Heisman snubs: Ranking the best seasons of the decade among Heisman contenders
Several were invited to New York. Presumably, all of them had a good time.
None of them came home with the biggest individual award in college football (that year, anyway).
All of them could have and perhaps should have.
Some years, the Heisman Trophy voters got it right. But not in all cases.
Here’s a look at the 7 best individual seasons this decade from players who didn’t win the Heisman Trophy.
7. Trent Richardson (2011)
Give it to another Alabama running back, 2 years later?
That had to be a line of thought among many voters. Robert Griffith III won the Heisman, edging Andrew Luck — who was a runner-up for the 2nd consecutive year.
Richardson finished 3rd, but his 2011 season was at least as good as 2009 winner Mark Ingram. He outrushed Ingram (1,679 to 1,658 and outscored him, too, 21 TDs to 17).
Others might suggest that Richardson wasn’t even the best RB in the country. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, who finished 4th, ran for 1,933 yards and 33 TDs. Fair enough, but Richardson was the primary reason Alabama stayed in the national championship hunt (and eventually won it after the Heisman had been awarded).
6. Deshaun Watson (2015)
It wasn’t so much that Watson didn’t win the Heisman. But finishing a distant 3rd? That was outrageous considering the individual numbers and team accomplishments. Watson became the 1st player in FBS history to top 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. He set a program record for passing yards (4,104) and led Clemson to an undefeated regular season and No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff.
Derrick Henry won the Heisman. And he was tremendous and deserving. An absolute workhorse who also broke Herschel Walker’s single-season rushing record (2,219 yards) and led the Tide to a victory over Clemson.
It wasn’t an egregious injustice, but it wouldn’t have been had Watson won, either.
5. Amari Cooper (2014)
This was the vote in which I lost hope that a wide receiver will ever win this award again. (Just 3 in history have, the most recent being Desmond Howard in 1991.)
Cooper dominated in a way the SEC hadn’t seen. He won the receiving triple crown (124 catches, 1,724 yards and 16 TDs) by a landslide. He did this despite playing alongside a first-time starting QB in an offense that featured 2 running backs who topped 950 yards rushing.
Cooper had 5 games with double-digit catches, including a 13-224-3 TD stat line in the Iron Bowl. He followed with 12 more catches in the SEC title game. He had 3 200-yard receiving games — all against SEC competition.
Marcus Mariota won, putting up video game numbers against a weak Pac-12 field.
4. Johnny Manziel (2013)
Reigning Heisman winners are held to a different standard. That’s 1 reason Archie Griffin (1974, 1975) is the only 2-time winner in the trophy’s history.
A wild-card winner as a redshirt freshman in 2012, Manziel was a marked man in 2013.
He also was entering his draft-eligible season, which all but guaranteed he’d run less in 2013 than he did in 2012.
Instead, Manziel became just the 2nd SEC QB (at the time) to top 4,000 yards passing. He finished with 4,114 and 37 TDs. He also ran for 741 yards and 9 TDs. His total numbers (4,873, 46 TDs) exceeded 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston’s (4,276 total yards, 44 combined TDs).
But Manziel didn’t beat Bama — although he helped hang 42 on the Tide. A&M lost all 4 of its games against ranked opponents, and that no doubt hurt Manziel’s repeat bid.
Still … Manziel finished a distant 5th … behind QBs with significantly worse numbers: runner-up AJ McCarron (3,063 yards, 28 TDs) and 3rd-place finisher Jordan Lynch, a dual-threat who threw for 2,892 yards and 24 scores and ran for 1,920 yards and 23 more — against MAC competition.
3. Derek Carr (2013)
If Manziel has a legitimate gripe, which he does, imagine how Carr must feel.
All he did was become the 4th QB in FBS history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 TDs in the same season.
He finished 8th in the voting.
2. Tua Tagovailoa (2018)
Blame it on Bama fatigue. Or maybe throw some shade at Nick Saban, who had to juggle Tagovailoa’s playing time because Jalen Hurts absolutely deserved snaps, too.
It was an impossible situation, but the rotation likely cost Tagovailao the Heisman. He finished with 43 TD passes (1 more than winner Kyler Murray) and 3,966 yards. Had he not given way almost every game at some point or been asked to ease off the gas, there is little doubt Tagovailoa would have broken the SEC single-season records for passing yards and TDs.
Until Joe Burrow this season, Tagovailoa’s 2018 was the best by a QB in SEC history. And his team was an undefeated SEC champion at the time of voting.
1. Deshaun Watson (2016)
Simply the biggest Heisman hose job of the decade.
Watson, who could have won the award in 2015 (see above), was even more spectacular in 2016. He broke his own school record for passing yards (4,593) and set the program mark for TD passes (41).
Both were SEC records, as well.
Every year is different, but Watson’s résumé was better than Winston’s or Mariota’s in the year they won.
Watson also outdueled eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson in their mid-season showdown — the ACC’s Game of the Century. Remember, Louisville was ranked No. 3 in the country. Clemson, despite being undefeated, was ranked No. 5.
Watson finished with 306 yards and 5 TD passes. (He also added 91 yards rushing.) He overcame 3 INTs by throwing 2 TD passes in the 4th quarter to rally for a 42-36 victory.
Watson went on to lead the Tigers to the national championship, cementing the greatest individual season in ACC history. Louisville finished with 4 losses.