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Top 10 Questionable Heisman Trophy Winners

Updated on August 14, 2015

These guys won college football's greatest honor, but should they have? Today I rank the top 10 undeserving Heisman Trophy winners. I rank them based on stats, wins, and players in conversation for the award.

10. Pat Sullivan- 1971

He just edged out two other players who probably should have won the award.

Over three seasons at Auburn, Pat Sullivan broke school and NCAA records for passing while leading the team to a 26–7 record. In 1970, he led the nation in total offense with 2,856 yards and set an NCAA record for most yards per play with 8.57. In his career, he was responsible for 71 touchdowns to tie the NCAA record. In his senior season, Sullivan completed 162 passes on 281 attempts for 2,012 yards and 20 touchdowns while winning the Heisman.

While Sullivan's records are there, the players who finished two and three were just as deserving. Cornell running back and Heisman runner-up Ed Marinaro set 16 national records and was the first college running back to achieve 4,000 career rushing yards while leading the nation in rushing in 1970 and 1971. Oklahoma running back Gregg Pruitt, who finished third in Heisman race, was spectacular in 1971 rushing for over 1,600 and 17 touchdowns.

9. Matt Leinart- 2004

He was surrounded by all star talent and he was the benefactor for that season.

During his time at USC, Matt Leinart rewrote the school record book in career touchdowns and completion percentage. In three seasons as a starter, he passed for over 10,000 yards and threw 99 touchdowns. In his junior year, Leinart led the team to a perfect record and national championship and won the Heisman in 2004.

The fact of the matter is its USC. Leinart was surrounded by great running backs like Reggie Bush and Lendale White and one of the greatest college receiving duos of all time in Steve Smith Dwayne Jarrett. The 2004 Heisman race is considered one of the closest ever. The award should have been given to Oklahoma freshman running back Adrian Peterson. But since the award have never been given to a freshman at that time, Leinart was given the trophy.

8. George Rogers- 1980

Like in Matt Leinart's case, a freshman should have won it this year.

During his time at South Carolina, George Rogers established himself as the premier running back in school history. His 5,204 yards is still the highest career total by any Gamecock running back and his 31 rushing touchdowns is tied for second in school history. In 1980, Rogers led the nation in rushing while helping the Gamecocks to an 8-3 and winning the trophy.

While Roger's numbers were impressive, the award should have gone to Pitt defensive end High Green or Georgia running back Herschel Walker. Green was seen as the best overall player in college football and recorded 17 sacks in 1980 and should have been the firs primarily defensive player to win the award. Walker was only a freshman at that time, but was just as exciting as Rogers and would go on to be considered the best running back in SEC history.

7. Jason White- 2003

He was a good quarterback, but his team was better.

After two reconstructive knee surgeries in back to back years, Jason White became the Sooners starting quarterback in 2003. Despite the fact that White could not scramble and the Sooners had to run every offensive play out of a shotgun formation, White won the Heisman Trophy in 2003 after throwing 40 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions.

The fact is that was the high point of White's college career. After losing the National Championship to LSU, many people questioned the decision and believed the award should have been given to Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald or Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning. Fitzgerald was college football's best receiver and rewrote many school and NCAA records in 2003. Manning threw for 3,600 yards and 29 touchdowns and was the number one pick in the 2004 NFL draft.

6. Eric Crouch- 2001

He was the precursor for the dual threat quarterback, but his stats were not that all impressive.

As Nebraska's starting quarterback, Eric Crouch brought a new dimension to the team. He was 35-7 as a starter and left school as Nebraska's all time leader in total offense. In 2001, Crouch led the team to a 11-1 record and an appearance in the national championship game. He won the Davey O'Brien award as the nations top quarterback and the Heisman.

Crouch should not have received either award as statistically their was nothing impressive about his numbers. He threw for just over 1,500 yards, rushed for 1,100, and scored 25 touchdowns. The fact that Nebraska lost big to both Colorado and Miami should have kept him from winning the award. The trophy should have gone to a number of other quarterbacks including Rex Grossman, Ken Dorsey, Joey Harrington, or David Carr.

5. Andre Ware- 1989

He put up huge numbers by running up the score.

As a junior at Houston, Andre Ware was the first black quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in 1989. In his junior year, he threw for 4,699 yards, 44 touchdowns, and set 26 NCAA records. Many of the records were thanks to the innovative use of the Run & Shoot offense. The Cougars ended the season ranked the #14 team in the nation.

Ware's numbers are very impressive, but most of them came when Houston was running up the score. Case in point the 95-21 rout of an SMU in their first season back from the death penalty. When looking at practicality, Indiana's Anthony Thompson ran for almost 1,800 yards and scored 25 should have been the guy.

4. Tim Brown- 1987

"Touchdown Timmy" was obviously a great wide receiver, but he shouldn't have won the Heisman.

In four years at Notre Dame, Tim Brown recorded 137 receptions for 2,493 yards, a school record 5,024 all-purpose yards, and 22 touchdowns. He proved to be a great wide receiver as well as a dynamic return specialist. While he was spectacular, Notre Dame only amassed a record of 25-21 over his four years including an 0-2 record in bowl games. In his senior year, Brown won he Heisman trophy and became the first wide receiver to win the award.

With Brown being as talented as he was, teams had to double team him which gave more opportunities to his teammates. The year he won the Heisman, he amassed les than 1,000 scrimmage yards on both offense and returns and scored a total of seven touchdowns. The award should have gone to Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson who led his team to an undefeated season or Pitt running back Craig Heyward who rushed for over 1,600 yards.

3. Gino Torretta- 1992

He was an ok quarterback surrounded by phenomenal talent.

In his two years as a starter for Miami, Gino Torretta had a 26-1 record as a starter. In 1991, he led the team to an undefeated season and a share of the national title and won the title again the next season after upsetting Alabama. That year Torretta won the Heisman.

Stats are key in the discussion for the Heisman trophy and Torretta didn't have them. In 1992, he barely threw for 3,000 yards and only threw 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk was a one man show on the west coast rushing for over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. The only reason that Torretta was in the discussion was that he was on one of the most talented teams of the era.

2. Archie Griffin-1975

He is college football's only two-time Heisman trophy winner, but he should never have won his second one.

As a freshman, Archie Griffin won the starting job relatively quickly. Head coach Woody Hayes once said of Griffin, "He's a better young man than he is a football player, and he's the best football player I've ever seen." he is the only running back to lead the Big Ten Conference in rushing for three straight years. Over his four year collegiate career, He rushed for at least 100 yards in 34 games, including an NCAA record 31 consecutive games. He has been the only college football player to date to win the Heisman trophy twice.

Griffin’s numbers were down across the board compared to his junior season the year before. He only scored four touchdowns in 1975 while his teammate Pete Johnson ran for 25 touchdowns that season. Cal’s Chuck Muncie, USC’s Ricky Bell, and Pitt’s Tony Dorsett had much better seasons and it could have been Tony Dorsett as the only two time Heisman winner.

1. Paul Hornung-1956

"The Golden Boy's" greatness should not out shine his teams lack of skill.

While at Notre Dame, Paul Hornung built a reputation as the greatest player in Notre Dame history. In the 1956 season, he led his team offensively in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff and punt returns, and punting. He also played defense and led his team in passes broken up and was second in interceptions and tackles made. That year he won the Heisman trophy.

Another key factor other than stats when considering the Heisman is wins. Hornung was 2-8 as a starter for Notre Dame in 1956 and is the only Heisman trophy winner from a losing team. He won the award based on the hype of Notre Dame alone. Any of the next four players in the vote, Johnny Majors from Tennessee, Tom McDonald and Jerry Tubbs from Oklahoma, or Syracuse’s Jim Brown, would have been more deserving of the trophy.


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    • profile image

      Kevin Goodwin 

      3 years ago

      I think every quarterback on your list has the potential to being the most questionable Heisman winners.

    • Kile Taylor profile image

      Kile Taylor 

      4 years ago from Roanoke, VA

      Great Article and really like your list. You really hit the nail on the head. The University of Houston was a stats machine for QB's during that era. It wasn't just good for Ware; you remember David Klingler? Some of these guys were a product of big named schools with an abundance of talent. Again, great list and I'm jealous that I did not think of this topic first.


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