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NCAA Football

The 25 Greatest College Football Players to Never Win the Heisman

The 25 Best College Players To Not Win The Heisman

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There is no award in any level of any sport quite like the Heisman Trophy. The conversation for who wins the next Heisman Trophy begins right after the previous one is awarded. Plenty of greats like Barry Sanders and Tony Dorsett have won the award, but there are many others who just missed out. These 25 players were the best to never win the Heisman.

25. Mike Ditka, TE, Pittsburgh

Mike Ditka
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25. Mike Ditka, TE, Pittsburgh

Mike Ditka
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The only tight end to appear on this list, Mike Ditka was Pittsburgh's leading receiver in each of his three collegiate seasons. In addition to playing tight end, he also served as the team's punter and was a first team selection on the College Football All-America Team in 1960. In his career, Ditka recorded 45 receptions for 730 yards and seven touchdowns.

24. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech

Calvin Johnson Georgia Tech
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24. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech

Calvin Johnson Georgia Tech
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Before becoming one of the best receivers in the game today, Calvin Johnson was a force at Georgia Tech. Johnson became perhaps the greatest player to ever play for the Yellow Jackets after recording 178 career receptions for 2,927 yards and 28 touchdowns. His best season came in 2006 as he recorded 76 receptions for 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns, finishing 10th in Heisman Trophy balloting that season.

23. Larry Csonka, FB, Syracuse

Larry Csonka
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23. Larry Csonka, FB, Syracuse

Larry Csonka
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The first of two former Syracuse running backs to make this list, Larry Csonka established many of the school's rushing records. In his three seasons at Syracuse, Csonka rushed for a school record 2,934 yards, scored 19 touchdowns and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. In 1967, Csonka ranked fifth in the nation with 1,127 rushing yards and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting that season.

22. Warren Sapp, DT, Miami (Fla.)

Warren Sapp Miami
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22. Warren Sapp, DT, Miami (Fla.)

Warren Sapp Miami
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A tight end in high school, Warren Sapp was converted to the defensive line and proceeded to become one of the greatest in NFL history. At Miami, Sapp was a two-time first-team All Big-East selection, the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 1994 and the 1994 Big East Defensive Player of the Year. His best season came in 1994 as he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

21. Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama

Derrick Thomas Alabama
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21. Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama

Derrick Thomas Alabama
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During his three seasons at Alabama, Derrick Thomas was part of one of the best defensive lines in college football and smashed many Crimson Tide defensive records, including sacks in a single season. In 1988, Thomas won the Butkus Award after recording 27 sacks, which is an NCAA record. That season, Thomas finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He finished his Crimson Tide career with 52 sacks.

20. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh

Larry Fitzgerald Pittsburgh
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20. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh

Larry Fitzgerald Pittsburgh
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Larry Fitzgerald led the nation in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2003 at Pittsburgh, but he finished second in the Heisman voting to Jason White of 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.

19. Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA

Troy Aikman UCLA
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19. Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA

Troy Aikman UCLA
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The quarterback who would lead the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowls in the 1990s, Troy Aikman established himself in college with the UCLA Bruins. As a junior, Aikman threw for 2,527 yards and 17 touchdowns. His best season, however, came as a senior in 1988. That year, Aikman threw for 2,771 yards and 24 touchdowns, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy balloting. During those two seasons, Aikman was 20-4 as a starter.

18. Steve Young, QB, BYU

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18. Steve Young, QB, BYU

Steve Young 49ers
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Steve Young finished second in the 1983 Heisman race despite a spectacular senior season. Young threw for 3,902 yards and 33 touchdowns while completing 71.3 percent of his passes, setting an NCAA single-season record which has since been broken. 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.

17. Drew Brees, QB, Purdue

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17. Drew Brees, QB, Purdue

Drew Brees Purdue
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Drew Brees had one of the more underrated collegiate careers when he attended Purdue from 1997-2000. Brees took over at quarterback as a sophomore and began one of the most impressive careers in Big Ten history. In 1999, Brees finished fourth and in 2000, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Brees left Purdue with Big Ten records in passing yards (11,792), touchdown passes (90) and total offensive yards (12,693).

16. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma

Adrian Peterson Oklahoma
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16. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma

Adrian Peterson Oklahoma
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Adrian Peterson established himself as one of the greatest college players in history after his freshman season. Peterson rushed for 1,925 yards in 2004 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to USC's Matt Leinart. Peterson would be limited by injuries for the rest of his college career, but he finished his career at Oklahoma with 4,041 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns.

15. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State

Marshall Faulk San Diego State
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15. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State

Marshall Faulk San Diego State
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During his career at San Diego State, Marshall Faulk finished ninth in 1991, second in 1992 to Gino Torretta and fourth in 1993 in Heisman Trophy balloting. In just his second career game, Faulk rushed for 386 yards and scored seven touchdowns against Pacific. Despite going 5-5-1 in 1992, Faulk finished second after rushing for 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns. Most feel that Faulk deserved the award that year.

14. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU

LaDainian Tomlinson TCU
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14. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU

LaDainian Tomlinson TCU
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LaDainian Tomlinson finished fourth in the 2000 Heisman Trophy balloting despite leading the nation in rushing and did not receive any votes in 1999 after leading the nation in rushing touchdowns. He rushed for a career 5,387 yards and 56 touchdowns at TCU, including a single-game rushing record of 406 yards against UTEP which still stands. Tomlinson went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career in the NFL with San Diego and the New York Jets.

13. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall

Randy Moss Marshall
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13. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall

Randy Moss Marshall
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During his two seasons at Marshall, Randy Moss became one of the most dominant receivers in college football history. As a freshman in 1996, Moss had 78 receptions for 1,709 yards and 28 touchdowns. As a sophomore in 1997, Moss had 96 receptions for 1,820 yards and 26 touchdowns, finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year. Moss finished his career at Marshall having scored at least one touchdown in all 28 games that he played.

12. Eric Dickerson, RB, SMU

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12. Eric Dickerson, RB, SMU

Eric Dickerson SMU
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As part of the "Pony Express" backfield at SMU, Eric Dickerson helped put SMU on the map. As a junior and a senior, Dickerson rushed for 3,045 yards and scored 36 touchdowns while splitting carries with Craig James. In 1982, Dickerson finished third behind John Elway and Herschel Walker in the Heisman Trophy balloting after rushing for 1,617 yards and 17 touchdowns.

11. Deion Sanders, CB/Returner, Florida State

Deion Sanders Florida State
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11. Deion Sanders, CB/Returner, Florida State

Deion Sanders Florida State
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Defensive players very rarely contend for the Heisman Trophy, and Florida State's Deion Sanders, the greatest defensive back ever, was no exception. With the Seminoles, Sanders recorded 17 career interceptions, was a two-time All-American in 1987 and 1988 and won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1988. That season, Sanders led the nation in punt return average and finished eighth that season in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

10. Otto Graham, QB, Northwestern

Northwestern Wildcats Helmet
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10. Otto Graham, QB, Northwestern

Northwestern Wildcats Helmet
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Otto Graham attended Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship, but he became one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Graham returned a punt 90 yards in his first collegiate game and scored four more touchdowns in a 51-3 win over Kansas State. In 1943, Graham finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting after leading Northwestern to an 8-2 record. When his career ended, he held a Big Ten record with 2,132 passing yards.

9. Sammy Baugh, QB, TCU

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Jerome Miron-USA Today Sports

9. Sammy Baugh, QB, TCU

TCU Horned Frogs Helmet
Jerome Miron-USA Today Sports

The most versatile player in NFL history, Sammy Baugh began his path of greatness at TCU in the mid-1930s. As a Horned Frog, Baugh threw for 3,320 yards and 40 touchdown passes. Baugh was named All-American in 1935 and 1936, leading TCU to two bowl victories. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1936.

8. Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida

Emmitt Smith Florida
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8. Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida

Emmitt Smith Florida
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For three seasons at Florida, Emmitt Smith became the most dominant running back the Gators ever had. As a freshman, Smith rushed for 1,341 yards and finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. As a junior, Smith rushed for 1,599 yards and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1989. Smith finished his Gators career as the school's leading rusher with 3,928 yards and 36 rushing touchdowns.

7. Merlin Olsen. DT, Utah State

Merlin Olsen Pro Football Hall of Fame
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7. Merlin Olsen. DT, Utah State

Merlin Olsen Pro Football Hall of Fame
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One of the three best defensive tackles to ever play football, Merlin Olsen was a standout at Utah State in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As a junior and a senior, Olsen was selected as an All-American player. The defense Olsen anchored set school records for fewest total yards allowed and fewest points per game allowed. In 1961, Olsen finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

6. Dan Marino, QB, Pittsburgh

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6. Dan Marino, QB, Pittsburgh

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Dan Marino is one of the best players in NFL history to not win a Super Bowl title and the Heisman Trophy. In Marino's first three seasons at Pittsburgh, he led the Panthers to a 33-3 record. Marino finished fourth in the Heisman balloting in 1981 and ninth in 1982. He finished his four college seasons with 7,905 passing yards and 74 touchdowns.

5. John Elway, QB, Stanford

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5. John Elway, QB, Stanford

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Much like fellow Stanford QB Andrew Luck in 2011, John Elway was favored to win the Heisman Trophy in 1982 but finished second that season behind Georgia's Herschel Walker, who had an out-of-this-world season. Elway led the NCAA in passing touchdowns that year with 24 and was third with 3,242 passing yards despite playing for a 5-6 team. In his four seasons (1979–1982) at Stanford, he completed 774 passes for 9,349 yards and 77 touchdowns.

4. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee

Peyton Manning Tennessee
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4. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee

Peyton Manning Tennessee
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Peyton Manning finished in the top eight in Heisman voting three times and finished second for the award in his senior season to Michigan's Charles Woodson. Manning also finished sixth in 1995 and eighth in 1996. During his four years at Tennessee, Manning threw for 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns. In 45 games that Manning played with Tennessee, the Volunteers won 39 times.

3. Dick Butkus, C/LB, Illinois

Dick Butkus
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3. Dick Butkus, C/LB, Illinois

Dick Butkus Illinois
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Dick Butkus played both center and linebacker during his college career at Illinois and excelled at both positions. Butkus was a two-time All-American selection and was the Big Ten's MVP in 1963. He finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting that season and third in 1964, a rare accomplishment for a two-way player.

2. Jim Brown, RB, Syracuse

Jim Brown
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2. Jim Brown, RB, Syracuse

Jim Brown
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Jim Brown played three seasons at Syracuse and showed early on that he would become one of the greatest running backs of all time. As a junior, Brown rushed for 666 yards. As a senior, Brown rushed for 986 yards in just eight games and set school records for most touchdowns in a game (6) and highest per carry average (6.2). Brown also scored 14 touchdowns and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1956.

1. Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State

Jerry Rice 49ers
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1. Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State

Jerry Rice 49ers
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The greatest player in NFL history, Jerry Rice first showed his true greatness while at Mississippi Valley State. As a sophomore, Rice caught 66 passes for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns. His best season, however, came in 1984 as he recorded 112 receptions for 1,845 yards and 27 touchdowns, finishing ninth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He finished his career with 301 catches for 4,693 yards and 50 touchdowns.

Brian Kalchik is a Detroit Lions writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+.