Best CFB Players in the Last 10 Years Who Never Won the Heisman
Every college football season has dozens of star players, but there's only one Heisman Trophy to award. Inevitably, deserving winners will leave the college game without the honor.
But superstars don't need a trophy to validate their success.
Other than Aaron Donald—because there is no chance we're leaving out Aaron Donald—all of these players had a top-five finish in Heisman voting yet never won the award.
The only seasons considered are 2010-19. For example, if a player starred in 2009 but didn't perform at a Heisman level in 2010, he would not be a factor. Similarly, production in the earlier decade would not be weighed for a 2010s star.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
From the moment he stepped onto the Camp Randall Stadium field in 2017, Jonathan Taylor was a nightmare to stop.
Taylor piled up 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman, earning a sixth-place finish in Heisman voting. Then in 2018, he rushed for 2,194 yards and 16 scores, secured a first-team AP All-America spot and ended ninth on the Heisman list.
As a junior, he finally cracked the top five. It was a deserved reward for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground and 26 receptions for 252 yards and five scores.
Taylor wrapped up his Wisconsin career with 6,174 rushing yards, the sixth-most in history.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Amari Cooper worked into Alabama's starting lineup by the end of his freshman year in 2013 and surpassed a legend along the way. He reeled in 59 passes for 1,000 yards—breaking Julio Jones' freshman records in both categories—and caught 11 touchdowns.
Foot and toe injuries bothered Cooper throughout 2014, but he still managed 45 receptions and 736 yards.
Minor setback for a major comeback, right?
Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator, and Cooper took full advantage. He racked up 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, finishing third in Heisman voting behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Here's an exhaustive list of receivers who recorded multiple 1,500-yard seasons in the last decade: Justin Blackmon.
Although his NFL career didn't go as planned, Blackmon thrived at Oklahoma State. In 2010, he finished fifth in Heisman voting after snaring 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. He won the Biletnikoff Award that season.
And the next one.
Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree is the only other player to win multiple Biletnikoff Awards. Blackmon didn't crack the Heisman's top 10 in 2011 but still had 122 catches for 1,522 yards and 18 scores.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Would he have won a Heisman anyway? Probably not. Were it not for a dislocated hip last season, however, Tua Tagovailoa certainly would've made another trip to New York as a finalist.
The hero of the national championship as a freshman, he smashed Alabama records in 2018. He posted a 69.0 completion rate with 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns to only six interceptions. He added 190 rushing yards and five scores, winning the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards with a runner-up Heisman spot behind Oklahoma's Kyler Murray.
In 2019, Tagovailoa boasted a 71.4 completion clip while throwing for 2,840 yards and 33 touchdowns to only three interceptions. But the injury then ended his season after nine appearances.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Saquon Barkley did whatever he wanted.
Run past a defender, run through him, jump over another one, slip around that guy; he simply made people miss.
Barkley crested the 1,000-yard mark in all three seasons at Penn State, accumulating 3,843 in his career. That propelled him to back-to-back Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors.
But his best all-around season happened in 2017—when he finished fourth in Heisman voting. Along with 1,271 yards and 18 scores on the ground, he caught 54 passes for 632 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for scores and even threw one.
Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU
Though off-field matters ended Tyrann Mathieu's flourishing LSU football career, he accomplished more in two seasons than most players can dream of achieving in four.
As a freshman in 2010, he notched 57 tackles with 8.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. He forced five fumbles and recovered three, also making two interceptions.
Mathieu then captured the sport's attention in 2011. Along with his 76 tackles (7.5 for loss), "Honey Badger" intercepted two passes and broke up nine. He forced six fumbles, recovered four and returned two for touchdowns. He scored on two punt returns.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III won the Heisman, though. Mathieu settled for the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
The lone exception is Aaron Donald. Why? Any best-of-the-decade college football list not featuring him is missing a key piece.
During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he excelled. He tallied a combined 111 tackles with 34.5 for loss and 16.5 sacks.
Yet he was just getting warmed up.
In 2013, he gathered 59 tackles with a mind-numbing 28.5 in the backfield and 11 sacks. Donald won the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi Awards, as well as the Outland Trophy and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. But not even a top-10 Heisman finish.
The problem was Pitt mustered a 6-6 regular season. Donald deserved more recognition anyway.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Andrew Luck was a can't-miss NFL draft prospect for a good reason. Following a quality but unremarkable freshman year, he blended efficiency and production at a spectacular level.
In 2010, he posted a 70.7 completion percentage with 3,358 yards and 32 touchdowns, adding 453 yards and three scores on the ground. Luck, who tossed only eight interceptions, was the Heisman runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton.
Luck followed up that campaign with a 71.3 completion rate, 3,667 total yards and 39 scores, but he again finished second. This time, Baylor's Robert Griffin III hoisted the Heisman.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
"I mean, 'What doesn't he do?' is what you could ask me," then-USC linebacker Su'a Cravens said of Christian McCaffrey in 2015. "He catches the ball in the backfield, makes the guy miss and takes it to the house. Rushes the ball inside and on the edge and scores with any play they draw for him. He's just a special guy. In my opinion, he should win the Heisman."
Alabama's Derrick Henry ended up winning the prestigious award. McCaffrey settled for an NCAA record of 3,864 all-purpose yards.
Seriously, though, that number is just ridiculous. He shattered the previous mark of 3,250 set by future NFL star Barry Sanders at Oklahoma State in 1988.
McCaffrey returned for his junior season and accumulated 2,327 all-purpose yards in just 11 games.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
The first quarterback ever to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 1,000, Deshaun Watson had a pair of top-three Heisman finishes.
As a sophomore in 2015, the Clemson legend made that 4,000/1,000 history but checked in third behind Henry and McCaffrey. Then in 2016—a season in which he surpassed 5,000 total yards again—he finished behind Louisville's Lamar Jackson.
Still, in addition to a thrilling national championship win over Alabama, Watson brought home plenty of hardware.
He won the Davey O'Brien and Manning Awards as the nation's top quarterback in 2015 and 2016.