The pinnacle of credentials in college football is the Heisman Trophy. Every athlete in college football aspires to it; only a select few ever achieve it. We’ll discuss, here, 10 of the most exceptional Heisman Trophy winners of all-time.
Herschel Walker (1982)
Walker was coveted by many programs across the country coming out of high school, but chose to sign with his hometown Bulldogs. Head coach Vince Dooley wisely rushed him the ball early and often, and he rewarded him with one of the most memorable Heisman seasons ever.
Walker led the team to a national championship and rushed for 1,752 yards with 16 touchdowns. He won the award over USC’s Marcus Allen, who would have been a legitimate choice in just about any other year.
Carson Palmer (2002) – Best Heisman Trophy Winners
Carson Palmer, the high school legend out of Rancho Santa Margarita carved up the Pac-10’s and USC’s passing and total offense records during his SR season.
His absurd flick of the wrist passes dropped jaws and left defenders stunned. He was also cool under pressure, completing a number of big-time plays that would have cost other signal-callers the award. His career culminated in the NFL, in which he played for 15 seasons.
Marcus Allen (1981)
While Herschel Walker probably would’ve won the 1981 Heisman over any other back in college football history, Allen was a force to be reckoned with himself. The USC running back became the first to rush for 2,000 yards in one season and set 14 NCAA records. He also rushed for 200 yards in five straight games and scored 23 total touchdowns.
Archie Griffin (1974, 1975) – Best Heisman Trophy Winners
Only one player, in all of college football history, has won the coveted Heisman trophy twice.
Once Ohio State realized the unique talent they had at their disposal in the player of Griffin, they transformed their entire offensive philosophy, shifting to the I-Formation. Once this transition was effectively implemented, Griffin thrived, leading the Big 10 in rushing for 3 consecutive seasons. He started in 4 Rose Bowl games, an astounding feat that no other college football player can tout.
With such stellar credentials, it is of little astonishment that Archie Griffin received a number of laudatory honorifics. He was named the Big 10’s Most Valuable Player twice. The United Press similarly named him Player of the Year, twice. The Walter Camp Foundation named him Player of the Year, twice. He was the recipient of the Maxwell Award, awarded to the nation’s top tailback. And he won the Heisman Trophy, twice.
5. Reggie Bush (2005 – Vacated)
While Reggie Bush’s Heisman win was vacated due to NCAA violations, there is no denying his playmaking prowess. During Reggie Bush’s career as a Trojan, USC football became must-see television. Every viewer waited, in intrepid anticipation, for Bush’s next dazzling play, his next sterling performance. With electric speed, exhilarating dexterity, Bush positively transfixed defenders, leaving them in dust and utter dismay. What to do to curtail the talents of such a gifted athlete?
In 2004, Bush finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. He was a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award. He led the PAC 10 in all-purpose yardage, an acclaim only one other Trojan, Marcus Allen, can vouchsafe. In his final season, in 2005, Bush finished his career by winning the Heisman Trophy, brandishing an electrifying college career with the ultimate college accolade.
Mark Ingram (2009) – Best Heisman Trophy Winners
If there is a term most closely associated with Mark Ingram, it would be “rugged.” His running style was not particularly appealing to the eye; it was yeoman’s work. In that way, Ingram truly does epitomize the program Nick Saban inculcated at Alabama. Rugged, stern, stoic, unrelenting and unrivalled.
In 2009, Ingram’s sophomore season, he rushed for 1,542 yards and was the lynchpin of Alabama’s first national championship during the Nick Saban era. He was awarded numerous plaudits, including first-team All America honors and first team honors from the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation. He was also the youngest, at the time, recipient of the Heisman Trophy.
Derrick Henry (2015)
In 2015, Henry led the nation in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as Alabama’s bell-cow back. He also carried himself in a manner that was worthy of the award, displaying almost nonchalant coolness when bullockIng defenders.
His 210-yard, three-touchdown effort against LSU and Heisman contender Leonard Fournette was a statement. And he closed the season with 271-yard, one-touchdown performance against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
Tim Tebow (2007) – Best Heisman Trophy Winners
Photo courtesy of YouTube, Tim Tebow’s Heisman Moment
In 2004, head coach Urban Meyer left Utah, where he had previously achieved an undefeated season and accepted the position at the University of Florida. His first season was tempestuous, leaving many wondering if he could duplicate what he had accomplished at Utah at the more illustrious Florida, ensconced as it was in the ultra-competitive SEC.
Urban Meyer, however, found his saving grace, his coach on the field, in the figure of Tim Tebow. Built like a linebacker, Tebow was a dual-threat quarterback who could effectively operate Meyer’s vaunted spread offense. While Tebow did not start his freshman season, he nonetheless was a key cog in winning Meyer’s first championship at Florida in 2006.
Upon Chris Leak’s departure, Tebow ascended to the starting role as a sophomore in the Fall of 2006. He immediately had an impact. During his second season, Tebow set the single-game record for quarterback rushing yards; the SEC season rushing touchdown record; and the SEC season record for total touchdowns. Florida limped to a 9-4 record, culminating in a loss in the Capital Bowl; but the groundwork for the future had irrevocably been laid. And, despite its lackluster record, Tebow still won the Heisman Trophy for his efforts.
The ensuing season, despite a stunning early season loss to Ole Miss, Tebow led the Gators to an SEC championship and the 2008 national championship. Tebow’s credentials now equalled his talent. He became the unequivocal king of the college football world. Tebow stayed for his senior season at Florida, which ultimately fell short of his aspirations for a second consecutive national championship; but his legacy remains as sharp as ever in the hearts of Gator Nation.
Johnny Manziel (2012)
Photo courtesy of YouTube, Johnny Manziel Heisman Highlight Video Part 1
“Johnny Football,” himself. Despite off-field controversy, Manziel was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. His freneticism, his unpredictability, the unorthodox passes, the fearless charges into the endzone, left SEC defenses perplexed. His style of play was one of anarchy, without any demonstrable set of rules. Playing against Manziel was akin to feeling the force of a lightning bolt: A rare energy leaving one in shock.
Manziel made college football look like backyard football. In his inaugural season at Texas A&M, Manziel broke the single-season record for offensive production in the SEC, accounting for 4,600 yards. 3,000 of those yards were through the air, generated by his arm; and over 1,000 of those yards were collected with his feet, veritably dancing through defenders. In addition to the Heisman, Manziel also won SEC Freshman of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, and the Davey O’Brien award.
Though his ensuing seasons at A&M proved far less electric, Manziel had already left an indelible footprint on the college football landscape.
Bo Jackson – Best Heisman Trophy Winners
The legends surrounding Bo Jackson, perhaps one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived, run legion. Did he, indeed, routinely break bats over his head? Could he actually accelerate at such a hedonistic pace as to run up walls? Was that Bo, casually hurdling over fences in the country fields of Bessemer, Alabama? Who clobbered that hog with whimsy? It must have been Bo.
Recruited vociferously by both Alabama and Auburn, Bo eventually made the unorthodox choice of selecting Auburn over its more championed rival. Pat Dye, the head coach at Auburn, promised Bo Jackson he’d have the opportunity to play as a freshman, then a rare occurrence, should he prove worthy. In spite of sharing the backfield with several seasoned veterans, Bo Jackson did play his freshman season, stunning Auburn fans, and fans everywhere, with his transcendent athleticism.
In 1985, Jackson’s junior season, the running back rushed for 1,786 yards, which at the time was the second best single-season performance in SEC history. For his feats, Jackson was then awarded the Heisman Trophy over Iowa quarterback Chuck Long. Jackson finished his career at Auburn with 4,575 all-purpose yards and 45 total touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He’s presently ranked #8 in ESPN’s compilation of the greatest college football players list. And his legend still rings, all these years later.