The 50 Greatest College Football Players to Never Win the Heisman Trophy
There have been 74 winners of the Heisman Trophy, with almost all of them making up a who's-who of college football legends.
But even more stars have missed out on the honor, whether they were snubbed over age or race, had the misfortune of playing in another player's shadow, came from a small school, or were simply overlooked.
Narrowing the top players who've never won the Heisman was heart-wrenching and forced us to leave out some of the best talent that's ever taken the field.
Only players post-1934 have been considered; obviously no one won the Heisman before it existed.
50. David Klingler, QB, Houston
Overshadowed by Andre Ware, Klingler's success at Houston was actually even more impressive. Under Klingler, the Cougars offense went wild as he shattered the NCAA record books.
Klinger passed for 11 touchdowns in a game against Eastern Washington and set an NCAA record for passing yards in a game with 716, and his 54 touchdown passes in the 1990 season stood as the record for 16 years.
Klinger finished a distant fifth in the 1990 Heisman voting.
49. Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon
Dixon's run of success at Oregon was short-lived. But before he tore his ACL in 2007, Dixon was not only the leading candidate to win the Heisman, he had the Ducks ranked No. 2 in the polls.
After an up-and-down junior season, Dixon was on fire through seven games in '07. He passed for 2,136 yards and 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions, adding another 583 yards rushing and nine scores on the ground.
If not for the torn ACL that cost him the last quarter of the season, the Heisman would have been his.
48. Tom Brown, G, Minnesota
Brown has become somewhat of a forgotten treasure outside of Minnesota, but there was a time when every college football fan in the nation was familiar with "The Rock of Gibraltar."
He was the driving force in the trenches for a team that rebounded from 1-8 in 1958 and 2-7 in 1959 to become national champions in 1960—Minnesota's last championship.
Brown would win the Outland Trophy that year and finish second in the Heisman voting, the highest finish in history for an interior lineman.
47. Rex Grossman, QB, Florida
Before Tim Tebow came along, Rex Grossman was the best thing at Florida since Danny Wuerffel. His sophomore season in 2001 is still considered one of the best performances by an underclassman in college football history.
Many feel that Grossman was more deserving of the Heisman in 2001 than Eric Crouch, who won the award by a margin of 62 points. Had Grossman been a junior or senior, he would have been a shoo-in.
As a consolation prize, the AP voted Grossman the 2001 Player of the Year.
46. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech
Johnson holds almost every major career receiving record in Georgia Tech history, including yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games.
While he never came close to winning the Heisman, finishing 10th in 2006 with just a single first-place vote, Johnson did win the Biletnikoff Award and the Paul Warfield Trophy that year. His 15-touchdown season in 2006 is still the single-season team record.
45. Dan Marino, QB, Pittsburgh
Marino led Pitt to three straight one-loss seasons from 1979 to 1981, and while he's considered one of the greatest pro quarterbacks to ever play, his subpar senior season in 1982 weighs on his college legacy.
He did finish fourth in the 1981 Heisman voting, though, with 2,876 yards and 37 touchdowns. That year ended with a last-minute win over Georgia in the 1982 Sugar Bowl—one of the most famous games in Pitt history.
44. Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Penn State
1994 stands as one of the most debatable Heisman votes of all time, as Colorado's Rashaan Salaam took the award over Penn State's Carter, who many believed had, in fact, had a better season.
Carter was the focal point of the Nittany Lions' explosive offense, which led the way to one of only seven undefeated seasons in school history.
He was so good that even Joe Paterno encouraged him to forgo his senior season and declare early for the draft, though a torn ACL in his first preseason game instantly derailed his NFL career.
43. Raghib Ismail, WR, Notre Dame
"The Rocket" was the greatest kick returner in college football history outside of Deion Sanders. Ismail was simply made of lightning.
He's remembered for one of the greatest and most controversial plays of all time in the 1991 Orange Bowl, when a late 91-yard return for a touchdown was called back by a phantom call.
Had the play stood, Notre Dame would have won the game. That came in a season where Ismail finished second to Ty Detmer in the Heisman voting.
For his career, Rocket had 4,187 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns, but those numbers really don't do him justice.
42. Willis McGahee, RB, Miami
Considering Miami boasts such greats as Ottis Anderson, Alonzo Highsmith, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Frank Gore, it might come as somewhat of a surprise that it was Willis McGahee who shattered the Hurricanes' single-season rushing records.
He only got one year as Miami's starting back, but he made it count. McGahee rushed for 1,753 yards and 28 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yard per carry, with 10 games over 100 yards rushing—all school records. His 28 rushing touchdowns are tied for the fourth-highest mark in NCAA history.
41. Lawrence Taylor, LB, North Carolina
Before he became the leader of the New York Giants' Super Bowl-winning teams in the 1980s and arguably the greatest professional defensive player of all time, Lawrence Taylor had an All-American career at North Carolina.
He became famous for his intensity and willingness to play with the type of reckless abandon that made him a premier pass rusher and the measuring stick for all North Carolina linebackers.
40. Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech
Vick only played two seasons of college football before heading to the NFL, but he's still one of the most exciting dual-threat passers in history.
As just a redshirt freshman, Vick led Virginia Tech to an 11-0 regular season only to be defeated by No. 1-ranked FSU in the national championship game.
That season, Vick put up the third-highest passer rating in college football history and finished third in the Heisman voting, tying Herschel Walker for the highest placement ever by a freshman.
39. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame
Quinn left Notre Dame in 2006 with 36 school records and tied Ron Powlus and Tom Clements for the most wins as a starter with 29, but he's also first in losses at 17.
One of the nation's top passers in 2005 and 2006, Quinn is ranked in the NCAA top 10 in career passing yards and touchdowns. He won the Sammy Baugh Trophy in 2005 and the Maxwell Award in 2006; he finished in the top five in the Heisman voting both years.
38. Paul Giel, HB, Minnesota
Many college football observers in 1953 felt that Giel should have won the Heisman over Notre Dame's Johnny Lattner, though the Golden Gophers won just four games that season.
Still, Giel's career warranted a Heisman. He was the first ever two-time Big Ten MVP, was named the 1953 United Press International Player of the Year, and finished his career with 2,188 rushing yards and 22 total touchdowns before being named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
37. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
The debate over Gerhart and Heisman winner Mark Ingram of Alabama is one that will rage on for years. While Ingram was critical in Alabama's 2009 title run, many believe Gerhart was the better rusher.
He led the nation in rushing and total touchdowns with 1,871 yards and 28 scores, setting numerous school records at Stanford and leading the Cardinal to their first bowl berth in eight years.
He finished second to Ingram in the 2009 Heisman voting by 28 points—the slimmest margin of victory in history.
36. Mike Reid, DT, Penn State
Mike Reid was one of the best linemen on either side of the ball in the 1960s, with his senior season at Penn State considered one of the best in school history.
Reid was crucial in the Nittany Lions' undefeated seasons in 1968 and 1969, and as a senior was awarded the Outland Trophy and Maxwell Award. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
35. Joe Greene, DT, North Texas State (North Texas)
Before he became "Mean" Joe Greene, Greene was the anchor of North Texas State's dominating, run-stuffing defense for three years.
Over that time, he earned consensus All-American honors, led the Mean Green to a 23-5-1 record, and was the main reason North Texas State was able to limit its opponents to less than two yards per carry over a three-year stretch. Greene was later enshrined in both the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fames.
34. Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State
Leaf might be considered the worst draft bust in NFL history, but that shouldn't take anything away from a very successful college career.
In 1997, Leaf was instrumental in bringing Washington State its first Pac-10 championship in school history, as well as the Cougars' first trip to the Rose Bowl in 67 years.
That season, he would finish third in the Heisman voting behind Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning before forgoing his senior season.
33. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
Crabtree is one of the most prolific college wide receivers in modern history, with his 2007 freshman season standing as one of the all-time great performances.
That year, Crabtree caught 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns. He followed it up with 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore, winning the Paul Warfield and Biletnikoff Awards both seasons.
32. Brian Bosworth, LB, Oklahoma
Bosworth is known for his wild nature as much as he is for his playing style. Not just an outstanding linebacker, but the type of player who brought his best in big moments, Bosworth remains a controversial figure to this day.
The only two-time winner of the Butkus Award, "The Boz" ranked 30th in College Football News' 100 Greatest College Players of All Time.
He is probably best remembered for being kicked off the Oklahoma team by Barry Switzer after wearing a shirt that read "National Communists Against Athletes" at the 1987 Orange Bowl—a game he was suspended from due to steroid use.
31. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State
Faulk put San Diego State on the map in the 1990s. He exploded in just his second collegiate game, rushing for 386 yards and seven touchdowns against the University of the Pacific—both NCAA records for a freshman.
Despite missing three games due to injury, Faulk finished the year with 1,429 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns. He finished his three-year career at San Diego State with 5,562 total yards and 62 touchdowns.
30. Jim McMahon, QB, Brigham Young
McMahon waited patiently for two years to become BYU's starting quarterback, and in 1980 he exploded onto the national scene. He set 32 NCAA records, though he never came close to receiving the Heisman consideration he deserved.
With 4,571 passing yards, 47 touchdowns and a passer rating of 176.9, McMahon set new single-season NCAA marks in all three categories.
His best moment came against SMU's Pony Express in the 1980 Holiday Bowl. Down 20 points with four minutes to go, McMahon led one of the greatest comebacks of all time in what is now known simply as "The Miracle Bowl."
29. Steve Emtman, DT, Washington
Emtman was a devastating force at Washington, leading the Huskies to a national championship in 1991 with one of the best defenses in history.
Statistically, he didn't wow, but when you're double-teamed or triple-teamed every play and no one runs the ball in your direction, it's not hard to figure out why.
Emtman won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, and was fourth in the 1991 Heisman voting. He became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
28. Randy White, DE, Maryland
One of the greatest defensive ends in history, Randy White was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000, six years after he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
White's best collegiate season came in 1974, when he won numerous awards including the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award. He was even named the MVP of the Liberty Bowl despite the fact that Maryland lost the game. As good as he was, though, White received little attention in Heisman voting.
27. Mike Singletary, LB, Baylor
Singletary is simply a legend at the linebacker position. The only junior selected to the Southwest Conference's all-decade team of the 1970s, Singletary is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The two-time winner of the Davey O'Brien Memorial Trophy set numerous school records at Baylor, including his 232-tackle season in 1978. As a senior, Singletary led the Bears to their first ever 10-win season.
26. Keith Jackson, TE, Oklahoma
Of all the greats that have played for Oklahoma, it was Keith Jackson who was voted the Sooners' Offensive Player of the Century.
Considered the greatest tight end to ever play the game, Jackson was a huge part of Oklahoma's success in the 1980s, helping the team win the national championship in 1985. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
25. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh
Arguably the best college football receiver of the 21st century to date, Fitzgerald was nearly unstoppable in his two years at Pitt.
As just a sophomore, Fitzgerald won the Walter Camp Award, the Biletnikoff Award and the Paul Warfield Award after catching 92 passes for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns. His career numbers are the best in Panthers history.
24. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma
If Adrian Peterson had been able to stay healthy, he might have gone down as the greatest college football running back of all time, but injuries limited him a lot in his sophomore and junior seasons.
After rushing for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns as a true freshman and finishing second in the 2004 Heisman voting—the highest finish ever by a freshman—Peterson struggled with an ankle injury as a sophomore and a broken collarbone as a junior, rushing for 2,132 yards and 26 touchdowns over that time while missing 12 games.
23. Drew Brees, QB, Purdue
When Drew Brees left Purdue in 2000, he did so as the most prolific passer in Big Ten history, owning the conference's career records in total offensive yards, passing yards, touchdown passes, passing attempts and completions.
As a senior, Brees led Purdue to its first Rose Bowl appearance in 34 years, won the Maxwell Award as the nation's most outstanding player, and finished third in the Heisman voting behind Chris Weinke and Josh Heupel.
22. Jim Brown, RB, Syracuse
Considered one of the greatest American athletes of all time, Jim Brown is arguably the greatest professional running back of all time. If not for the prevalence of racism in Heisman voting during the 1950s, he would have likely won the Heisman in 1956.
That season, he rushed for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns in just eight games, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. In the regular season finale, Brown rushed for 197 yards and six touchdowns, and kicked seven extra points.
Brown is a member of the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fames, as well as the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
21. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU
One of the greatest running backs in NFL history, Tomlinson is under-appreciated for his college career at TCU.
Tomlinson helped TCU win its first bowl game in 41 years in 1998, led the nation in rushing in 1999 and 2000 with over 4,000 yards over that stretch, finished fourth in the 2000 Heisman voting, and is the sixth-leading career NCAA rusher with 5,263 yards.
20. Steve McNair, QB, Alcorn State
The Exception. McNair set the NCAA record with 5,799 total yards in 1994 while playing at Alcorn State in Division I-AA, but if you doubt he could have been as good playing against tougher competition, here's a quote from former Auburn coach Larry Blakeney, who coached Bo Jackson: "He'd be the best player on any team in Division I-A. He's that good. He can do more to beat you with his abilities than anyone else I've ever seen. That includes Bo."
There's a reason McNair finished third in the '94 Heisman voting.
19. John Hannah, OG, Alabama
Hannah is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, offensive linemen in the history of the game. He was a two-time All-American at Alabama in 1971 and 1972.
He was named to the Alabama All-Century Team and inducted into the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fames. Bear Bryant called him the greatest lineman he ever coached.
18. Lee Roy Selmon, DT, Oklahoma
The best of the famous Selmon brothers, Lee Roy was one of six defensive tackles selected to Sports Illustrated's NCAA Football All-Century Team.
He anchored the Oklahoma defense during the '74 and '75 national championship seasons, won the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy in '75, was named the 39th-best college football player of all time by College Football News, and Barry Switzer called him the greatest player he ever coached.
17. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
McFadden is the most decorated running back in Arkansas school history and from 2006 to 2007 was, by far, the most exciting and dynamic rusher in the nation.
He's the only player to ever finish second in the Heisman voting two years in a row, is one of only two players to win the Doak Walker Award twice, was Sporting News' National Player of the Year in 2007 and is the No. 2 rusher in SEC history behind Herschel Walker.
16. Rich Glover, DT, Nebraska
Glover is part of a long line of successful Nebraska defensive tackles. He was the first Cornhusker to win both the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award, and was a key member of the 1970 and 1971 undefeated national championship teams.
Bob Devaney called Glover "the greatest defensive player I ever saw," and Sports Illustrated must have agreed, naming Glover as the starting defensive tackle of its NCAA Football All-Century Team in 1999.
15. Dave Rimington, C, Nebraska
Considered the greatest college football center of all time, Rimington had a career at Nebraska filled with about as many awards as any lineman to ever play the game.
He was a consensus first-team All-American in 1981 and 1982, is the only two-time winner of the Outland Trophy, won the Lombardi Award in 1982, and finished fifth in the Heisman voting that same year.
He was selected as the starting center in Sports Illustrated's NCAA Football All-Century Team.
14. Steve Young, QB, Brigham Young
If not for Mike Rozier's ridiculous season, Young surely would have won the Heisman in 1983. His senior year at BYU was one of the best performances in NCAA history.
He passed for 3,902 yards and 33 touchdowns, completed 71.3 percent of his passes—an NCAA record—and rushed for 544 yards while leading the Cougars to an 11-1 record.
That season, BYU set the record with 584.2 total yards a game, and Young finished a distant second to Rozier in the Heisman voting.
13. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
In 2008 and 2009, Suh was simply an animal in the trenches, becoming one of the most decorated defensive linemen in the history of college football.
After becoming the first defensive lineman to lead Nebraska in tackles since 1973 as a sophomore, Suh was every bit as good in 2009, winning the Associated Press College Football Player of the Year Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy.
12. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
While Vince Young headlines the discussion of the best quarterbacks in Texas history, it's actually Colt McCoy who dominates the school's record books.
With 13,253 passing yards, 112 passing touchdowns, 1,589 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, McCoy holds the UT record for career total yards and touchdowns as well as passing yards and passing touchdowns. But maybe most impressive is his NCAA record of 45 career wins by a starting quarterback.
11. Orlando Pace, OT, Ohio State
Pace is considered by many to be the greatest college and professional offensive tackle in history, and he's earned the accolades to prove it.
After starting as a true freshman for the Buckeyes, Pace later became the only two-time winner of the Lombardi Award.
In 1999, he was named the starting left tackle on Sports Illustrated's NCAA Football All-Century Team.
10. John Elway, QB, Stanford
Elway is the greatest Cardinal quarterback in a long line of star passers. While Stanford didn't see too much team success during Elway's tenure, he graduated with nearly every Stanford and Pac-10 career record for passing and total offense.
With 9,349 yards passing and 77 touchdowns over his career, Elway finished second to Herschel Walker in the 1982 Heisman race and was later ranked No. 15 on ESPN's Top 25 Players in College Football History.
9. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall
Moss' college career got off to a bumpy start, but his two years at Marshall were arguably the most impressive stretch of production from any wide receiver in history.
After playing in Division I-AA in 1996, Moss proved he could be just as good in Division I-A in 1997. That year, Moss had 1,820 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns.
He finished his career with 4,706 all-purpose yards and 55 touchdowns in just 28 games, an average of 168 yards and nearly two touchdowns a game.
8. Anthony Carter, WR, Michigan
Carter "The Darter" might have been the best home-run hitter in college football history. Playing in a Michigan offense that heavily favored the run, Carter was still able to leave the Wolverines cloaked heavily with records.
After his senior season, Carter held the Michigan school record for career total touchdowns, receiving touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards, punt return yards and kickoff return yards. His career average of 17.4 yards per play was an NCAA record.
Carter finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting from 1980 to 1982.
7. Tommy Nobis, LB/OG, Texas
Nobis is considered one of the greatest college linebackers of all time, but he was a true warrior who started on both offense and defense for his entire career. He was called "the finest two-way player I have ever seen" by former Texas coach Darrell K. Royal.
Nobis started for three years at Texas, averaging nearly 20 tackles per game and finishing his career as one of the most decorated all-around players in NCAA history. In 1965, he won the Knute Rockne Award, the Outland Trophy and the Maxwell Award.
6. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State
Every athlete that came to Tallahassee after Sanders was undoubtedly compared to the cornerback who had come to define the Seminoles of the late 1980s.
Sanders wasn't just a lightning-fast cornerback with better cover skills than maybe any to ever play the game; he was possibly even better as a return man, with a school-record 1,429 career punt return yards to add to his already impressive defensive résumé.
5. Dick Butkus, LB/C, Illinois
Considered by many to be the best college linebacker of all time, Butkus was nearly as good playing offense as he was at shutting offenses down.
Not only did Butkus star at linebacker—with 373 career tackles in three seasons at Illinois—he also started at center during that stretch and was the undeniable anchor of the offensive line.
Butkus was named the sixth-best college football player of all time by College Football News in 2000.
4. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee
Arguably the greatest player in Tennessee history, the Vols never won a national championship under Manning but, ironically, would go undefeated in 1998 just a year after Manning's final collegiate season.
But while he didn't win a title, Manning did rewrite the record books for the SEC, setting marks in career total offense and passing yards, as well as the NCAA record for the lowest career interception rate.
Manning would finish second in the Heisman race behind Charles Woodson that year.
3. Vince Young, QB, Texas
In 2005, Vince Young was the first player to ever pass for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 yards in the same season, and while he would finish second to Reggie Bush for the Heisman, it was Young who got the last laugh.
His performance against a heavily favored USC team in the 2006 Rose Bowl was one of the all-time greats and was absolutely pivotal in delivering Texas the national championship.
Considering Young started just two seasons for the Longhorns, his career numbers are really astonishing.
2. Hugh Green, DE, Pittsburgh
Arguably the top defensive end in college football history, Green was a nearly unstoppable force from 1977 to 1980, leading Pitt to a 39-8-1 record and recording 460 career tackles, 53 sacks and 25 forced fumbles.
In his senior season, Green won the Walter Camp Award, the Maxwell Award, the Lombardi Award and was the Sporting News Player of the Year. He finished second in the Heisman voting to George Rogers, though many felt the honor should have gone to Herschel Walker above them both.
1. Tommie Frazier, QB, Nebraska
Frazier is considered by many to be the greatest college football player of all time, leading Nebraska to two straight national championships in 1994 and 1995—the only quarterback to do so since the 1950s.
By the time Frazier left Nebraska, he held school records for career total offense, career touchdown passes and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season. He also set numerous NCAA records before finishing second to Eddie George in the 1995 Heisman voting.