10 Best Heisman Winners of the BCS Era

Ian BergCorrespondent IMay 9, 2013

10 Best Heisman Winners of the BCS Era

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    The BCS era is finally coming to an end. Next year the playoffs will begin and the shift from the much hated and debated bowl system will be complete.

    While the BCS era has provided a lot of headaches, it has also produced some of the best Heisman winners in history.

    This group is quarterback heavy, but a handful of running backs make the cut. This is a look at the 10 best from the last 15 years.

Sam Bradford: QB, Oklahoma Sooners

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    Sam Bradford became the second sophomore in history to win the Heisman when he secured the award after the 2008 season.

    He was in a league of his own that year, passing for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns. He completed 67.9 percent of his passes that season and finished with an astounding 180.8 quarterback rating (h/t Rivals.com).

    It was a tight race for the Heisman that saw Bradford edge out Tim Tebow for the award, keeping him from becoming the second two-time Heisman winner in history.

    Bradford’s 50 touchdowns and 4,720 passing yards are still records at Oklahoma. He also holds a handful of NCAA records from his time in Norman (h/t Oklahoma Athletics). 

    The St. Louis Rams made Bradford the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.  

Robert Griffin III: QB, Baylor Bears

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    There were arguments against Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman in 2011, but the best decision was made when he was handed the award over Andrew Luck.

    Luck had a solid year, but Griffin III finished with 192.3 passer rating which is still the best in FBS history (h/t Heisman Trust). He also accumulated 3,998 passing yards and 36 touchdowns—also better marks than Luck.

    Griffin III was more than just a passer. He posted nine rushing touchdowns and added 644 rushing yards to his stats in 2011.

    A consensus All-American, Griffin III went on to be drafted by the Washington Redskins.

Johnny Manziel: QB, Texas A&M Aggies

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    Johnny Manziel made history becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman after the 2012 season.

    He was able to march through SEC defenses with ease, finishing the year with 3,706 passing yards, 1,409 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns (h/t ESPN).

    Manziel faced his biggest challenge from Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

    While the voting was close, it was apparent that Manziel had stolen the attention of the country with his amazing finish to the season and big win over eventual national champion Alabama. 

Ron Dayne: RB, Wisconsin Badgers

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    When Ron Dayne stepped on to the field defenses took notice.

    The 5’11”, 250-pound bruiser from Wisconsin was a talented running back that broke the FBS rushing record just one year after Ricky Williams in 1999.

    That same season he won the Heisman when he rushed for 2,034 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging six yards per carry along the way (h/t sports-reference.com).

    Dayne finished his career with 7,125 rushing yards which is still the FBS record. 

    The New York Giants selected Dayne in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft. 

Carson Palmer: QB, USC Trojans

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    Carson Palmer was a member of the USC dynasty that saw Pete Carroll turn USC back into a national brand.

    Palmer was a mediocre performer until his senior season. After two years as a starter and modest results, he broke out in 2002 completing 63.2 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,942 yards. He also tossed 33 touchdowns (h/t USC Athletics).

    His efforts earned him the Heisman Trophy and consensus All-American honors.

    The Cincinnati Bengals made Palmer the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. He is currently on roster with the Arizona Cardinals. 

Tim Tebow: QB, Florida Gators

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    Breaking trends was something Tim Tebow embraced as a college star, so becoming the first underclassman to win the Heisman was fitting for the Florida quarterback.

    Tebow was a fullback playing quarterback for the Gators when Urban Meyer was calling the plays. As a freshman Tebow was a run-first backup to Chris Leak. By 2007 he was the starter and made his mark through the air and on the ground.

    He passed for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns that year while adding 895 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns to his stat line (h/t Rivals.com). He was the first in what has become a line of dual-threat quarterbacks to win the award.

    If not for Sam Bradford’s amazing season at Oklahoma in 2008, Tebow would have won a second Heisman. Instead, he settled for a national title. 

Cam Newton: QB, Auburn Tigers

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    It was a bumpy road to the 2010 Heisman Trophy ceremony, but Cam Newton made it despite a wall of bad press.

    After starting his career at Florida and then disappearing to JUCO, Newton appeared from nowhere to win the Heisman during the 2010 season. He led Auburn to its first national title since 1957 in the same season.

    His one and only season at Auburn saw a number of records fall. He finished the year with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing, 42 receiving yards and 51 total touchdowns (h/t ESPN).

    The All-American was drafted No. 1 by the Panthers in 2011. 

Troy Smith: QB, Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Troy Smith was a runaway Heisman winner in 2006. His 801 votes received, and his win by 1,662 points is the second-largest win margin in the history of the award (h/t Heisman Trust).

    As a senior that season Smith passed for 2,542 yards, rushed for 204 and scored a total of 31 touchdowns. He led the Buckeyes to the BCS National Championship Game that season and led them to a Big Ten title.

    He was drafted in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2007 NFL draft. 

Matt Leinart: QB, USC Trojans

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    The USC Trojans were on a national rise when Leinart took over as starting quarterback. The Pete Carroll dynasty was hitting its stride, and all that was needed from Leinart was steady play.

    Instead he produced 10,693 passing yards and 99 passing touchdowns in three years. In 2004 he won the Heisman after leading the Trojans to two consecutive national titles.

    That season he produced 3,322 yards passing, 33 passing touchdowns and finished with a 65.3 completion percentage (h/t Rivals.com).

    After a solid run as a starter in L.A., Leinart was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the 2006 draft. 

Ricky Williams: RB, Texas Longhorns

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    His personal decisions may not be the best, but Ricky Williams’ ability to electrify a stadium was undeniable.

    Williams was the first Heisman winner in the BCS era, taking home the bronze after the 1998 season. He was also a consensus All-American selection that year.

    During his senior campaign, Williams was able to rack up 2,327 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns. He also added 307 receiving yards and one TD to his stat line (h/t cfreference.net). Williams broke the all-time rushing record that season, finishing his career with 6,592 rushing yards.

    It only took one year for his rushing record to fall, but Williams’ mark was made. 

    The New Orleans Saints took Ricky Williams No. 5 overall in the 1999 NFL draft.