to void his 2005 Heisman Trophy, Bush had one of the best Heisman seasons in college football history. He led the nation with an average of 222.3 all-purpose yards, including a Pac-12 record 513-yard game against Fresno State on Nov. 19, 2005. When his junior season was over, he gained 2,611 all-purpose yards and a total of 18 touchdowns.
2. Bo Jackson, Auburn, 1985
As most sports fans know, Bo Jackson was an absolute beast. On top of playing baseball at Auburn, he was a superb running back. He ran for 1,786 yards during his Heisman-winning season, which was the second-most in SEC history at the time. His 6.4 yards per rush average was the highest in SEC history. Jackson finished his career with the Tigers with a total of 4,575 all-purpose yards and 45 total touchdowns.
1. Ty Detmer, BYU, 1990
Ty Detmer won the Heisman Trophy following his junior season, which has gone down as one of the best single seasons in college football history. He led the nation with 5,188 passing yards and found the end zone a total of 45 times. By the end of his astonishing season, Detmer held 42 NCAA records. When his colligiate career ended in 1991, he left BYU as the NCAA’s career leader in pass attempts, completions, passing yards, touchdown passes, total offense and passer rating. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.