Heisman Winners Who Meant The Most

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.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, 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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12 Responses to Heisman Winners Who Meant The Most

  1. Joe October 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    The fact that you don’t have Archie Griffin on this list is a joke, right? Archie Griffin IS Ohio State football. There is no one more important to Ohio State football, save Woody Hayes, than Archie Griffin.

  2. Phil October 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    No Archie Griffin?

    Ohio State already ruled college football by the time he came along, but he’s still a legend damn near worshiped by Buckeye fans.

  3. Glen October 6, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    I think Herschel is a pretty good pick. From the vantage-point of history, it looks as if the UGA program was permanently elevated by that series of teams.

  4. Heismanpundit October 6, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Phil touches on why I don’t have Archie on this list. I’m not saying he’s not a legend to Buckeyes, but Ohio State had already won three Heismans at that point. His actually winning the Heisman didn’t mean as much to OSU as it did the other schools on this list.

  5. Floridan October 6, 2010 at 7:15 pm #


  6. Roby October 6, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Seriously. Any list like this that doesn’t have Tebow is incomplete. He was Mr. Everything to a Gator team that didn’t have a legitimate power back. He was the face of the Gators for 3 years, and was asked to run or pass on like 2/3 of the team’s plays for 3 years.

    Yes, he is fresh in our memory, but I have no doubts that ten years from now, people will still feel the same way.

    Actually, here are his run/pas against the teams total offensive plays:

    ’07- 560/838 (66%)
    ’08- 474/862 (54%)
    ’09- 531/908 (58%)

    To put that in perspective, in his 3 years as a full time starter, do-it-all Heisman QB Eric Crouch ran 41%, 45% and 40% of his teams plays.

    I’m a little bit confused to what the criteria is when deciding these things. Are we just talking historical impact on the football program?

    He leapfrogged Spurrier (the player) and Wuerffel as the Gators’ most important/accomplished/revered players. UF put up a plaque for him while he was still there. 2 National Titles, 3-time Heisman finalist and 1-time winner. He led the Gators to the most SEC wins in a 4 year stretch ever (48-7). People at UF talk about him the same way they talk about Chuck Norris. That should say it all.

    If you leave off Archie Griffin, I don’t see how you could include O.J. They are in the same boat. I submit that you lose the Juice and add Tebow.

    (I don’t quite understand Barry Sanders either. It’s not like he carried them to particularly great heights. A pair of 10-2 records doesn’t really wow me. Thurman Thomas, his predecessor, was also a Heisman candidate, then later a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Sanders wasn’t miles ahead of OSU’s second best player. If he is on this list, you have to add every player who won their school’s only Heisman.)

  7. Roby October 6, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    This list got me thinking about coaches. Without much research

    1. Bobby Bowden
    2. Knute Rockne
    3. Bear Bryant
    4. Eddie Robinson
    5. Bob Devaney
    6. Steve Spurrier
    7. Bud Wilkinson
    8. Woody Hayes
    9. Howard Schnellenberger (although he is not the singular face of the program, he started program on the turnaround to elite status.)
    10. Lavell Edwards

    Honorable Mention:

    -Joe Paterno (every coach before him won…a lot.)
    -Tom Osbourne
    -Ara Parseghian (Their return from mediocrity is important)
    -Bo Schemblecker
    -Pete Carroll (see Parseghian)

  8. Heismanpundit October 6, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    I do think Tebow is going to be worthy of mention, but he JUST graduated and I think having a couple years of perspective will help put him in the proper spot.

  9. Roby October 6, 2010 at 11:34 pm #

    Fair enough. But could you outline the major difference is between OJ and Archie? I still don’t see it.

  10. starkweather October 7, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    I can’t believe Paul Hornung isn’t on here if winning an undeserved Heisman for a losing team doesn’t represent what Notre Dame football is all about, I don’t know what does.

  11. Chris October 7, 2010 at 8:05 am #

    Roby asked:
    “But could you outline the major difference is between OJ and Archie? I still don’t see it.”

    OJ played at USC and Archie didn’t.

  12. Joe October 7, 2010 at 12:53 pm #


    True, OSU had won three Heisman’s prior to Archie. However, you ignore the fact that OSU hadn’t had a Heisman winner in over 20 years. Most of the people at the university when Archie won in 1974 and 1975 probably never saw Horvath, Janowicz, and Cassidy play.

    Conversely, O.J. won his Heisman just three years after Mike Garrett won it in 1965. The pride of seeing Garrett win in 1965 would still be fresh when O.J. won it three years later.

    Moreover, while I am not sure if this meaning of this list is winners most important AT THE TIME OF THEIR WIN, but if you include current feelings about these winners, you have you examine the pride Buckeye fans feel for Archie and the (antithetical) feelings USC fans have for OJ. OJ’s off-the-field transgressions without question sully his modern-day reputation at USC. Case in point: OJ is not welcome at USC practices; Archie Griffin is the President of the OSU Alumni Association and, I imagine, is a welcomed influence in Coach Tressle’s program.

    Lastly, the historical significance of Archie’s two trophies should propel him into the top 10 on this list, if not the top 5. Archie’s wins (plural) will never be replicated. In anyone was going to do it, it would have been Tebow.