Not all Heisman winners are equal.
For every Bo Jackson, Charles Woodson and Robert Griffin, you have a player whose claim to sport’s most illustrious individual award seems curious at best. At worst, you have controversy.
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So, which Heisman winners have the most controversial claims to the award? Our list:
Paul Hornung, QB, Notre Dame, 1956
Hornung got a free pass to the Heisman in ‘56 because he was a quarterback at Notre Dame — even if the Irish went 2-8 that season. He threw for 917 yards and had more than four times as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns (three). Syracuse’s Jim Brown, who rushed for more yards (986) and touchdowns (13), finished fifth in that same voting class.
John David Crow, RB, Texas A&M, 1957
Heisman voters got it wrong for a second straight year: Crow rushed for 562 yards, six touchdowns and a 4.4 yard-per-carry average for the 8-3 Aggies. The more deserving candidate was the running back of 8-1 Michigan State, Walt Kowalczyk: He rushed for 545 yards on 28 fewer carries — and had three more rushing touchdowns than Crow.
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Gary Beban, QB, UCLA, 1967
Beban’s stats were subpar for a quarterback, even for the era. He completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,359 yards and eight touchdowns to seven interceptions. His saving grace was the fact he threw for 301 yards in the No. 1 Bruins’ 21-20 loss to No. 4 USC. The Trojans’ game-winning score came from running back O.J. Simpson, who finished second in the Heisman voting that year with 1,543 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He won the Heisman in ’68.
Pat Sullivan, QB, Auburn, 1971
Sullivan had a solid — but not great — season in ‘71, throwing for 2,262 yards and 21 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. But his team suffered a 31-7 blowout loss to No. 3 Alabama at the end of the regular season, and many thought Cornell running back Ed Marinaro, who rushed for 1,881 yards and 24 touchdowns that season, should have won.
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Archie Griffin, RB, Ohio State, 1975
While Griffin truly earned the award in 1974 (1,695 yards, 12 touchdowns, 6.6 yards per attempt), his second Heisman campaign featured fewer yards (1,450) and touchdowns (four), plus a lower per-carry average (5.5). Cal’s Chuck Muncie, USC’s Ricky Bell and Pitt’s Tony Dorsett all had more rushing yards and touchdowns than Griffin. The worst part? Griffin had 22 fewer rushing touchdowns than his own backfield mate, Pete Johnson.
Gino Torretta, QB, Miami, 1992
The biggest knock against Torretta is that he had an average season on a ridiculously talented Hurricanes squad. He completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 3,060 yards and 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Hindsight shows the runner-up that season, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk, was the more talented player: He ran for 1,630 yards and 13 touchdowns, but lost head-to-head against Torretta and Miami in the final game of the regular season, 63-17.
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Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska, 2001
Crouch’s athleticism at quarterback was undeniable in 2001: He had nearly as many rushing yards (1,115) as passing yards (1,510), and rushed for 18 scores. That doesn’t change the fact he had a 7-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Florida sophomore quarterback Rex Grossman had a statistically better season (3,896 passing yards, 34 touchdowns), but a sophomore would not win the award until six years later, when Florida’s Tim Tebow finally broke through.
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama, 2009
Yes, Ingram was the best player on the country’s best team in 2009 — but his victory in the closest Heisman race in history still created controversy. Despite rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns, he only beat Stanford running back Toby Gerhart by 28 points. Gerhart rushed for more yards (1,871) and touchdowns (28), and had already beaten Ingram for the Doak Walker Award. Others thought Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh should have won — he had 20.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks — but wasn’t really considered because of his defensive status.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville, 2016
Jackson had gaudy stats in 2016, (3,390 passing yards, 1,538 rushing yards and 51 total touchdowns), but likely won the award in September by putting up huge numbers against Charlotte, Marshall, Syracuse and Florida State. He had 16 total turnovers, including seven fumbles, most of any Heisman finalists. His team also had the worst record of any of finalists, and he boasted the most embarrassing Heisman moment: When he struck the pose against 6-5 Kentucky, then fumbled the ball away in the final minute to give the Wildcats the ball — and the win.