Far be it from me to add to the gabfest currently underway over the impending No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown between LSU and Alabama this Saturday, but it could have a profound effect on this (or even next) year’s Heisman race (among other things).
I’ll have a full break down on Thursday of what I think Trent Richardson has to do against LSU to win the Heisman, but in the meantime let’s take a look at some of the past No. 1 vs. No. 2 games that had impact on the Heisman race and the Heisman Trophy:
1943: No. 1 Notre Dame 35, No. 2 Michigan 12
An early-season romp over the Wolverines paved the way for quarterback Angelo Bertelli to win Notre Dame’s first Heisman Trophy. Michigan was so shell-shocked, it refused to play the Irish again until 1978.
1945: No. 1 Army 48, No. 2 Notre Dame 0
Felix ‘Doc’ Blanchard became the first junior to win the Heisman thanks to his part in Army’s 48-0 pasting of Notre Dame. One newspaper account of the game referred to him as ’205 pounds of charging wild buffalo’.
1946: No. 1 Army 0, No. 2 Notre Dame 0
The original Game of the Century. This one was in Yankee Stadium and featured two undefeated teams and an Army squad that had won 25 in a row. It was the first game to feature four Heisman winners, as Army’s Doc Blanchard was the defending champ, while his teammate Glenn Davis would win it that same season. Future Irish winners Johnny Lujack (’47) and Leon Hart (’49) were also in this game. This game didn’t win Davis the Heisman, but a touchdown-saving tackle of Blanchard launched Lujack’s campaign the following year.
1971: No. 1 Nebraska 35, No. 2 Oklahoma 31
It’s a common misconception that the Johnny Rodgers punt return touchdown to beat Oklahoma in this game led to the all-purpose dynamo winning the Heisman for Nebraska. In reality, it led to him winning the following year, 1972. You’ll rarely see a highlight of Rodgers in his Heisman-winning season. It’s always this return, from the year before. But, it was such a great return, it carried over quite well.
1981: No. 1 USC 28, Oklahoma 24
USC’s Marcus Allen had opened the season with 210 yards against Tennessee and 274 yards against Indiana. His 208 yards and two touchdowns against the No. 2 Sooners proved he was not a fluke and, indeed, he went on to win the Heisman by becoming the first player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season.
1985: No. 1 Iowa 12, No. 2 Michigan 10
How did a guy like Chuck Long almost beat the legendary Bo Jackson in the Heisman race? This game might’ve been the biggest reason why Long almost topped the Auburn running back. In the end, he fell short in what was then the closest race in Heisman history (until Ingram’s recent win over Gerhart).
1986: No. 2 Miami 28, No. 1 Oklahoma 16
Vinnie Testaverde won the Heisman as a result of his performance in this late September game. He not only beat the Sooners through the air, he killed them with his feet as well. After this game, there was never any doubt he was going to win the Heisman.
1988: No. 1 Notre Dame 27, No. 2 USC 10
Whatever chance Rodney Peete had of winning the Heisman Trophy in 1988 depended on his performance against the Irish in this one. As it turns out, the Irish manhandled Peete and the Trojans and this gave voters plenty of leeway to hand the Heisman to a well-deserving Barry Sanders in a landslide. Peete finished as runner up.
1993 Sugar Bowl: No. 2 Alabama 34, No. 1 Miami 13
This game had no effect on who would win the Heisman in either 1992 or 1993. But it did have an effect on the sporting public’s perception of Miami’s Gino Toretta and (by extension) the trophy itself. Toretta became the epitome of the ‘Heisman bust’ because of this game (and his subsequent pro career).
1993: No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
Ward staved off a late-season Heisman disaster by nearly leading the Seminoles to a dramatic comeback. He fell short in the end against the Irish, but his gutty performance reminded voters that he was the best choice and he went on to win in a landslide over Heath Shuler of Tennessee.
1996: No. 2 Florida State 24, No. 1 Florida 21
This (along with FSU’s loss in 1993 to Notre Dame) is a textbook example of how a late-season loss doesn’t necessarily have to derail a Heisman campaign. It helps if the player performs admirably in a close contest and this is what happened with Danny Wuerffel against the Seminoles. Of course, it also helps if your main competition is a running back from 2-9 Iowa State (or Heath Shuler, for that matter).
2005 Orange Bowl: No. 1 USC 55, No. 2 Oklahoma 19
This game featured one of the more interesting Heisman matchups in history. Participants included the 2003 winner for Oklahoma (Jason White), the 2004 winner for USC (Matt Leinart) and the 2005 winner for USC (Reggie Bush). Oh, let’s not forget the 2004 runner up, Adrian Peterson. While Bush wasn’t particularly vital to USC’s win, his late-season performances combined with the blowout helped put him next in line for the Heisman in the mind of voters. And, yes, this game took place.
2006 Rose Bowl: No. 2 Texas 41, No. 2 USC 38
This game has something to do with the Heisman only in that Vince Young’s performance convinced some people that he not only deserved to win the trophy in 2005, but that he (and not Reggie Bush) actually did win it.
2006: No. 1 Ohio State 24, No. 2 Texas 7
2006: No. 1 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Michigan 39
The first win for Ohio State over Texas made Troy Smith the Heisman front runner. The win over Michigan cemented that status and he went on to win by a huge margin over Darren McFadden.
2007 BCS title: No. 2 Florida 41, Ohio State 14
Tim Tebow played a small part in this one, rushing for just 39 yards and passing for 1 yard, but he accounted for two touchdowns and took the opportunity to introduce himself to much of the nation (the AP dutifully referred to him as ‘Rambo-like’, watering the seeds of the coming hype). Florida winning this title in ’06 certainly helped Tebow’s Heisman run the following year.
2009: No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 1 Florida 13
Tebow was never going to win that second Heisman, but losing to Alabama pretty much confirmed what I had been saying for years: There will never be another two-time winner. If Tebow can’t win it twice, who can?