CFN Tuesday Question - Worst Heisman Winners
Posted Aug 29, 2006

CFN's Tuesday Question - The Ten Worst Heisman Winners

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Pete Fiutak     
Q: The ten worst Heisman winners of all-time...

A: Instead of worst Heisman winners, this should be the list of the most average/least deserving. Some were products of the system, some just so happened to be the most visible players on top teams, and some flat-out robbed a more deserving candidate. I had to expand my list to 12 as I had a hard time cutting it down.

(tie) 10.
1957 RB John David Crow, RB Texas A&M  runner-up: Alex Karras, DT Iowa
Crow had a good year, but not a sensational one for a Heisman winner playing in only seven games due to injuries and rushing for 562 yards with six touchdowns. However, he picked off five passes as A&M won its first eight games before losing the final three by a total of six points

(tie) 10. 1964 John Huarte, QB Notre Dame  runner-up: Jerry Rhome, QB Tulsa
Huarte had a good season leading the Irish to a 9-1 record, but it was nothing special only completing 57% of his passes for 2,062 yards and 16 touchdowns.

(tie) 10. 1975 Archie Griffin, RB Ohio State  runner-up: Chuck Muncie, RB California
One of the great Heisman debates, Griffin won his second straight Award despite only rushing for only four touchdowns (Pete Johnson took carries and stats away rushing for 1,059 yards and 26 touchdowns) while Cal's Chuck Muncie ran for 1,460 yards averaging 6.4 yards per carry with 13 touchdowns. Worse yet, Griffin had his only non-100-yard day against Michigan with a 46-yard performance. The Buckeyes still won and went off to the Rose Bowl where they lost to UCLA. Griffin ran for 93 yards.

1959 Billy Cannon, HB LSU  runner-up: Rich Lucas, QB Penn State
Had Cannon won it in 1958 when he was the heart and soul of the 11-0 LSU team, he wouldn't be be on this list. He was good in 1959 remembered for a legendary performance in a 7-3 win over Ole Miss, but he won the Award off the year before.

1958 Pete Dawkins, RB Army  runner-up: Randy Duncan, QB Iowa
Dawkins was the leader of a mighty Army team that went 8-0-1. He ran for 12 touchdowns and was a decent kick returner, but he primarily won the Heisman for being the American ideal. He was smart, good-looking, and the top player for Army.

1971 Pat Sullivan, QB Auburn  runner-up: Ed Marinaro, RB Cornell
Sullivan was a fine passer, but he was known more for being a great winner getting Auburn to a 9-0 start. However, he had his worst performance in the biggest game of the year throwing for only 121 yards with two interceptions in a 31-7 loss to Alabama.

1947 Johnny Lujack, QB Notre Dame  runner-up: Bob Chappus, HB Michigan
Sort of the early version of Gino Torretta, Lujack won the Heisman as the best player on a ridiculously talented team. Along with being one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the first half of the 20th Century, he was also known for being a top tackler.

1956 Paul Hornung, QB Notre Dame  runner-up: Johnny Majors, RB Tennessee
Either you could say Hornung won because of the Notre Dame name, or you can just call him a victim of circumstance as he was a great player on a lousy team. The only Heisman winner from a losing team, he only ran for 420 yards and racked up 1,337 yards of total offense. However, stats don't measure quite how good he was.

1992 Gino Torretta, QB Miami  runner-up: Marshall Faulk, RB San Diego State
Torretta gets an unfair rap because he did have a nice season, but his name has become the term for a player who wins the Heisman when voters can't decide on a candidate. He threw for a decent 3,060 yards and 19 touchdowns with seven interceptions before the Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama.

2001 Eric Crouch, QB Nebraska  runner-up: Rex Grossman, QB Florida
Had Grossman been a senior and Crouch a sophomore, and not the other way around, it would've been a Grossman landslide. Crouch had a great year rushing, but his claim to the honor was a touchdown catch to seal a win over Oklahoma. Grossman threw for fewer than 300 yards once, 290 in the win over Florida State, and in the team's biggest games he threw for 362 against Tennessee, 464 against LSU and 407 against Georgia.

1953 Johnny Lattner, HB Notre Dame  runner-up: Paul Giel, HB Minnesota
Call this one for the Notre Dame hype machine. Lattner didn't even lead the Irish in passing, rushing, receiving or scoring. He was a great all-purpose player and a fantastic defensive back, but his close win over Minnesota's Paul Giel is among the great all-time Heisman arguments.

1967 Gary Beban, QB UCLA  runner-up: O.J. Simpson, RB USC
The strangest of all Heisman victories, Beban only threw for 1,359 yards with eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His one shining moment came on national television completing 16 of 24 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against USC. There was one problem ... UCLA lost thanks to USC star RB O.J. Simpson. Simpson led his team to the national title highlighted by a historic 64-yard touchdown run against the Bruins to finish with 1,543 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. Beban did run for 11 scores, but he only gained 227 yards.

Richard Cirminiello  
Q: The ten worst Heisman winners of all-time...

10. George Rogers, South Carolina (1980) – Rogers was an outstanding college back, but he won the Heisman in a terrible year for the award, and probably shouldn’t have finished ahead of Hugh Green and Herschel Walker.  Rogers led the nation in rushing, but on an 8-4 South Carolina team, didn’t play any meaningful games after losing to Georgia on Nov. 1.                

9. Angelo Bertelli, Notre Dame (1943) – It wasn’t Bertelli’s fault that he got drafted by the Army to fight in WW II, but his ten touchdown passes in just six Irish blowout wins make for one of the weakest Heisman resumes of all-time.

8. Andre Ware, Houston (1989) – I love offense and gaudy numbers as much as the next guy, but when it comes to the Heisman, system guys are a major turn-off.  Ware was unstoppable in Jack Pardee’s run-and-shoot offense, but he and the Cougars fattened up on a crappy schedule and didn’t even pick up a bowl invite as a door prize.  It’s not that anyone could have succeeded in the system, but it sure seemed that way when David Klingler put up even bigger numbers a year later.      

7. Eric Crouch, Nebraska (2001) – Crouch got a heavy dose of career achievement sentiment in 2001, and won an award that should have been earmarked for Florida’s Rex Grossman.  Grossman basically got screwed for having the audacity to author one of the best seasons ever for a Gator quarterback, despite being just a sophomore.

6. Paul Hornung, Notre Dame (1956) – It’s certainly not as if Hornung was a chump or anything, but that Jim Brown didn’t win the Heisman in 1956 is one of the great injustices of American sports.  Unless a kid is otherworldly or rewriting record books, he has no business winning this award on a sub-.500 squad.

5. Pat Sullivan, Auburn (1971) – Rule No. 1 of the Heisman Trophy: Thou must be a monster in big games.  Sullivan beefed up on a pretty flimsy schedule, but was mediocre in two of Auburn’s three biggest games of 1971.  In what should have been a coronation right before votes were cast, Sullivan was held to 121 yards and a pair of picks in a 31-7 Iron Bowl loss to ‘Bama.   

4. John Lattner, Notre Dame (1953) – Yeah, Notre Dame was loaded in 1953 and there was a dearth of really good contenders, but what does it say about the power of the Irish that Lattner won the award, yet didn’t even lead the team in rushing, passing, receiving or scoring?

3. Archie Griffin, Ohio State (1975) – If he wasn’t Archie Griffin, defending Heisman champion, there’s absolutely no way he would have won the award again in 1975.  I’ve heard all kinds of excuses over the years, but when a teammate, in this case Pete Johnson, scores 22 more touchdowns than the candidate in question, he’s got no business even getting a New York City invite. 

2. Gino Torretta, Miami (1992) – You sort of hate to pile on at this point, but Torretta has become the poster child for Heisman mediocrity.  His numbers were pedestrian by anyone’s standards and he won a lot of games, but then again, who didn’t for the ‘Canes in the 1980s and early 1990s?

1. Gary Beban, UCLA (1967) – Beban’s was arguably the oddest choice of all-time.  He threw as many interceptions as touchdowns in 1967, wasn’t a jackrabbit as a scrambler and was upstaged by USC’s O.J. Simpson in the biggest game of the season for both teams.  Simpson was the better player that year, but lost votes for being a junior at a time when voters overtly favored the senior player.

John Harris     
Q: The ten worst Heisman winners of all-time...

1.  1992 Gino Torretta – I would’ve selected: Marshall Faulk
In the biggest games of the 1992 season, Torretta didn’t bring a lot to the table, except for the Syracuse game in the Dome.  At Penn State, the defense saved the Hurricanes.  Against Florida State, he had one throw under pressure that helped put Miami in the lead.  Miami’s defense was the best ‘player’ at the U.  So, it had to be his numbers, right.  Uh, no, he was barely a 3,000 yard passer with only 19 touchdowns.  Faulk, on the other hand, torched BYU for 299 early in the season, but his health, or lack thereof, at the end of the season kept him from accepting the stiff-armed statue, which was a shame.  A 1,630 yard season with 15 touchdowns got him second place.

2.  1987 Tim Brown – I would’ve selected Don McPherson

If anyone created a campaign based on an early performance on national television (well, also Desmond Howard), it was Brown.  His two punt returns for touchdowns against Michigan State were stellar, but the remainder of the season, he didn’t do much to light the world on fire (in fact he only had 39 catches on the season).  In fact, his selection was more the lesser of two evils than anything else.  McPherson had a strong season with the Orange during that undefeated regular season (leading passing efficiency leader in the nation), but any year that a Golden Domer could make a decent case for the Heisman, forget it. 

3.  2001 Eric Crouch – I would’ve selected Rex Grossman
What’s the adage?  No freshman or sophomore shall take home the Trophy?  That applies here for Grossman in a year that Crouch was good, but not great.  Crouch did throw and run for over a thousand yards, but so did Antwaan Randle-El.  Grossman had a tremendous throwing season, throwing for over 300 yards in every game but the Florida State game where he threw for only 290.  However, a loss to Tennessee (and if the Gators had been able to stop Travis Stephens just once in that game, maybe ‘ol Rexie would’ve had enough push to win the Trophy) late in the season probably shut out his hopes, unfortunately.

4.  2003 Jason White – I would’ve selected Larry Fitzgerald
This one is more about what I thought Fitzgerald did for Pitt, as opposed to what White didn’t do for Oklahoma (Fitzgerald had 92 catches for nearly 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore receiver).  Throughout the year, Fitzgerald kept bringing down tremendous catches and kept the Pitt offense in the end zone with a touchdown per game streak that hit 18 before Virginia shut him out in the Tire Bowl.  White did much of his work against weaker than usual Big XII competition and then after the voting was completed, got hammered by both Kansas State and LSU.

5.  1964 John Huarte – I would’ve selected Dick Butkus
1980 and 1964 were the two years that a defensive candidate had a true shot at winning, before Charles Woodson actually did so in 1997.  In 1964, Huarte came out of nowhere to lead the Irish to nine straight wins before heading to LA for the season finale against USC (a loss that ended Ara’s first year at ND), while Butkus was wrecking havoc all over the Big Ten, on his way to AFCA Player of the Year honors for a magnificent 1964.  The one reason that I lean toward Butkus was his ability to dominate from both his center position and middle linebacker spot.  Comparing numbers is nearly impossible for these two, but again, a Domer involved?  It’s his Trophy.

6.  1956 Paul Hornung – I would’ve selected Jim Brown, Johnny Majors or Tommy McDonald
Take your pick on any player in this season other than Hornung.  Now, did Hornung show heart, guts and guile for the 2 and 8 Irish?  Sure.  But, at 2 and 8 how valuable and outstanding are you?  Brown’s physical dominance and versatility were a sight to behold, especially on a Syracuse team that went to the Cotton Bowl.  McDonald?  He was just the key cog in the Sooners 47 game winning streak.  Majors was another versatile threat from the South, overlooked by the Domer influence, once again.

7.  1967 Gary Beban – I would’ve selected OJ Simpson    
It’s hard to imagine that with so many great players in the history of college football that Archie Griffin is the only two time winner.  OJ should’ve been another, winning this one instead of Beban.  The Bruin leader piled up enough panache leading the Bruins to a stunning Rose Bowl upset win over Michigan State after the 1965 season as a sophomore, but Simpson had the better 1967 season and fared better, individually and from a team perspective, in their fabled 1967 matchup.

8.  1935 Jay Berwanger – I would’ve selected Sammy Baugh
Of course, it’s hard to argue with a versatile talent like Berwanger as the best player east of the Mississippi, which is how the award was ‘labeled’ in 1935.  Had Baugh been a candidate for the award, he would’ve taken it home to TCU as the first Horned Frog to win the Trophy, instead of Davey O’Brien.

9.  1957 John David Crow – I would’ve selected John David Crow, by default
JDC didn’t play but in seven games on the season and put up decent numbers for the games that he did play, but it’s hard to say that anyone in 1957 deserved this award, really.  I think that the dearth of great candidates and the versatility shown by the former Aggie forced the voters to give it to Crow. 

10.  1994 Rashaan Salaam – I would’ve selected: Ki-Jana Carter
Although he was a 2,000 yard rusher, I believe that Carter was more dominating on fewer carries than Salaam.  Carter was sitting on the sideline for much of the fourth quarter at least in 80% of his games that season because the Penn State offense was so powerful.  Furthermore, not that this has to be the case, but Carter was the most valuable player on an undefeated Penn State team, while you could actually make an argument for Kordell Stewart being the most valuable player on his team, instead of Salaam.  But, once Salaam hit the 2,000 yard mark, the Trophy was his.

Matthew Zemek     
Q: The ten worst Heisman winners of all-time...

This invites a firestorm of outrage, but please note that these selections are not based on any assessment of these players' Heisman-winning seasons or their college careers. Moreover, these choices aren't based on any assessment of these players' eventual professional careers, either. The specific criterion used for determining a "bad" Heisman winner (surely, one can see how fundamentally oxymoronic that is) is simply that someone else was more deserving of the award. That player will be named in parentheses.

Because of the sensitive nature of this topic for fans of the winning players and their schools, I'll only rank the number one offender.

The first nine:

George Rogers, 1980. (Hugh Green) The year in which the Heisman's bias against defensive players was magnified.

Paul Hornung, 1956. (Johnny Majors) If Hornung played for any team other than Notre Dame, would he have won? Probably not.

Gary Beban, 1967. (OJ Simpson) OJ made one of the greatest runs in the sport's history to beat Beban's Bruins in the money game of that '67 season.

It's not that Beban--a collegiate legend--didn't have a Heisman-worthy season; it's that OJ eclipsed him.

Jason White, 2003. (Larry Fitzgerald) A year that magnified the Heisman's bias against underclassmen. Fitzgerald carried his Pittsburgh team on his solitary shoulders, while White was surrounded by ample weapons on all sides. It all came down to the climactic Big XII Championship Game, in which the Sooner quarterback--with even a modestly good performance--would have earned the benefit of the doubt and the right to be considered the Heisman favorite.

White pulled a porker in an abysmal night against Kansas State.

He still won the award.

Another one of the many nights the Heisman lost credibility instead of gaining it.

Eric Crouch, 2001. (Rex Grossman) As bad as the 2003 Heisman was in revealing its bias against underclassmen, this was worse. Crouch was part of a great play in a memorable win against Oklahoma earlier in the season--and that one play generated most of his Heisman buzz, a very inappropriate way to decide an award of such magnitude. Crouch was a great leader and an above-average performer, but he was plainly overmatched as a quarterback in a season-ending crash-and-burn against Colorado. Yes, there was the small matter of his defense allowing 62 points, but Nebraska's inability to score early in that contest--partly because of Crouch's deficient passing skills--enabled Colorado to gain runaway freight-train momentum.

Grossman, meanwhile, presided over a bona fide juggernaut and performed extremely well in every game but one, a narrow road loss at Auburn. In what would be Florida's final regular-season game, an epic against Tennessee, Grossman singlehandedly kept the Gators competitive on a day when Tennessee's offensive line destroyed Florida's defense, and when Gator running back Earnest Graham was out with an injury. If anyone put his personal stamp on the award in 2001, it was clearly Grossman. But when voting time came around, another underclassman was left out to dry.

Andre Ware, 1989. (Anthony Thompson) If beating a fresh-from-the-death-penalty Southern Methodist team by a 95-24 score is what helps you win the Heisman, there has to be something of a cloud over the award, right?

Matt Leinart, 2004. (Jason White) Leinart is a decorated, legendary, all-time, all-world college football great. But White did have a better 2004 season. Had White not won the 2003 award, he would have been voted the winner in 2004. But politics dictated that White not win the award twice.

Reggie Bush, 2005. (Vince Young) Upon reflection, there were shades of 2001 in this vote. Bush--like Eric Crouch--made the sexy plays in the sexy games.

Meanwhile, though, VY was Grossman-like in being a consistent, productive leader who had a more regular effect on his team's (and his offense's) quality. Sadly, Heisman voters were seduced by sex appeal and lacked the devotion to duty needed to make the responsible choice.

Chris Weinke, 2000. (Josh Heupel) This is one of the more subjective calls in Heisman history, but as a card-carrying member of the "Jay Barker is a great all-time college quarterback" fan club, I firmly believe that "greatness," in a college quarterback, has to account for intangibles and clutch play as well as "pure" excellence, in which a player is athletically awesome and statistically impressive. And Heupel made many more clutch plays in 2000 than Weinke did. Yeah, Weinke didn't have to make that many clutch plays partly because his team was more dominant on a weekly basis (though, it should be pointed out, FSU did lose to Miami, while Heupel's Sooners went undefeated). But the way Heupel performed in leading a once-proud program back to the mountaintop was, from this writer's perspective, the more notable feat.

The worst Heisman winner ever:

Gino Torretta, 1992. (Marshall Faulk) Is there any doubt here? On every conceivable level, in every relevant category, by any significant measure, Faulk earned the award while Torretta stole it. Torretta was the beneficiary of virtually every well-known bias to afflict the Heisman balloting in the award's oft-tainted history: being a senior, a white quarterback, a quarterback on a winning team, a quarterback on a sexy, big-name program, and a quarterback who plays in big games before a massive national audience.

Faulk had better numbers despite drastically fewer resources and helpmates, and got left in the cold. Whenever fraudulent Heismans are talked about and the words "career achievement award" are mentioned, Gino Torretta's name will always be the first one to trip lightly off the lips.