Top 7 Biggest Heisman Snubs of All Time

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2019

Top 7 Biggest Heisman Snubs of All Time

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    The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner will be announced out Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

    LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is the overwhelming favorite to raise the trophy from a group of finalists that includes Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.

    That said, if one of those other players wins the award, it wouldn't be the first time the most deserving candidate was snubbed.

    Ahead, we've selected the seven biggest Heisman snubs in college football history, ordered chronologically.

    Let's kick things off with a bulldozing Georgia running back who turned the college football world on its head as a freshman in 1980.

1980: Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia

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    Georgia running back Herschel Walker eventually hoisted the Heisman Trophy following a standout junior season in 1982, racking up 1,752 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns for a 11-1 Bulldogs team.

    His legendary freshman season ranks among the biggest snubs.

    As an 18-year-old, he took the college football world by storm, steamrolling the competition both figuratively and literally. Consider this excerpt from a 1981 article by Henry Leifermann of the New York Times:

    "In the third quarter, on the Tennessee 16, Walker took a pitch and began a power sweep right. He was over the line of scrimmage and reversing field, cutting left, in perhaps two seconds. Six tacklers got a hand or two on Walker within those few yards, but he broke away from them all, leaving a defensive end flat on his back as Walker approached the safety man. Walker looked neither left nor right, simply ran into him and knocked him flat, leaving a cleatmark on the chest of his jersey and racing between two Tennessee cornerbacks for Georgia's first touchdown of the season."

    That sort of play was a regular occurrence on his way to 1,616 rushing yards, 5.9 yards per carry and 15 touchdowns for a 12-0 Bulldogs team that beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl.

    However, at that time, no freshman had ever won the Heisman.

    Walker ended up finishing third in the voting behind South Carolina senior running back George Rogers (1,781 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, 14 TD), who led the Gamecocks to an 8-4 record, and Pittsburgh defensive lineman Hugh Green.

1992: Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State

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    If not for the fact that he was playing for a San Diego State team that went 5-5-1 during the 1992 season, Marshall Faulk would have been the Heisman winner.

    Instead, the award went to Miami quarterback Gino Torretta, who passed for 3,060 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a Hurricanes team that went 11-0 before losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

    His 132.8 passing efficiency rating was 19th in the nation.

    Voters favoring the senior candidate seemed to play a role in the balloting in this instance. Faulk was a sophomore and Georgia running back Garrison Hearst, who finished third, was a junior.

    After rushing for 1,429 yards as a freshman, Faulk led the nation in rushing yards (1,630) during the 1992 season while also adding 15 rushing touchdowns. He did it all for an Aztecs team that was rarely able to keep defenses honest with its passing game.

    Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports put it best: "This was one of those years when a player at a prominent position on a great team won the award instead of the best player."

    Faulk would add another 2,174 yards from scrimmage and 24 total touchdowns during his junior season to finish fourth in the 1993 Heisman voting, before going No. 2 overall in the 1994 NFL draft and enjoying a Hall of Fame career.

1995: Tommie Frazier, QB, Nebraska

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    Where would the 1995 Nebraska team have been without Tommie Frazier?

    With him, the Cornhuskers went 12-0, capping off an undefeated season with a 62-24 dismantling of Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

    On the year, Frazier passed for 1,362 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions while adding another 604 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

    However, that was only good enough for him to finish second in the Heisman voting.

    The award instead went to Ohio State running back Eddie George, who had a terrific season by all accounts, racking up 1,927 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns for the 11-2 Buckeyes.

    While those numbers are hard to ignore, Frazier was the deserving winner for his dynamic dual-threat contributions at the helm of one of the greatest teams in college football history.

    Last month, a poll conducted by Sporting News ranked him at No. 8 on the list of the 10 best players in college football history, with Bill Bender calling him "arguably the greatest option quarterback of all time" and pointing to his 33-3 record as a starter.

1997: Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee

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    After finishing sixth in the voting as a sophomore in 1995 and eighth in the voting in 1996, Peyton Manning put together a Heisman-caliber season during his senior year at the University of Tennessee.

    He led the Volunteers to an 11-1 record during the regular season, and it's the team's 33-20 loss to Florida in September that might have cost him the award.

    In an oral history of the 1997 Heisman race, Chris Low of ESPN wrote:

    "He was 0-3 against Florida as a starter, and even though he was 6-1 against Tennessee's other two big rivals (Alabama and Georgia), a 33-20 loss to the Gators—highlighted by a Manning interception returned 89 yards for a TD by Tony George—in September 1997 was something many of the Heisman voters held against him and opened the door for somebody else to win it."

    That somebody else was Michigan standout Charles Woodson, who had seven interceptions as the Wolverines' top cornerback while also adding two receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown.

    Meanwhile, Manning threw for 3,819 yards with 36 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, adding three more touchdowns on the ground.

    "I just don't have a lot of thoughts on [if beating Florida would have given him the Heisman] or a lot of analysis on it," Manning told Low. "I've never really gone down that road before."

    Fair enough for a guy who would go on to throw for 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns over the course of a 17-year NFL career after going No. 1 overall in the 1998 draft.

2004: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma

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    Remember how we said Herschel Walker would have won the Heisman in 1980 if it weren't for the voters' unwillingness to give the award to a freshman?

    That mindset was still alive and well 24 years later when Oklahoma freshman Adrian Peterson exploded out of the gate for a Sooners team that went 12-0 before losing to USC and Heisman winner Matt Leinart in the Orange Bowl.

    To his credit, Leinart had a terrific season statistically, throwing for 3,322 yards with 33 touchdowns, but he was also surrounded by an absurdly talented roster with guys like Reggie Bush, Lendale White, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith helping to shoulder the offensive load.

    On the other hand, Peterson was the clear focal point of the Oklahoma offense, leading the nation with 339 carries while racking up 1,925 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

    To this day, no true freshman has won the Heisman Trophy, with Johnny Manziel (2012) and Jameis Winston (2013) both winning the award after redshirt years.

    Peterson made as strong of a case as anyone.

2005: Vince Young, QB, Texas

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    If there's an argument for Heisman votes being cast at the conclusion of bowl season, Vince Young is the poster boy.

    First of all, props to Reggie Bush on a fantastic season.

    The USC star rushed for 1,740 yards at an 8.7 yards-per-carry clip and added 478 receiving yards, tallying a combined 18 touchdowns on offense with another score as a punt returner.

    However, with Matt Leinart (3,815 passing yards, 28 TD) putting up big numbers in the passing game, Dwayne Jarrett (91 receptions, 1,274 receiving yards, 16 TD) starring as a receiver and Lendale White (1,302 rushing yards, 24 TD) making an equally big impact on the ground, Bush was far from a one-man wrecking crew.

    The Trojans steamrolled the competition en route to a 12-0 regular-season record, outscoring opponents 600-256 along the way, and they were overwhelming favorites heading into a Rose Bowl matchup with Texas.

    That's where Vince Young comes in.

    The Longhorns quarterback finished second to Bush in the Heisman voting, throwing for 3,036 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for another 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    He capped off his college career by leading Texas to Rose Bowl glory against the vaunted Trojans, throwing for 267 yards and torching the USC run defense for 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

    Had the balloting been done following that game, Young likely would have swung the vote in his favor.

2015: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

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    Before he was finding seams and catching passes out of the backfield for the Carolina Panthers, Christian McCaffrey was piling up all-purpose yards at Stanford.

    During his sophomore season, he led the nation in yards from scrimmage, piling up 2,019 rushing yards and another 645 receiving yards on 45 catches, finding the end zone 16 times in the process.

    If that wasn't enough, he also added 1,070 kick return yards (28.9-yard average) and 130 punt return yards (8.7-yard average), taking one of each to the house.

    Stanford went 12-2 on the year, crushing Iowa in the Rose Bowl as McCaffrey racked up 172 rushing yards, 105 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including a 63-yard punt return for a score.

    All of that only netted him a second-place finish in the Heisman voting, though.

    Alabama running back Derrick Henry took home the award, rushing for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns for the national champion.

    Despite those stellar numbers, those who'd done their homework believed McCaffrey was the more deserving choice.

    "At least the national folks," college football reporter Adam Rittenberg told David Newton of ESPN. "People who watched the entire country year-round and stayed up for some of those late games and really measured who had more to do with their team's success. ... Nothing against Derrick. He had a great year. But it was pretty clear who the best player was."

    At least for now, McCaffrey stands as the most recent glaring Heisman snub.


    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.