By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
Forecasting who will win the Heisman Trophy four months before it’s awarded… and before a single snap has been taken in the new season…has proven to be wasted effort this century. Rarely has the pre-season “favorite” even been among the actual finalists. There’s been only one constant in the voting since Oklahoma junior quarterback Jason White won the award in 2003: Any underclassman who wins the award and comes back to try to win it again the next season is SOL. It just aint happening.
That’s bad news for last season’s winner, Louisville junior quarterback Lamar Jackson.
As most know, there has been just a single two-time winner, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974 and ‘75. Otherwise, 79 times the award has been given to 79 different players. Even greats like Doak Walker, who won as a junior in 1948, and 1963 winner Roger Staubach failed to repeat.
To be honest, there didn’t used to be that many opportunities for repeat winners, up until the late 1980’s. The award went to seniors 35 of the first 39 times it was handed out prior to Griffin winning in ’74, then 11 of the next 13. When guys began leaving college early for the pros, and the field got narrowed, underclassman stepped to the front of the Heisman line. White began a string of 13 of the next 14 winners with college eligibility remaining. That included four sophomores and two freshmen. Exactly NONE have repeated…even though a few actually had BETTER seasons the year after winning their trophy.
In the interest of full disclosure, many of the underclassman winners of the past three decades left school after that season to turn professional. But many, like BYU QB Ty Detmer, White, USC QB Matt Leinart, Florida icon Tim Tebow, Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Texas A&M signal caller Johnny Manziel and Florida State QB Jameis Winston all returned for at least one more season – and Tebow actually got two more cracks at it.
Detmer finished third the following season, even after passing for more than 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was the consensus first team All-America QB again, but Howard won the statue. White also finished third as a senior, even though he had a higher completion percentage, five more TD passes and a higher QB rating compared to his Heisman winning season.
Leinhart was on top of the football world after winning his Heisman in 2004, but turned down a shot at being the top NFL draft pick for one more year in LA (and the chance to take a “Ballroom Dancing” course at USC.) He finished – you guessed it – third. He had more completions, 500 more yards and a slightly better QB rating than in his Heisman season. Go figure.
Tebow was the first sophomore to win the award in 2007, and while stats were never his prime selling point, the numbers stayed pretty steady all three years he started under center. His Heisman season was his best, stats-wise, but he led the Florida Gators to the National Championship the following year as a junior in 2008. And yes, he was third in the voting that season. Bradford became the second sophomore to capture the statue that same season. His bid to repeat was ended by injury, as was Ingram’s in 2009.
And you have to believe that the off the field circus that surrounded Texas A&M’s Manziel in 2013 kept him from garnering support for a repeat. He became the first (redshirt) freshman to win a Heisman in 2012. After an off season filled with controversy over eligibility issues, he actually surpassed his Heisman-winning totals in pass completions, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes and passer rating as a sophomore. He finished fifth in the Heisman voting and turned pro.
Winston also won his trophy as a redshirt freshman when he led Florida State to the BCS title. His sophomore season saw Winston throw and complete more passes, but stats-wise there was a dip. He did lead the ‘Noles to the first College Football Play-off, but they lost in the semi’s to Oregon.
So Griffin remains all alone as the only repeat winner.
This is mainly because voters have long memories, good and bad. A Heisman-winning underclassman’s biggest competition for the award has become his previous season’s accomplishments. It’s supposed to be a single season award and not based on overall career. But once the bar has been set, those loftier-than-they-should be expectations are in place and just can’t be met in the eyes of most voters. They opt for the shiny new player.
That’s what Jackson will be facing this season – along with many voters remembering his stumbling, bumbling finish to last season (when he benefited from early voting and won out over a more deserving Deshaun Watson.) This season? Jackson is a good bet to – yep – finish third.