Here are the 10 Heisman winners who meant the most to their schools:
10. Davey O’Brien, TCU–O’Brien was the first Heisman winner to emerge from the Southwest Conference. He holds the all-time college record for most rushing and passing plays in one season–400. Today, the award for the nation’s best quarterback is named after O’Brien.
9. Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State–Sanders set the all-time single-season rushing record in 1988, as well as 24 other NCAA records. He went on to a brilliant pro career. When people think of Oklahoma State, they think of Barry Sanders and not much else.
8. Jim Plunkett, Stanford–The Cardinal–known as the Indians in 1970–have never been known for being a great football power, though they’ve had stretches of success over the years. One thing Stanford is known for, however, is its quarterback tradition. When you think of Stanford, you think of its cerebral, strong-armed quarterbacks. Plunkett was the first of the great Stanford signal callers, as he won the Heisman in 1970 while leading his team to an upset win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. John Elway also went to Stanford, but it was Plunkett who won the school’s only Heisman.
7. John Cappalletti, Penn State–Many people think that Penn State has always been considered a traditional power. But that was not the case as recently as the early 1970s. Joe Paterno led the Nittany Lions to back-to-back 11-0 marks in 1968 and 1969 but garnered very little respect nationally. Penn State went 12-0 in 1973 but finished just fifth in the AP poll. However, Cappalletti’s Heisman win that year helped give the Nittany Lions more credibility and they’ve been a national power ever since.
6. Billy Cannon, LSU–Cannon’s 1959 Heisman capped a fantastic two-year run for the Tigers, who won the national championship in 1958. People still talk about his 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against Ole Miss on Halloween night in ’59. He was the biggest star ever produced by the SEC–up until 1980. He was and still is a legend down on the bayou.
5. Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska–Rodgers made the same kind of impact for Nebraska that Cannon made for LSU. The Cornhuskers didn’t really arrive as a power on the college football scene until Bob Devaney became coach in 1962, but nine years later Rodgers played a big part in starting Nebraska on its amazing run of 9-win seasons. It was Rodgers’ punt return against Oklahoma in 1971 that gave Nebraska its first outright national title and he won the school’s first Heisman the following season.
4. Doak Walker, SMU–Walker, who won the trophy in 1948, is considered the greatest player to ever come out of the Southwest Conference. He was the most famous college star of his day, even appearing on the cover of Life Magazine. SMU had back-to-back nine-win seasons with Walker on the roster. They wouldn’t win nine again until 1980.
3. Glenn Davis/Doc Blanchard, Army–Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside will always be linked together. They won back-to-back Heismans in 1946 and 1947. To this day, they ARE Army football.
2. O.J. Simpson, USC–USC was already a national power when Simpson came along. He wasn’t even the first Trojan tailback to win the Heisman. But he came to define the USC style under John McKay. It didn’t hurt that he was probably the most complete back ever, either. Simpson’s career at USC and subsequent stardom in the pros and Hollywood enthralled a generation of young tailbacks, many of whom ended up playing for the Trojans.
1. Herschel Walker, Georgia–The Bulldogs were inconsistent at best before 1980. Head coach Vince Dooley had three 10-win seasons to his credit, but Georgia was just as likely to go 5-5 or 7-4 under his tutelage. Then Herschel Walker came along. Georgia went 6-5 in 1979, but Walker led them to a pefect 12-0 and the national title in 1980. The Dawgs went 10-2 in 1981 and 11-1 in 1982 (when Walker won the Heisman) and won SEC titles each of those years. Before Walker, Georgia was a nice little program. With Walker, they became a national power during much of the 1980s. To this day, he is the most famous player ever produced by the SEC. Any freshman running back who has a great season is inevitably compared to him. His arrival was a harbinger for the revival of a conference that had long been dominated by Alabama. In short, he helped change football in the South forever.