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The Most Impressive Heisman Winners Ever

Danny FlynnSenior Analyst IDecember 14, 2016

The Most Impressive Heisman Winners Ever

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    Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel made history this past Saturday night when he became the first freshman player to ever win college football's most important individual prize, the Heisman Trophy

    Manziel managed to beat out other worthy candidates such as Manti Te'o, Collin Klein and Marqise Lee by creating memorable highlight-reel plays and putting together the biggest upset win of the season over Alabama. 

    The dynamic dual-threat quarterback's 2012 campaign is truly one of the best we've ever seen by a freshman college football player.

    He's now part of a special and illustrious group of winners, which includes some of the great players in college football history. 

    Here's a look at Manziel and some of the other most impressive Heisman winners ever. 

QB Cam Newton, Auburn (2010)

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    The fact that Auburn completely disintegrated as a program in the years after Cam Newton left goes to show how valuable and how important he was to the team's national championship run back in 2010. 

    The former Florida Gator revived his career in a big way after arriving at Auburn as the top JUCO recruit in the country. 

    The explosive and electric dual-threat quarterback put the Tigers on his back and led the team to an undefeated season, an SEC championship and a win in the BCS national championship game over Oregon.

    Newton led the SEC with 1,409 rushing yards, threw 28 touchdowns and rushed for another 20 scores.

RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (1988)

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    During his Heisman-winning 1988 campaign, Barry Sanders gave everyone an early glimpse of the type of highlight-reel runner he would later become with the Detroit Lions.

    Sanders broker numerous notable records in his final year.

    He finished the regular season with 2,628 rushing yards, 3,248 total yards and 39 total touchdowns. 

    Following his breakout showing, Sanders chose to leave Oklahoma State early, and he was eventually drafted by the Lions with the 3rd overall selection in the 1989 NFL draft. 

QB Tim Tebow, Florida (2007)

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    Before Tim Tebow became one of the NFL's most covered commodities, he was at one time simply a highly touted sophomore, taking over as the starter of a defending national champion. 

    In 2007, the former Florida Mr. Football proved that his high school hype was legit.

    He put together one of the most impressive individual performances in college football history. It's a season that will still be talked about decades from now. 

    Tebow was the first quarterback to ever throw for over 20 touchdowns and run for over 20 touchdowns. Although it may come as a surprise to some now, but he actually finished the season as the second most efficient passer in the country. 

    The Gators may have had four losses that season, however, Tebow was so much better than everyone else that year that he still managed to take home the trophy, becoming the first ever sophomore to win the award.

RB Herschel Walker, Georgia (1982)

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    Herschel Walker may have been limited by a thumb injury early in the 1982 season. But he still managed to rush for 1,752 yards and score 17 touchdowns, as he helped lead the Bulldogs to an SEC title and an 11-1 record. 

    Walker is still the only player that's ever finished in the top 3 of the Heisman voting in three straight years. 

    Although he didn't become the NFL star that many envisioned, Walker will always be remembered as one of the most physically gifted running backs to ever play college football. 

RB Ricky Williams, Texas (1998)

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    Ricky Williams had one of the most impressive careers ever seen from a college running back. Williams topped off that career with his best season ever as a senior in 2008. 

    The Longhorn back broke Tony Dorsett's career rushing record with highlight reel runs and spectacular plays. He piled up 2,327 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns.

    The big, powerful rusher dominated Big 12 competition all year long and he solidified his status as one of the all-time greatest rushers in the sport with his tremendous final campaign.  

RB OJ Simpson, USC (1968)

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    OJ Simpson was the most decorated player of the 1968 season, earning not only a Heisman Trophy, but a Maxwell Award and a Walter Camp Award as well. 

    Simpson undoubtedly deserved all of the honors he received following a remarkable campaign.

    The blazing fast back rushed for 1,709 yards and 22 touchdowns. 

    While he may ultimately be most-remembered for the headlines he created off the field, Simpson certainly etched his place in college football history with his Heisman-worthy performance in 1968.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (2012)

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    Before the season started, you wouldn't have found Johnny Manziel's name on any Heisman favorite lists. Instead, they were headed by the likes of Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and Denard Robinson. 

    As top candidates continued to fall out of the race after each and every week, Manziel slowly emerged as a viable challenger for the trophy with his outstanding play. It was his performance in a 29-24 upset win at Alabama, however, that really put him in the driver's seat to win the award. 

    Manziel turned out to be one of the most exciting must-watch players of the 2012 season. Johnny Football's 10-2 record and his incredible eye-popping numbers—3,419 passing yards, 1,181 rushing yards and 43 total touchdowns—were just too hard to ignore. He became the first ever player to win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. 

RB Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh (1976)

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    After spending his days at nearby Hopewell High School as a football and basketball star, Tony Dorsett arrived in Pittsburgh ready to show the college football world just how good he really was. 

    It didn't take long for Dorsett to make a national name for himself.

    After earning All-American honors as a freshman, Dorsett got progressively better each and every year before finally reaching his peak as a senior in 1976.

    The Panther rusher earned the trifecta of the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award after rushing for 1,943 yards and 23 touchdowns. Following the season, he was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1977 NFL draft. 

QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor (2011)

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    After returning from a torn knee ligament and putting together a solid sophomore season in 2010, Robert Griffin III became a sensation the following year. RG3 developed into one of the sport's most talked-about players after putting together electric performances and putting up big-time numbers. 

    The highly athletic dual-threat signal-caller finished the season with 4,293 passing yards, 699 rushing yards and 47 total touchdowns. 

    Griffin may have lost three games. But you have to look at how he single-handedly revitalized a dormant Baylor program and managed to guide the Bears to their first ten-win season in decades in order to really appreciate what he actually accomplished. 

RB Marcus Allen, USC (1981)

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    Marcus Allen topped off a memorable career at USC with one of the greatest rushing seasons in college football history in 1981. 

    That year, Allen was playing pretty much playing on another level than any other player in the country. He totaled 2,559 yards of offense and scored 23 touchdowns. Plus, he played a key role in the Trojans' 9-win season, which culminated with a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. 

    Allen is considered to be not just one of the greatest running backs in USC history; he's one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. 

RB Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1999)

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    Ron Dayne was a prototypical Big Ten running back. Dayne was big, powerful and he ran like a bowling ball ready to knock down helpless defenders like pins. 

    The short but stout 5'10'', 240-plus pound back rushed for 1,834 yards in his final season, and he helped lead the Badgers to a 10-2 record and a Rose Bowl victory. 

    Dayne never became a featured back in the pros, but what he did during his time in Madison was definitely special. 

QB Doug Flutie, Boston College (1984)

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    Doug Flutie managed to provide one of the most memorable plays in college football history during his 1984 Heisman season. Flutie's Hail Mary pass to beat Miami 47-45 on Thanksgiving night is one of the most memorable, chill-inducing plays in sports history. 

    It wasn't a play, however, that had any bearing on the Heisman race, since voting was already completed before the game. 

    Flutie had still managed to seal up the award, though. The 5'10'' QB finished the season with 3,454 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. 

Archie Griffin, Ohio State (1974 and 1975)

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    While Archie Griffin is the only two-time Heisman winner ever, it was his performance in 1974 that earned him his first Heisman that was really the most impressive. 

    Griffin rushed for 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns, as he led the Buckeyes to a trip to the Rose Bowl. 

    The following year, his production dropped. However, voters still had the image of the unstoppable back they saw in 1974 running through their heads, which is why they decided to make Griffin the first ever back-to-back winner. 

RB Mike Rozier, Nebraska (1983)

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    Mike Rozier was the most dominant player on a dominant 1983 Nebraska squad that went 11-0 in the regular season before losing in the Orange Bowl to Miami. 

    Rozier racked up over 100 rushing yards in every single regular season game he played in, finishing with 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns. 

    The powerful rusher was the centerpiece of a Cornhuskers offense that averaged 52 points and 401 rushing yards per game.

QB Roger Staubach, Navy (1963)

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    There have not been many Heisman winners who have been able to match their collegiate accomplishments with equal success in the pros.

    Roger Staubach was one of the few that became a legend at both levels. 

    Staubach won the Heisman Trophy in 1963 after leading the Midshipmen to a 9-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking. 

    Following a few years spent in service, Staubach took over the Dallas Cowboys and led the team to two Super Bowls, while earning pro-bowl honors in six different seasons. 

WR Desmond Howard, Michigan (1991)

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    Desmond Howard's Heisman pose in the end zone has become one of the most well-known images associated with college football. 

    Howard showed just how brash and confident he was by striking the pose following a touchdown against archrival Ohio State. However, he ended up delivering on the bold move by taking home the award. 

    Howard's record-breaking 1991 season, in which he totaled 23 touchdowns and dazzled onlookers with long receiving plays and exciting returns, is one of the most impressive campaigns we've ever seen.

RB Earl Campbell, Texas (1977)

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    There have been plenty of great running backs that have played for Texas over the years. But few had the type of career that Earl Campbell did. 

    Campbell is still the school's third all-time leading rusher, and he is one of just two Longhorns to ever capture college football's most coveted award. 

    During his 1977 Heisman campaign, "The Tyler Rose" rushed for 1,744 yards and 18 touchdowns, as he helped guide Texas to an 11-0 regular season record. 

QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2008)

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    Sam Bradford was so good in 2008 that many expected the redshirt sophomore to leave Oklahoma and become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. 

    He finished the season with 4,464 yards and 53 total touchdowns. With Bradford behind center, Oklahoma's offense set all types of records. The Sooners averaged 51 points and 547 yards per game. 

    Even though Bradford made the unwise move to return for his junior year, in which he ultimately experienced a season-ending shoulder injury, he still ended up as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

CB Charles Woodson, Michigan (1997)

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    Charles Woodson is the only primarily defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy. It's likely that he'll hold that honor for a while, as you rarely see defensive players get asked to do as much as Woodson did during the 1997 season. 

    The corner/receiver/returner was a lock down defensive back, a playmaking offensive threat and a difference-maker on special teams. 

    Woodson made a remarkable impact in a variety of different ways for a Wolverines team that went 12-0, won a Rose Bowl and won a split-national championship. 

    Not only was he able to overcome the stigma of being a defensive player, Woodson was also able to pull off a big victory over Peyton Manning, who started the season as the overwhelming favorite. 

QB Danny Wuerffel, Florida (1996)

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    Steve Spurrier's Fun 'N Gun offense was at its most lethal during the 1996 season when QB Danny Wuerffel was running it.

    Wuerffel completed 207 passes for over 3,600 yards and threw 39 touchdowns, as he led the Gators to an undefeated season and a national championship. 

    Although he may have never reached any kind of success at the NFL level, Wuerffel's senior season in Gainesville is still one of the greatest we've ever seen by a college quarterback. 

RB Billy Sims, Oklahoma (1978)

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    Billy Sims has certainly developed into an eccentric personality during his post-playing days. But when he was on the field at Oklahoma back in the late 1970's, he was all business. 

    Sims had the best season of his Sooners career in 1978, when he rushed for over 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns. After taking home the Heisman Trophy, he capped off the season with a two-touchdown performance in a 31-24 win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. 

    After putting together another terrific season in 1979, Sims ultimately became the No. 1 overall pick of the 1980 NFL draft. 

RB Ernie Davis, Syracuse (1961)

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    Not only is Ernie Davis one of the most impressive Heisman winners ever, he's also one of the most important winners of all time as well. 

    Davis broke through and became the first black player to ever win the prestigious award following a dominant 1961 campaign at Syracuse.

    Playing with such smooth calmness in such tumultuous times, Davis rushed for 823 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

    Sadly, the groundbreaking young athlete never had the chance to flaunt his skills in the NFL. Davis died of Leukemia just a year after winning the Heisman. His story was later made into a movie titled The Express.

RB Glenn Davis, Army (1946)

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    A year after watching teammate Doc Blanchard take home the Heisman Trophy, Glenn Davis etched out his place in college football history with a special season of his own in 1946. 

    "Mr. Outside" of the famed "Mr Outside, Mr. Inside" duo became the first ever junior to win college football's top honor after finishing the season with 19 touchdowns. 

    Davis helped lead Army to an undefeated 9-0-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the national standings. 

RB Bo Jackson, Auburn (1985)

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    Bo Jackson is one of the greatest athletes in the history of college football. That rare world-class athleticism was on full display during Jackson's Heisman-winning 1985 season at Auburn. 

    The star senior tore through the SEC that year, rushing for 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns, which at the time was the second best single season rushing performance in conference history. 

    Following his standout season, Jackson ended up being taken No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL draft. 

QB Vinny Testaverde, Miami (1986)

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    Vinny Testaverde may not have been able to lead Miami to a win over Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, but he still deserved the Heisman Trophy after putting together one of the best regular seasons by a college quarterback.

    Testaverde completed 63 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and threw 26 touchdowns, as he led the Hurricanes to an undefeated 11-0 regular season.

    The senior's poor performance against the Nittany Lions in the Fiesta Bowl overshadowed what was an otherwise outstanding season. 

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