I was asked to write an article to certain specifications by one of the leaders here on Bleacher Report, so, naturally, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I be writing anyway, this is like the homework assignment you always wished you got in school. Instead, we got stuck writing about Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, which sounds really cool and is actually a really, really, really old soap opera set on a heath.
Back to the request.
I’m supposed to pick the five or 10 biggest snubs in the history of the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award. I’m going with top five because I’m a long-winded gasbag, so the top 10 would take too long. Furthermore, I figure there are a plethora of options, so disagreement will be aplenty just in the top three.
Not only that, the Heisman is even mushier than your average most valuable player award.
First, there’s the matter of underclassmen versus upperclassmen. For my part, I don’t think it can really qualify as a snub until the elite upperclassmen started jumping ship for the untold riches of the National Football League by the boatload. That’s why you won’t find Herschel Walker on the list.
Second, the sheer number of schools makes the selection criteria hard to nail down. For example, you have winners who were far less spectacular, statistically speaking, than someone who finished far down in the balloting. However, the numbers supernova usually played for a small program or a big boy who had a mediocre year.
That’s not really a snub since the award seems to be designed to reward special players from contenders for the National Title. That’s why you won’t find Larry Fitzgerald.
Third, the bevy of contenders often means that there are two, sometimes even three, very deserving players. Losing to a guy who has just as good a case isn’t really a snub, even if the loser was one of the all-timers in college football. Hence, no Peyton Manning.
Fourth, the award is way older than my tender 30 years. Additionally, I didn’t really get into college football until the earlier 90s (coincidentally, it was Desmond Howard’s Heisman run that hooked me). So, with apologies to all those snubbed before that rather late date, I couldn’t find enough info, nor do I have the context, to make a proper argument on your behalf.
There are many other complicating factors that I won’t go into for the sake of brevity. Suffice it to say that almost all the contenders have a stellar supporting cast, there are usually a ton of contending schools, strength of opponents is in no way uniform, stats can be bloated against tiny schools, etc., and these make picking the top snubs all the more difficult.
With the last of the formalities taken down, onto my list of the Five Biggest Heisman Snubs of All-Time:
5. Josh Heupel
The 2000 Heisman Trophy went to Chris Weinke from Florida Sate, who had a great season. However, Weinke was 40 when he played (actually, I think he was 28). As someone on the other side of 28 can tell you, six or seven years of physical and mental maturity give you a HUGE edge.
Despite that, Weinke’s Seminoles still lost to Miami during the regular season while Heupel’s Oklahoma Sooners survived the season unblemished. After Florida State managed to sneak into the national title game, the Seminoles’ offense was shut out as Heupel led his squad to victory and the Crystal Football.
I know this last point doesn’t factor in the voting, but it serves as further evidence that Weinke was not the better quarterback when the stakes were highest.
4. Eric Bieniemy
The 1990 Heisman Trophy went to Ty Detmer from Brigham Young, who had a great season. However, Bieniemy figured prominently in Colorado’s run to a split National Title while Detmer’s Cougars were never in the discussion. Not only that, BYU got annihilated in its bowl game against big time competition from Colorado’s own conference (the Texas A&M Aggies) while Bieniemy’s Buffaloes eked out a squeaker against a very good Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish program.
Again, that last point happened after the voting, but it implies that Detmer probably wouldn’t have put up his insane numbers had he been playing the caliber of opponent that Bieniemy’s Colorado squad faced on a weekly basis.
What ultimately lands Bieniemy on my all-time snub list though, is that he didn’t even finish second. The deserved winner finished third. Raghib Ismael took second.
3. Joey Harrington
The 2001 Heisman Trophy went to Eric Crouch from Nebraska, who had a great season (see a theme developing here?). However, Crouch was arguably a product of his system more than anything else. Despite that system, he led his undefeated Cornhuskers into its final regular season with a trip to the conference championship on the line against the Colorado Buffaloes.
The Buffaloes trounced the 'Huskers and went on to win the conference championship.
In a prelude to the Heisman injustice, Crouch’s one-loss Nebraska squad snuck into the national title game over, among others, Harrington’s one-loss Ducks. The Cornhuskers proceeded to get blown out again in a big game by the Miami Hurricanes while the Heisman winner was kept from the end zone.
Harrington, meanwhile, suffered a setback against Stanford in a sleeper game as his squad’s only loss. He kept Oregon in the national title picture all year while winning all his big games on the road. Furthermore (and again, I know this couldn’t factor in the decision), Harrington led his Ducks to a resounding win over the very school that stomped all over Crouch’s Nebraska squad.
Like Bieniemy, not only did Harrington lose the award, he finished third behind Miami’s Ken Dorsey.
2. Ken Dorsey
The 2002 Heisman Trophy went to Carson Palmer from USC, who had a great season. However, Palmer’s Trojans opened the year losing two of five games to Kansas State and Washington State. Those were bad losses and effectively eliminated USC from title contention, which eased the pressure on Palmer.
There’s also a strong argument that his season was more a reflection of the brilliance of Norm Chow’s new offense than Carson’s inherent value since it was his only stellar year in an otherwise ho-hum college career.
Dorsey, on the other hand, put together a college record of 38-2 while leading the Miami Hurricanes to perennial contention for the national title. He was a Heisman finalist twice despite wearing a bull’s-eye on his back for much of his career and his entire senior season.
The year he deserved the Heisman, he entered the final balloting having lost a single game in his college career and zero that year while rewriting the Hurricanes’ already-substantial record book.
And he finished fifth—fifth—in the voting!
1. Tommie Frazier
The 1995 Heisman Trophy went to Eddie George from Ohio State, who had a great season. However, he was out-rushed by Tim Biakabatukua in the annual battle with Michigan. If getting shown up by the opposite number on your biggest rival wasn’t bad enough, the loss knocked the Buckeyes out of the national title picture. In other words, George failed when the chips were down.
Just the opposite is true of Frazier, who rose to the challenge and had his best games when the lights were brightest.
Frazier, perhaps the greatest college quarterback of all-time, was a fierce competitor. In 1995, he led his Nebraska Cornhuskers to their second consecutive national title. He won his third straight MVP of the national title game (he won his first in a losing effort) while playing with blood clots in his legs that prevented him from being drafted by the NFL.
Frazier was the field general of the ’95 juggernaut that was one of the most dominating college squads in history. He finished his career with a record of 33-3 and has been described as the perfect option quarterback.
His senior season, 1995, was his crowning achievement and one of the great tragedies is that it did not include an eternal stiff-arm.
So that’s it.
The game’s about winning and the biggest snubs were some of the biggest winners the college game has ever seen.
Sadly, many people will remember them for that one, victory that proved too elusive to capture—the Heisman.