Trying to choose the worst Heisman winner is like trying to choose the ugliest Miss America winner — they’re all great, and highlighting their flaws is just being nitpicky. Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, you have to acknowledge that some winners are less deserving than others, whether it’s because they won merely on reputation, and/or because there were more deserving candidates. The following Heisman Trophy recipients were all super talented, but their resumes were a bit underwhelming.
During the early years of the Heisman, the Irish were a dominant force in college football, making them a media darling, a factor that certainly helped them secure an abundance of awards through the years. When Lattner claimed the Heisman, for example, he didn’t lead the team in scoring, passing, rushing or receiving. The duel-threat halfback’s statistics and explosive potential were somewhat hindered by his talented teammates who commanded the ball as well. Interestingly, Lattner’s original trophy perished in a fire at his Chicago steakhouse, and the $300 replacement has suffered an immense amount of wear and tear — perhaps he doesn’t value it as much as another winner would have?
There’s no doubt that Hornung was a heck of an NFL player. People often confuse the worst Heisman winners with Heisman winners who went on to do nothing in the pros — this certainly wasn’t the case, as Hornung is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Most inexplicable about Hornung receiving the award was that Notre Dame was a putrid 2-8 during in ’56, so his impact was minimal at best. Meanwhile, Jim Brown led Syracuse to a 7-2 record, notably scoring a record 43 points versus Colgate and winning Cotton Bowl co-MVP honors versus TCU.
Crow played in seven of the Aggies 11 games due to a hyper-extended knee he suffered in the season opener versus Maryland. After winning their first eight games, they lost their final three, including one at home against archrival Texas and one against Tennessee at the Gator Bowl. Missing such significant time would be an automatic disqualifier today, but Crow’s dynamism was understandably difficult to ignore by the voters.
Ranked No. 1, UCLA suffered a narrow late-season loss in an unforgettable matchup against cross-town rival USC, which would go on to win that season’s consensus national championship. In the process, Beban had a stellar performance before a national audience, completing 16-24 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns. It was enough to earn him the Heisman despite the fact that OJ Simpson, who had a better season, scored the game-tying 64-yard touchdown in the same game. Although OJ was robbed in ’67, he went on to win it in ’68.
The ’71 season was unfolding swimmingly for Sullivan during the first eight games. Auburn had dismantled almost all of its opponents and seemed to be on its way to an undefeated season. Against Bama, however, the tide turned dramatically as Auburn was the one that got dismantled, suffering a 31-7 loss in which Sullivan tossed just 121 yards and two interceptions. Propelled by gaudy stats he accumulated mostly against weak opponents, Sullivan won the Heisman anyway.
Naturally, having won the Heisman the previous season, Griffin was the frontrunner going in to ’75. The high-powered Buckeyes coasted through the season, winning just two games by fewer than double-figures, the latter of which came against Michigan, Griffin’s worst game of the season. He won the Heisman anyway, as planned, making him the only two-time winner. He had just four touchdowns that season, 21 fewer than teammate Pete Johnson.
A bruising back, George Rogers worked for every last yard as he led college football in rushing during the ’80 season and guided the Gamecocks to an 8-4 record. Freshman Herschel Walker posted similar numbers for an undefeated national championship team but finished third in the voting, while defensive end Hugh Green, possibly the best player in all of college football, finished second.
Ware posted eye-popping numbers that voters simply couldn’t ignore, setting an astounding 26 NCAA records in the process. Benefitting from head coach Jack Pardee’s flashy run-and-shoot offense, Ware was the key component in the 95-21 obliteration of recent death penalty recipient SMU. At the time, the Cougars regularly feasted on weak competition provided by the Southwest Conference. Their signature win in a probation season, in which they finished ranked No. 14, came against No. 18 Texas Tech. Alternatively; Anthony Thomas of the Big 10′s Indiana tallied 1,793 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Neither Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar nor
Vinnie Testaverde won the Heisman, yet Toretta was able to secure it during a year in which Marshall Faulk carried the San Diego State offense, despite injuries, with 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns, clearly asserting himself as the best player in the nation. Miami, a national title contender, was led by its stout defense, and hardly relied on Toretta to carry them to wins. He didn’t even post gaudy numbers. More than anything, he was at the right place at the right time.
Rex Grossman deserved to win the Heisman after his standout sophomore season but was robbed due to the tradition of denying deserving underclassmen — he tallied 34 touchdown passes and just fewer than 4,000 yards, torching SEC competition. Memorably, he posted 464 yards and 5 touchdowns against eventual SEC champion LSU in Tiger Stadium. Each of his “Fun ‘n’ Gun” Gators’ wins came by two touchdowns or more, but their narrow losses to Auburn and Tennessee prevented them from matching up against Miami in the Rose Bowl. Crouch, a multi-threat quarterback, made a highlight-reel touchdown catch against Oklahoma that stuck in the minds of voters, thus giving him the award. But the Huskers suffered a terrible late-season blowout loss to Colorado, failed to win the Big XII and easily lost to Miami in the national title game.
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