The History of Returning Heisman Winners

Whenever a returning Heisman winner is snubbed on my annual preseason list, I always get grief from fans of that player’s team over the terrible injustice I have heaped upon said player.

It is no different this year, as Alabama fans are seeing crimson over my refusal to include Mark Ingram in my group of possible 2010 Heisman winners.

It’s because of my adherence to Heismandment No. 9 that I take this position.  Of course, at season’s end, I am always right on this no-repeat matter and then the issue lies dormant until the next Heisman winner gets snubbed.

But I thought it would be helpful to look at the history of return Heisman winners and see why I have come to this conclusion.

Here are the Heisman winners who returned the following season (and in Tim Tebow’s case, the following two seasons) to play college football and how they finished in the Heisman vote:


Player/Team/Year Following Year Finish Points behind winner
Doc Blanchard, Army, 1946 4th 535
Doak Walker, SMU, 1949 3rd 765
Vic Janocwicz, OSU, 1951 DNP DNP
Roger Staubach, Navy, 1964 DNP DNP
Archie Griffin, OSU, 1975 1st
Billy Sims, Okla., 1979 2nd 922
Ty Detmer, BYU, 1991 3rd 1,632
Jason White, Okla., 2004 3rd 368
Matt Leinart, USC, 2005 3rd 1,744
Tim Tebow, Florida, 2008 3rd 151
Tim Tebow, 2009 5th 914
Sam Bradford, Okla., 2009 DNP DNP
Mark Ingram, Alabama, 2010 ????? ?????

DNP=Did not place in final top 10

As you can see, only the legendary Tebow–with all his accolades, hype, larger-than-life heroics and statistical accomplishments–came within 200 points of becoming the second player to win a second Heisman.

The eight players who managed to garner any votes following their Heisman years lost out by an average of 878 points.  For perspective’s sake, that’s more than the winning total points captured by Eric Crouch in 2001.

Only Archie Griffin managed to win that second Heisman.  And he did so to cap a four-year legendary career in which he became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher while leading his Ohio State team to four-straight Rose Bowls and an 11-0 finish as a 1975 senior–a year, incidentally, in which he beat a very weak field.

So, I think it’s clear why Ingram’s chances of repeating are basically nil.  Not only is there a voter bias against repeat winners, there is also the circumstancial difficulties of duplicating a Heisman-type season and then once again being judged more worthy than your competitors.  It’s just hard for lightning and good fortune to strike twice. 

When you also weigh in the fact that Ingram won the closest Heisman race ever last season, beating Toby Gerhart by a mere 28 points, and that he is now slated to share even more carries with his teammate, rising sophomore Trent Richardson, his exclusion from this list makes perfect sense.  To give him a second Heisman would put him on hallowed ground and, as good as he is, there doesn’t appear to be a rush by the voters to do that.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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19 Responses to The History of Returning Heisman Winners

  1. Anonymous August 3, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    So only 7 Heisman winners have played and failed to repeat… 1 has succeeded. The odds of repeating are much better than winning one in the first place!

  2. Roby August 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm #


    I don’t know if you are joking around, but that logic is flawed.

    Although Sophomores have recently become viable Heisman candidates, I think the 9th Heismandment is still pretty safe. Because even though a Sophomore can win it, that doesn’t mean he is coming back for his Junior and Senior seasons.

  3. HP August 4, 2010 at 1:51 am #

    No. There have been 11 who have played. DNP means “did not place”, as I marked below the chart. Basically, 25 percent of returning Heisman winners don’t even place in the top 10 the following year. I’d say going 1 for 11 overall is pretty bad odds.

  4. Anonymous August 4, 2010 at 5:48 am #

    Sam Bradford only played parts of 3 games due to injuries in 2009! Doc Blanchard lost the 1949 trophy to a teammate due to a knee injury. I just don’t see how cases like those have anything to do with bias against past winners, unless you claim they’re more injury prone.

    But let’s just pretend all of them count. A Heisman winner’s odds of repeating are still 1:11. The odds of winning a Heisman in the first place? Even if you count the top candidate from each team in the country (which would miss several past winners) the odds of winning a first Heisman are much, much lower.

  5. PJ August 4, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Seeing how close many of these players came, with lots of 2nd and 3rd place finishes, I’m fairly convinced that I will see a player win two Heismans in my lifetime (age 26). It is unlikely that it will happen in any given year, but over the decades I would argue it is likely to happen again based on how well Heisman winners have performed in follow-up seasons. I certainly would have thought the sophomore rule would have outlasted this one, but alas, sophomores have won it three years in a row. What are the odds on that?

  6. PJ August 4, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    With that being said, I don’t fault heismanpundit for not including Ingram. I don’t think he has a good chance to win it either considering he barely won it last year and will be splitting more carries this year.

  7. HP August 4, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Anon, your whole outlook on this is completely flawed. Part of my point about how hard it is to win two Heismans is the difficulty in going through another season without getting hurt, which is exactly what happened to several guys on this list. Heismandment No. 9 is not based entirely on voter bias, but on the nature of the game as well where circumstances like injury, schedule, team success and so on take effect.

    A repeat Heisman winner does NOT have a 1 in 11 chance of winning. He still has to go up against every player in America in the year he tries to repeat and he is a player the voters will look at with a more suspect eye as he has already won.

    PJ–yes, lots of third place finishes and one second place. But mostly nowhere near the winner as far as points go. Heisman voters are very content with rewarding a returning Heisman winner who plays well with a decent finish. That’s not the issue here. The issue is winning.

  8. Anonymous August 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    First HP said:
    “I’d say going 1 for 11 overall is pretty bad odds.”

    Then HP said:
    “A repeat Heisman winner does NOT have a 1 in 11 chance of winning.”

    You’re contradicting yourself. When you insist that Ingram can’t possibly win before the season even starts you’re simply not looking at the facts.

  9. HP August 4, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    Anon–these were two separate statements. The first was in the context of a commenter who said there was a 1 in 7 chance of a Heisman winner repeating. In the context of what he said, yes, I pointed out that it is rather 1 in 11 (based on pure results alone). Later, I was able to clarify that to consider this the real odds is flawed. There is no contradiction.

    Ingram can’t and will not win. If you disagree, feel free to put your money where your mouth is. Name your odds.

  10. Not Anon August 5, 2010 at 2:07 am #

    anonymous, that is actually some of the worst logic i have ever seen in any forum in my entire life. i think an 8 year old would realize how flawed that is

  11. Anonymous August 5, 2010 at 6:35 am #

    If anyone thinks I would bet on a specific candidate repeating based on 11:1 odds they completely missed the point. This all started on a different thread when HP suggested the odds of a repeat were low because it had only happened once in 75 years. Another poster rightly pointed out the flaw in HP’s logic… most winners didn’t have a 2nd attempt. Based on history (the logical argument HP started) we know that there have been 11 Heisman winners that had a chance to repeat. HP insists that 1 out of 11 is bad odds. But he goes way beyond that. He has a “Heismandment” saying it will never happen again and refuses to even consider Mark Ingram as a legitimate candidate this year or list him among his front runners or dark horses. HP insists that it is IMPOSSIBLE for Ingram to win and that is not logical.

  12. Ed Newman August 5, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    Let’s see if we can apply some rudimentary (and silly) math to this argument. I may not remember my probability correctly so take this for what it is worth. There are roughly 120 D1 football programs and 85 scholarship players per. So the odds of winning the Heisman if it were picked out of a hat are 1:(85*120) or 1:10,200. Independently, the odds of winning the next year would be the same. But the odds of winning twice in two consecutive years would be 1:10200 * 1/10200 or 1:104,040,000. If a sophomore won and played both his jr. and senior year it would be half that or 1:52,020,000 that he would win it in two of the three years.

    So, NOWHERE NEAR the 1:11 probability mentioned above. But the award isn’t as equally likely among all 10,200 scholarship players. Let’s begin by saying that only the BCS conferences plus CUSA, WAC, MWC and ND athletes have even a remote chance of winning. That eliminates 24*85=2040 athletes so the odds drop to 1;8160. Let’s also stipulate that only offensive players have any real chance to win. Then if you are talking about an offensive player you are talking about 1:4080 chance in any given year. But we can also stipulate that no offensive lineman will win which eliminates another roughly 30% to make the odds 1:2856. You can even stipulate no freshman will ever win (I wouldn’t but let’s anyway) and reduce the number by another 25% to 1:2142. If you do all that then the odds are a pretty reasonable 1:4,588,164 that a given offensive non-lineman will win two years in a row. Now them’s pretty good odds!

  13. Ed Newman August 5, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    And to answer the next question: a Heisman winner returning the next year would only have to worry about the non-lineman offensive players from specific programs who aren’t freshmen, so the odds are about 1:2142 that he’ll win again in the next year, not counting talent discrepancies (huge omission) or voter bias or team performance or injury risk or name recognition or a bunch of other positive and negative factors.

  14. Heismanpundit August 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Thanks Ed. I believe you have definitively proven the point that I instinctively deduced. Just because something is possible (there is a 1 in a million chance an asteroid hits the earth) does not mean that it has any level of workable probability.

  15. Anonymous August 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Ed –

    Here’s HP’s comment that prompted this discussion:

    “You say the bias against past winners isn’t very big, well then why has there been only one two-time winner in 75 years? I’d call that a pretty darn big bias.”

    The truth is that HP’s use of history doesn’t support his assertion that repeat winners are rare. If you think the use of history is invalid, then ask HP why he used this argument to justify saying it’s impossible for Ingram to win.

    I’m glad you recognized that even random statistics suggest Ingram has a 1:2412 chance of repeating. But isn’t it silly to assume 29 other Alabama players are equally likely to win the Heisman in 2010? I think you’d agree that Ingram’s ability, past performances, name recognition and program affiliation all improve his chances over the average player.

    Or do you share HP’s opinion that it’s impossible for Ingram to win?

  16. Ed Newman August 5, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    No, unlike HP, I don’t think it is impossible for Ingram to repeat. I’ve always been against leaving past winners off his Heisman lists just because of that Heismandment and I’ve told him that many times. As you suggest Ingram has a much better chance than all his teammates for example. I just thought it wasn’t appropriate to say 1 of 11 previous winners won again so the odds are 1:11. They are a lot worse than that. But while I’m not sure how much worse they are than any other single candidate (only voter bias significantly alters those odds) I believe they are definitely a lot worse than THE FIELD of other candidates.

  17. Anonymous August 5, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    Fair enough. Ingram is in my top 5 to start the season. I’ll measure his effort compared to last year, but otherwise won’t treat him differently than other candidates.

  18. Ed Newman August 6, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Basically HP’s heismandments are just a qualitative way to cut the odds from the 1:10200 to something reasonable so that a prediction can be made, and in that sense they are very, very useful. That he chose to call them “commandments” is unfortunate and implies that they can not be changed or broken and he treats them as such in his writing and predictions. But we have seen them “fall” before when a sophomore won (and won again, and won again) and HP had to modify one. I would have just thrown it out but there is a symmetry in having ten that I imagine he didn’t want to alter. The next most likely to need modification is the two time winner. Since it relies heavily on voter sentiment, and voter sentiment is changing in this internet world (see also: Cy Young voting) pretty soon this one could be in trouble. I doubt this year though. Ingram doesn’t strike me as the guy with the transcendent talent to do it. Odds are it’s going to take someone approaching Barry Sanders-like talent to join Archie. But like Barry, someone like that would go pro after his Junior year. So we are probably looking for someone to do it in their soph. and jr. years.

  19. Anonymous August 9, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Ingram won’t even be the best running back on his own team by the end of the season.