Ranking the Heisman Trophy Winners of the BCS Era on NFL and CFB Success

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2013

Ranking the Heisman Trophy Winners of the BCS Era on NFL and CFB Success

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    What began when Texas’ Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy 15 years ago ended Saturday night when Florida State’s Jameis Winston lofted the bronze statuette over his head.

    Not only is Winston the 79th winner of the most coveted individual award in college football, he’s the last guy ever to take home the prize in the BCS era.

    Since the Bowl Championship Series took over for the Bowl Alliance in 1998, 16 athletes have been called to the podium in New York City to become a part of history. 

    And though it’s compelling to compare Heisman winners over eight decades of college football, it’s more relevant to do so over a specific era.


    Our BCS-era Heisman rankings are based on the following criteria: total Heisman points, statistical FBS rankings, team record, championships, overall draft pick, Pro Bowls and weighted career approximate value (as calculated by Sports-Reference.com).

    Undergraduates Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel are given the benefit of solid NFL careers.

    Reggie Bush, who forfeited his Heisman Trophy, was not ranked. 

    Statistics courtesy of the Heisman, College Football Statistics, Sports Reference/College Football, Pro- Football-Reference.com and College Football Data Warehouse. 

15. Jason White, QB, Oklahoma, 2003

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    Even though Jason White ranks fifth overall in BCS-era Heisman points, seven quarterbacks finished above him in passer efficiency the year he won. The list included Philip Rivers (NC State), Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, Ohio) and Matt Leinart (USC), all of whom finished behind White in the Heisman vote.

    White nipped Pitt running back Larry Fitzgerald in the voting by a mere 128 points, giving him the fifth-narrowest margin of victory in the BCS era.

    Though Oklahoma finished the regular season undefeated in 2003, it lost the Big 12 title game to Kansas State and dropped the Sugar Bowl to LSU to finish 12-2.

    What hurts White in the rankings is his status as the only BCS-era Heisman winner to go undrafted in the NFL. 

14. Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska, 2001

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    With only 770 points in the 2001 race, Eric Crouch earned fewer points than any Heisman winner in the BCS era.

    This was the year that only 132 points separated the top three finishers: Crouch with 770 points, Rex Grossman (quarterback, Florida) with 708 and Ken Dorsey (quarterback, Miami, Fla.) with 638.

    With a margin of victory of only 62 points, Crouch’s win was the second-narrowest in the BCS era.

    What gives Crouch the edge over White—the two were tied in the rankings—is that he was drafted No. 95 overall in the 2002 NFL draft, while White went undrafted.

    Crouch was a complete bust and never played a down in the NFL.

13. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama, 2009

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    In what may come as a surprise, Mark Ingram is ranked No. 14 in Heisman points among the 15 winners in the BCS era.

    Ingram edged Stanford’s Toby Gerhart by a mere 28 points in 2009, making it the closet race between No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS era.

    Ingram gains points with Alabama’s perfect run in 2009, which included the SEC title and BCS National Championship. 

    Ingram went No. 28 overall in the 2011 draft, and though he’s contributed at New Orleans, his top season stats are 602 yards and five rushing touchdowns in 2012.

12. Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State, 2000

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    Even though Chris Weinke beat Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel by a paper-thin 76 points in the 2000 vote (the third-narrowest margin of victory in the BCS era), he did manage to earn 1,628 points (No. 8 in the BCS era).

    Weinke was the No. 2-rated passer in 2000, played for the ACC champion Florida State Seminoles and came up just short of a national title against Oklahoma.

    What hurts Weinke is that he went 108th overall in the 2001 draft and had a less-than-memorable five-year run in the NFL.

11. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, 2006

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    With 2,540 points, Troy Smith earned more Heisman love than any winner in the BCS era.

    Smith outpaced 2006 runner-up Darren McFadden (Arkansas) by a whopping 1,662 points and third-place Brady Quinn (Notre Dame) by 1,758 points.

    Smith led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a Big Ten title before getting upended 41-14 by Florida in the BCS National Championship.

    Smith was the 174th overall pick in the 2007 draft and struggled through four seasons in the NFL. 

10. Matt Leinart, QB, USC, 2004

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    Even though Matt Leinart only received 1,325 Heisman points in 2004, he was the leader of a USC Trojan team that went undefeated and won both the Pac-10 title and the BCS National Championship.

    Leinart beat out Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson in the voting by 328 points and third-place finisher Jason White (also a Sooner) by 368 points.

    What boosts Leinart is his No. 10 selection in the 2006 draft and a decent NFL career.

    To illustrate, Pro-Football-Reference.com gives Leinart a “weighted career approximate value” of 12, while Ingram and Weinke rate eight and Smith rates six.

9. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida, 2007

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    Despite posting four losses in his Heisman season (the most of any in the BCS era), Tim Tebow earned 1,957 points and the statuette in 2007.

    Tebow was the first sophomore ever to win and, like Smith in 2006, he edged Arkansas’ McFadden to win what was a two-man race. The top four in 2007 were Tebow (1,957), McFadden (1,703), Hawaii’s Colt Brennan (632) and Missouri’s Chase Daniel (425).

    What benefits Tebow is that he went No. 25 in the 2010 draft and had a solid 2011 season with the Denver Broncos. His weighted career approximate value, like Leinart’s, is 12.

8. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor, 2011

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    Robert Griffin III edged Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Alabama’s Trent Richardson to become the 2011 Heisman winner.

    Griffin trumped Luck by 280 points and Richardson by 709, despite the fact his Baylor squad lost three games and didn’t win a championship of any kind.

    Griffin was the No. 2-rated passer in the FBS in 2011, second only to Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson who finished No. 9 in the Heisman voting with only 52 points.

    What gives Griffin extra credit is his No. 2 overall draft pick, his 18 weighted career approximate value and his 2012 Pro Bowl appearance.

    He is one of only five BCS-era Heisman winners to make the Pro Bowl.

7. Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin, 1999

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    The second Heisman winner in the BCS era, Ron Dayne led the FBS in rushing yards and touchdowns in 1999.

    Despite losing two early games, Wisconsin won the Big Ten in '99 and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

    Dayne outpaced the competition in the voting with 2,042 votes to second-place finisher Joe Hamilton of Georgia Tech’s 994 votes and Michael Vick of Virginia Tech’s 319 votes.

    Interestingly, TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson—who finished 60 yards behind Dayne in yards and tied him in touchdowns—didn’t receive any votes in 1999.

    Dayne was the 11th overall pick in the 2000 draft and played for seven seasons in the NFL. His weighted career approximate value is 22.

6. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M, 2012

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    Johnny Manziel rates high in Heisman points with 2,029 but loses momentum because he led a Texas A&M Aggies team that went 11-2 and didn’t win a title of any kind.

    What helps Manziel is his athleticism and his effectiveness as a dual-threat playmaker. Not only did he rank No. 15 in the FBS in passing yards the year he won, but he also ranked No. 20 in the nation in rushing yards.

    His 5,116 combined yards in 2012 accounted for more than 70 percent of Texas A&M's total output. And don't forget the Aggies were the No. 3 ranked offense in the nation last season.

    Manziel's prospects for the pros remain high, despite his relative small stature (6'1", 210 pounds).  

    For an insider's look, check out what New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (6'0", 210 pounds) had to say about Manziel, according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk:

    He's got all the playmaking ability to be a great player.  [There are] guys like [Manziel] in this league. Russell Wilson and his ability to run the football and extend plays outside the pocket and throw the ball down the field...There's way too much weight put into physical stature as opposed to can you find the open guy.  Can you deliver it accurately?  Can you make plays? Can you lead your team to victory?  Can you lead them? Period. 

5. Carson Palmer, QB, USC, 2002

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    Carson Palmer earned 1,328 points in 2002 to beat out Iowa’s Brad Banks (1,095) and Penn State’s Larry Johnson (726).

    Only three BCS-era winners earned fewer points than Palmer.

    What helps Palmer is that he led his Trojans to a share of the Pac-10 title and beat Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

    Palmer went No. 1 overall in the 2003 draft, and he is the only BCS-era Heisman winner to have been named to the NFL Pro Bowl twice.

    Palmer’s weighted career approximate value of 81 is the highest among Heisman winners since 1998.

    Based on these numbers, he’s the most successful pro athlete in the group. 

4. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State, 2013

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    The big question regarding the newest and youngest-ever Heisman winner is: What’s next?

    Though we don’t know what he’ll do with the rest of his college career or as a pro, Jameis Winston already has the statistical resume to be in the top five of the rankings.

    Backing him up are a 1,501-point win over runner-up AJ McCarron (Alabama), the fourth-highest point total in the BCS-era (2,205), the No. 1 passer rating in the FBS (190.1), a 13-0 record and the ACC title.

    Possible points remain for Winston if he can lead the Seminoles to a national title against Auburn.

    How good could Winston be in the NFL?  

    Well, Bucky Brooks of College Football 24/7 went as far as saying that Winston has the best chance of a successful NFL career among the 2013 Heisman finalists.

    If Winston continues to develop at his current pace, there is no reason why he shouldn't enjoy a long, illustrious career in the NFL as a Pro Bowl-caliber starter.







3. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma, 2008

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    Even though Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell led the nation in passing yards and Texas’ Colt McCoy was the leader in completion rate in 2008, it was Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford who threw more touchdown passes and finished with the highest passer rating.

    This was enough for him to earn a 122-point win over McCoy in the pass-happy campaign of 2008. As for Harrell, he finished No. 4 with 213 votes.

    Despite a loss to Texas, Bradford led the Sooners to a Big 12 title and a 10-point loss to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game.

    Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft and has been a starter with the St. Louis Rams since his rookie season in which he was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

    His weighted career approximate value is 20 and rising.

2. Ricky Williams, RB, Texas, 1998

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    The first guy to win the Heisman in the BCS era, Ricky Williams’ numbers are still tough to beat 16 years later.

    With 2,355 points and a 1,563-point win, Williams is second only to Ohio State’s Smith in the BCS era in points and margin of victory.

    Williams led a one-man race in 1998, leaving No. 2 finisher Michael Bishop of Kansas State (792 points) and No. 3 Cade McNown of UCLA (696 points) in the dust.

    Williams led the nation in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in '98. His only deficiency was that he played for a Texas team that went 9-3 and didn't win a title.

    Williams was selected No. 5 overall in the 1999 draft, and despite some off-the-field drama, he had enough success as a pro to earn a 77 weighted career approximate value (No. 2 among BCS-era Heisman winners).

    He is the only winner since 1998 to be recognized as a first-team All-Pro, an honor he earned in 2002. 

1. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn, 2010

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    In Heisman winners, Cam Newton is the total package.

    Newton won in 2010 with 2,263 points, third in the BCS era behind Williams and Smith. He finished 1,184 points ahead of second-place finisher Andrew Luck of Stanford (1,079) and 1,347 ahead of No. 3 LaMichael James of Oregon (916).

    Newton was the No. 2-rated passer in the FBS in ’10 and finished No. 12 among all rushers in yards. 

    He led Auburn to a perfect 14-0 mark, including a SEC title and a national championship win over Oregon.

    Newton was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and has enjoyed three successful seasons as the starter at the Carolina Panthers.

    Newton has already been to the Pro Bowl, and he was the 2011 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.  Newton’s weighted career approximate value is 34 and rising.