When newly-crowned Heisman winner Johnny Manziel takes on Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, he won’t be playing just to lead Texas A&M to a big win. He’ll also be playing to prove to the college football world that he really did deserve that trophy.
Bowl games can be treacherous for Heisman winners. After being feted and fawned over on the banquet circuit for half of December, the honoree often loses focus, gains weight or falls out of shape. As a result, more than a few winners have laid eggs in their bowls, leading to talk that a “Heisman curse” exists.
But there have been plenty of great performances to go along with the bad ones. Here’s a look at the 10 best and 10 worst performances by Heisman winners in bowl games. Will Manziel make one of these lists?
The 10 Best Heisman Performances
1. Johnny Rodgers vs. Notre Dame, 1973 Orange Bowl – The versatile Rodgers, who normally played wingback, played I-back against the Irish and capped his illustrious career by scoring four touchdowns and passing for another (a 52-yarder to Frosty Anderson). He finished with 15 carries for 84 yards rushing and caught three passes for 71 yards as the No. 8 Cornhuskers crushed the No. 10 Irish 40-6.
2. Charles White vs. Ohio State, 1980 Rose Bowl – No. 3 USC beat No. 1 Ohio State 17-16 as White overcame the flu to rush for 247 yards on 39 carries. He scored the winning touchdown on a dive over the pile with 1:32 to play to finish off an 83-yard drive in which he rushed for 71 yards on six attempts.
3. Barry Sanders vs. Wyoming, 1988 Holiday Bowl – Oklahoma State crushed Wyoming 62-14 as Sanders rushed for 222 yards and five touchdowns. If the NCAA counted bowl game stats from back then, his single-season numbers would be absurd: 2,850 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns.
4. Matt Leinart vs. Oklahoma, 2005 BCS title game – Leinart turned in a virtuoso performance against the Sooners, throwing for 332 yards and five touchdowns to lead the No. 1 Trojans to a 55-19 win over No. 2 Oklahoma in the BCS title game.
5. Danny Wuerffel vs. Florida State, 1997 Sugar Bowl – A little over a month after getting sacked six times and throwing three picks against the terrific Seminole defense in a 24-21 loss, Wuerffel rebounded to throw for 306 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators walloped FSU 52-20 for their first national championship.
6. Tony Dorsett vs. Georgia, 1977 Sugar Bowl – Dorsett and Pittsburgh closed out a dream undefeated season by beating No. 5 Georgia 27-6. Dorsett rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries as the Panthers won the national title.
7. Terry Baker vs. Villanova, 1962 Liberty Bowl – Baker, one of the original dual-threat quarterbacks, rushed for 137 yards and passed for 123 in Oregon State’s 6-0 win. His 99-yard first-quarter touchdown run remains the longest in bowl history.
8. Ernie Davis vs. Syracuse, 1961 Liberty Bowl – Davis was excellent in leading the Orange to a come-from-behind 15-14 win over Miami. He rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. His touchdown and two-point conversion reception cut the lead to 14-8 and, then he rushed for 24 of the 51 yards on Syracuse’s game-winning drive.
9. Ricky Williams vs. Mississippi State, 1999 Cotton Bowl – Williams rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries to lead the Longhorns to a 38-11 victory over the Bulldogs.
10. Ron Dayne vs. Stanford, 2000 Rose Bowl – Dayne keyed his team’s second straight Rose Bowl win by rushing for 209 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries as the Badgers beat Stanford 17-9.
The 10 Worst Heisman Performances
1. Troy Smith vs. Florida, 2007 BCS title game – Smith set the gold standard for Heisman flops, completing just four of 14 passes for 35 yards and an interception in No. 1 Ohio State’s 41-14 loss to the No. 2 Gators. The visibly overweight Smith also rushed for -29 yards on 10 carries.The 10 Worst Heisman Performances
2. Joe Bellino vs. Missouri, 1961 Orange Bowl – The Navy running back finished with four yards rushing on eight carries in his team’s 21-14 loss to Missouri. The lone bright spot of his day was a nifty 27-yard touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone.
3. Vinny Testaverde vs. Penn State, 1987 Fiesta Bowl – Testaverde went 26-of-50 for 285 yards, but he threw five big interceptions — including three to Pete Giftopolous, as No. 2 Penn State beat No. 1 Miami 14-10.
4. Jason White vs. LSU, 2004 BCS title game – White followed up a rough Big 12 title game by completing just 13 of 37 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions in No. 2 LSU’s 21-14 win over No. 3 Oklahoma.
6. Ty Detmer vs. Texas A&M, 1990 Holiday Bowl – Detmer was roughed up by the Aggie defense. He suffered two separated shoulders while throwing for just 120 yards and an interception on 11-of-23 passing in a 65-14 loss.
7. Chris Weinke vs. Oklahoma, 2001 BCS title game – By now, you can see that the moral of this list is that an immobile quarterback who wins the Heisman is in danger come bowl time. Weinke was 25-of-51 for 274 yards, but he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble as the vaunted Seminoles offense was shut out in No. 1 Oklahoma’s 13-2 victory.
8. Archie Griffin vs. USC, 1975 Rose Bowl – The much-anticipated battle between Griffin and Heisman runner-up Anthony Davis of USC didn’t live up to its billing. Griffin was held to 75 yards on 20 carries, and he lost two fumbles in the 18-17 loss to the Trojans.
9. Marcus Allen vs. Penn State, 1982 Fiesta Bowl – College football’s first 2,000-yard rusher was held to just 85 yards on 30 carries by the Nittany Lions. Allen also lost two fumbles as Penn State beat USC 26-10.
10. Desmond Howard vs. Washington, 1992 Rose Bowl – Howard was an all-purpose dynamo all season, but the Huskies found a way to bottle him up. Howard was limited to just one catch for 35 yards and one rush for 15 yards — though he did add 60 yards on returns. Washington whipped Michigan 34-14 to win a share of the national title.