The history of returning Heisman winners

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Whenever a returning Heisman winner is snubbed on my Heisman Watch, I always get grief from fans of that player’s team over the terrible injustice I have heaped upon said player.

It is no different this year, as Texas A&M fans are seeing red over my refusal to include Johnny Manziel in my current group of possible 2013 Heisman winners.

It’s because of my adherence to Heismandment No. 9 that I take this position.  Of course, at season’s end, I always turn out to be right on this no-repeat matter and then the issue lies dormant until the next Heisman winner gets snubbed.

But I thought it would be helpful to look at the history of return Heisman winners and see why I have come to this conclusion.

Here are the Heisman winners who returned the following season (and in Tim Tebow’s case, the following two seasons) to play college football and how they finished in the Heisman vote:

Player/Team/Year      Following Yr Finish/Pts behind winner

Doc Blanchard, Army, 1946 4th 535
Doak Walker, SMU, 1949 3rd 765
Vic Janocwicz, OSU, 1951 DNP DNP
Roger Staubach, Navy, 1964 DNP DNP
Archie Griffin, OSU, 1975 1st
Billy Sims, Okla., 1979 2nd 922
Ty Detmer, BYU, 1991 3rd 1,632
Jason White, Okla., 2004 3rd 368
Matt Leinart, USC, 2005 3rd 1,744
Tim Tebow, Florida, 2008 3rd 151
Tim Tebow, 2009 5th 914
Sam Bradford, Okla., 2009 DNP DNP
Mark Ingram, Alabama, 2010 DNP DNP

DNP=Did not place in final top 10

As you can see, only the legendary Tebow–with all his accolades, hype, larger-than-life heroics and statistical accomplishments–came within 200 points of becoming the second player to win a second Heisman.

The eight players who managed to garner any votes following their Heisman years lost out by an average of 878 points.  For perspective’s sake, that’s more than the winning total points captured by Eric Crouch in 2001.

Only Archie Griffin managed to win that second Heisman.  And he did so to cap a four-year legendary career in which he became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher while leading his Ohio State team to four-straight Rose Bowls and an 11-0 finish as a 1975 senior–a year, incidentally, in which he beat a very weak field.

But he was the exception, not the rule, when it comes to the Heisman.

So, I think it’s clear why Manziel’s chances of repeating are remote.  Not only is there a clear voter bias against repeat winners, there is also the difficulty of duplicating a Heisman-type season and then once again being judged to be more worthy than your competitors.  It’s just so hard for lightning and good fortune to strike twice. Plus, voters are well aware that to give him a second Heisman would put him on hallowed ground and, as good as he is, there doesn’t appear to be a rush by the voters to do that.

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About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, 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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3 Responses to The history of returning Heisman winners

  1. TxAg September 17, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    So, how did Heismandments 2 and 4 work out for you last year? The second Heismandment has even been reworded since so as not to completely rule out freshmen going forward. So Johnny broke 20% of the Heismandments last year and he can’t break one this year?

  2. Common Sense September 17, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    Yeah, and a freshman can’t win it either… until they do.

  3. j ewing September 17, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Correlation is not the same as causation. An experiment with an N of 12 is useless as well. Science is hard for some people, I guess.