It appears, however, that running backs get the most bang for their buck when doing so.
Five of the last six running backs who broke the NCAA career rushing record went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Those five backs were Steve Owens, Archie Griffin, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne. The sixth back was Ed Marinaro of Cornell, who finished a very close second to Pat Sullivan in 1971 (an impressive feat for an Ivy Leaguer).
During that same stretch of time (1969-present), the NCAA career passing yardage mark has been broken 11 times (and is about to be broken again this year). However, just Jim Plunkett, Doug Flutie and Ty Detmer managed to bring home the Heisman after setting that mark. Of the other eight record holders, only Jim McMahon could garner as high as a third place finish.
Running backs fare better with single-season records as well.
Here are the most recent single-season rushing record holders (note: 1964 is the most reliable cutoff date for these records since that year marked, for the most part, the beginning of two-platoon football):
Barry Sanders (2,628)
Marcus Allen (2,342)
Tony Dorsett (1,976)
Ed Marinaro (1,881)
O.J. Simpson (1,709)
Mike Garrett (1,440)
Again, five of the six single-season record breakers won the Heisman, with the sixth only missing out due to the handicap of playing in the Ivy League.
Now, for the single-season passing record breakers during the same stretch:
Bill Anderson, Tulsa (3,464)
Marc Wilson, BYU (3,720)
Jim McMahon, BYU (4,571)
Andre Ware, Houston (4,699)
Ty Detmer, BYU (5,188)
B.J. Symons, Texas Tech (5,833)
Only two Heisman winners in the bunch and they came in back-to-back years (with voters no doubt going into a temporary swoon over the impressiveness of the stats). But it’s not just the record holders who have been passed over. There have been 48 seasons of over 4,000 yards passing in FBS history and only four of those seasons have resulted in a Heisman Trophy.
Conversely, there have been 22 seasons where rushers have gained over 2,000 yards (including bowls) and nine of those seasons resulted in Heismans.
The moral of the story: Rushing yardage is a far more respected stat when it comes to deciding the Heisman vote. Passers are far more likely than ball carriers to be branded with the dreaded ‘system player’ tag.
Quarterbacks and running backs, take note.