The All-Time Heisman Rankings
The 25 Greatest Winners
What If The Heisman Voting Was Done After The Bowls?
- 2000 to 2012 | 1990 to 1999 | 1980 to 1989 | 1970 to 1979
Ranking the All-Time Winners
- The 25 Greatest Heisman Winners | No. 26 to 50 | No. 51 to 79
Heisman Winners - Top 5 Races, Player to Not Win, and More
- 2010 to Present | 2000 to 2009 | 1990 to 1999 | 1980 to 1989
- 1970 to 1979 | 1960 to 1969 | 1950 to 1959 | 1940 to 1949 | 1930 to 1935
What would happen if you took all of the Heisman winners and tried to figure out which ones had the best of the best seasons? After all, the Heisman is supposed to go to the player who had the best year, so throwing out everything else you know about many of the greatest college football players ever and only going by their Heisman winning years (and NOT taking into account how they did in the pros), here’s how they’d stack up. This isn’t a ranking of the best players of all-time, just their particular seasons.
One thing to remember is that the information out there now is night-and-day better than it was even back in the 1980s. With the Internet, ESPN, on-demand stats, better television coverage, better direct marketing campaigns, and more sophisticated sports information departments, the Heisman voting is generally better than it was in the old days when you needed to either play on the East Coast or for Notre Dame to be considered for the award. That’s why many of the older winners are further down the list. However, that didn’t stop a few major mistakes in recent seasons.
There are several things to remember about these rankings. First, the Heisman ends up almost always going to junior or senior offensive skill players, and until recently, so many deserving freshman and sophomores since 1936 have missed out, and many deserving non-skill players haven’t been included in the fun.
Second, don’t forget the race factor before 1961 when Syracuse’s Ernie Davis won. Several African-Americans were deserving before Davis, but didn’t win.
Third, don’t just go by statistics. Different eras meant different things to the numbers.
And finally, several players on this list had better seasons than their Heisman winning years, but they don’t count. For example, Army’s Glenn Davis would've probably ended up in the top three if either of the two seasons before his Heisman winning year were included. Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers was better in 1971 than he was in 1972 when he won the Heisman. Only the Heisman winning seasons count.
1. 1988 Barry Sanders, RB Oklahoma State
runner-up: Rodney Peete, QB USC
Sanders' 1988 season ranks among the most dominant in the history of sports alongside Babe Ruth's 60-home run 1927 campaign, Wayne Gretzky's 92-goal season of 1981-1982 (and maybe his 215 point year in 1985-1986) and Jerry Rice's 1987 season when he caught 22 touchdowns passes in 12 games. The backup to Thurman Thomas and an All-America kickoff returner the year before, Sanders exploded for 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns. Throw in the bowl game stats, like the NCAA does now, and Sanders ran for 2,850 yards and scored 44 times. By himself, Sanders would've finished 14th in rushing among all 2010 teams.
2. 1976 Tony Dorsett, RB Pittsburgh
runner-up: Ricky Bell, RB USC
Dorsett didn’t just put up big numbers on the way to becoming the NCAA’s all-time rushing leader, he was clutch leading the Pitt Panthers to the national championship averaging 215 yards per game over the final seven and finishing with 1,948 yards and 23 touchdowns. During the streak he tore off a 224-yard day against Penn State before closing out with a record 202-yard performance in the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia.
3. 1981 Marcus Allen, RB USC
runner-up: Herschel Walker, RB Georgia
It had to be a really, really good season to be better than Herschel Walker’s best year. Allen was college football’s first 2,000-yard rusher with 2,427 yards (2,342 before the bowl) and 22 touchdowns in his tremendous senior season. He set 14 NCAA records and tied two others including most 200-yard games in a row with five. He also led the Trojans in receptions with 34 for 256 yards and a score.
4. 2010 Cam Newton, QB Auburn
runner-up: Andrew Luck, QB Stanford
Tim Tebow won the Heisman in 2007 as the first player to ever run for 20 touchdowns and throw for 20 scores in the same season, but Florida didn't play for the national title. Newton led the nation in passing efficiency, ran for 20 touchdowns, threw for 28 scores, with just six interceptions, and finished first in the SEC and 15th in the nation in rushing with 1,409 yards ... and he took Auburn to the BCS Championship. Beyond the stats, the size, the speed, and the cool play under fire, rallying Auburn back from a 24-0 deficit against Alabama being the signature moment, make this among the greatest seasons in college football history. However, his all-timer of a year will always be attached to the controversy regarding his father and an alleged pay-for-play solicitation from Mississippi State.
5. 1982 Herschel Walker, RB Georgia
runner-up: John Elway, QB Stanford
Walker actually had a better season in 1981, but there was no way he was getting past USC’s Marcus Allen. In 1982, Walker ran for 1,752 yards and 17 touchdowns carrying Georgia to an SEC title and a shot at the national title. What’s more amazing is that he amassed those totals after running for just 20 yards in the season opener against Clemson hurt by a broken thumb. Even though he was playing in a cast, he ran for 124 yards against BYU and 143 against South Carolina. The cast came off and Walker went nuts averaging 183 yards per game over his final eight.
6. 1968 O.J. Simpson, RB USC
runner-up: Leroy Keyes, RB Purdue
Simpson should’ve been accepting his second Heisman after getting shafted in 1967, but his 1968 season was still worthy of being among the best of all-time rushing for 1,880 yards (1,709 before the bowl) and 23 touchdowns while catching 26 passes for 211 yards. His Heisman victory was the most one-sided in college football history beating Purdue’s Leroy Keyes 2,853 points to 1,103.
7. 2007 Tim Tebow, QB Florida
runner-up: Darren McFadden, RB Arkansas
With an all-timer of a statistical season, being the first quarterback to run for 20 touchdowns and throw for 20, the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman became the culmination of everything the spread offense could become. He finished with 838 yards and 22 touchdowns and was second in the nation in passing efficiency completing 217-of-317 passes for 3,132 yards and 29 touchdowns with six interceptions.
8. 1996 Danny Wuerffel, QB Florida
runner-up: Troy Davis, RB Iowa State
The 1996 national title team played the nation's toughest schedule having to face No. 2 Tennessee, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 16 Auburn, No. 2 Florida State twice and No. 11 Alabama. Even so, Wuerffel had one of the best years in college football history leading the offense to 46.6 points per game and 76 touchdowns. He was deadly accurate throwing for 39 scores and finishing with a pass efficiency rating of 170.6.
9. 1983 Mike Rozier, RB Nebraska
runner-up: Steve Young, QB BYU
Rozier was the unstoppable force on the Big Red Machine of 1983 rushing for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns averaging a whopping 7.8 yards per carry and breaking the 100-yard mark in all 11 regular season games. He set the NCAA rushing record for yards in a season and broke or tied several other marks.
10. 1991 Desmond Howard, WR Michigan
runner-up: Casey Weldon, QB Florida State
Howard was the first receiver in Big Ten history to lead the conference in scoring and set or tied five NCAA records with 23 total touchdowns. He actually caught more passes for more yards in 1990, but his acrobatic touchdown making ability and punt return prowess made his 1991 season legendary. His margin over Florida State’s Casey Weldon was the second largest in Heisman history.
11. 1955 Howard Cassady, RB Ohio State
runner-up: Jim Swink, HB TCU
Remember, players back in the day didn’t put up the astronomical statistics they do now. Hopalong’s 1955 season was something truly special rushing for 958 yards and 15 touchdowns closing out the season with 439 yards and six touchdowns during the crucial Big Ten stretch run with 146 yards and a touchdown over No. 6 Michigan to win the title. Cassady was also an All-America caliber defensive back.
12. 1998 Ricky Williams, RB Texas
runner-up: Michael Bishop, QB Kansas State
Williams had a flair for the dramatic to go along with his consistent 1998 season. He was held to 43 yards by Kansas State (which is the only reason his Heisman season isn’t in the top five), but he finished the year, counting the bowl performance against Mississippi State, with 30 touchdowns and 2,427 yards along with the NCAA all-time rushing record (broken the year after by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne).
13. 1978 Billy Sims, RB Oklahoma
runner-up: Chuck Fusina, QB Penn State
Other Heisman-winning running backs amassed more yards and scored more touchdowns, but few hit the home-run like Sims did during his 1978 season. As a junior, Sims averaged a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry rushing for 17,62 yards and 20 touchdowns carrying the Sooners to the Big Eight title and the Orange Bowl.
14. 1984 Doug Flutie, QB Boston College
runner-up: Keith Byars, RB Ohio State
Flutie had it won even before the pass against Miami. He completed 233-of-386 passes for 3,454 yards and 27 touchdowns. But it was one magical, rainy day in Miami that made him a college football legend.
15. 1977 Earl Campbell, RB Texas
runner-up: Terry Miller, RB Oklahoma State
Campbell led the Longhorns to a spot in the national title game ripping off 1,744 yards (a 6.5 yard per carry average) and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 111 yards and a score.
16. 2008 Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma
runner-up: Colt McCoy, QB Texas
The Sooner star became the second sophomore to win the award after leading the offense to the most points ever scored by a D-I/FBS team. He led the way to five straight 60+ points per game to close out the regular season and finished with 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns with six interceptions and five touchdown runs. However, he didn't get the most first place votes, finishing second to Florida's Tim Tebow.
17. 1999 Ron Dayne, RB Wisconsin
runner-up: Joe Hamilton, QB Georgia Tech
With a bull's-eye on his back all season long, Dayne still became the NCAA's all-time leading rusher rushing for 1,834 yards leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Extremely consistent, he ran for over 200 yards four times including in three of the final four games when the team needed him the most. Throw in the 200-yard Rose Bowl day and he finished with 2,034 yards.
18. 2013 Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
runner-up: AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
The only reason he isn't much, much higher is the MVP factor - could Florida State have finished the regular season unbeaten without him? The team was that dominant. However, there wasn't even a realistic No. 2 option. It's not like the stats were that great compared to other quarterbacks, but he was the main man on the top team. He was the catalyst.
19. 1974 Archie Griffin, RB Ohio State
runner-up: Anthony Davis, RB USC
Griffin ran for 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 6.6 yards per carry rushing for more than 111 yards in every game before the Rose Bowl. His first Heisman win was one of the most dominant landslides ever, beating USC's Anthony Davis by over 1,100 points.
20. 1960 Joe Bellino, RB Navy
runner-up: Tom Brown, G Minnesota
Bellino was a touchdown machine scoring 18 times leading Navy to the Orange Bowl. Only 5-9 and 181 pounds, he was small, but he was a tough, do-it-all playmaker with three touchdown catches and two touchdown passes while also serving as a punt returner. Navy went 9-1 with a win over Army before losing to Missouri in the Orange Bowl.
21. 1952 Billy Vessels, RB Oklahoma
runner-up: Jack Scarbath, QB Maryland
Vessels did it all scoring 18 touchdowns and rushing for 1,078 yards with seven 100-yard running days in the 8-1-1 season. The star of Bud Wilkinson's team was the first of the big-time OU star offensive players.
22. 1986 Vinny Testaverde, QB Miami
runner-up: Paul Palmer, RB Temple
Testaverde led the Canes to the Fiesta Bowl where they lost to Penn State. He lit up number one Oklahoma for four touchdown passes and threw for 2,557 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a 165.8 passer rating. Remember, Heismans are decided before bowl games.
23. 1979 Charles White, RB USC
runner-up: Billy Sims, RB Oklahoma
The ultimate workhorse, White averaged 194 yards per game leading USC to the Rose Bowl and a 10-0-1 record. He carried the ball 44 times for 261 yards in the 42-23 win over Notre Dame.
24. 1997 Charles Woodson, CB Michigan
runner-up: Peyton Manning, QB Tennessee
Woodson was the difference maker in Michigan's national championship season doing it all from returning punts and playing receiver along with his duties as the nation's best defensive player. Take Manning away from Tennessee and there's no SEC title. Take Woodson away from Michigan and there's no national title.
25. 1963 Roger Staubach, QB Navy
runner-up: Billy Lothridge, QB Georgia Tech
Always making clutch plays as the leader of one of the nation's best teams, Staubach only threw nine touchdown passes, but he led the nation in passing accuracy and threw for 237 yards against Michigan. He got 517 first place votes, while the runner-up, Georgia Tech's Billy Lothridge, got a total of 504 points.
Ranking the All-Time Winners
- No. 26 to 50 | No. 51 to 79