Ranking the SEC's Heisman-winning RBs
Comparing Heisman Trophy winners at the same position from 1942 and 2009 is a bit like rating the original Nintendo against the PlayStation 5.
Both of them have unique and unrelated charms.
Still, I’ve attempted to rank the SEC’s five Heisman-winning running backs based on how well they played during the year they won the award.
1. Herschel Walker, Georgia (1982): I’ve written about Walker exhaustively in recent weeks between his appearance in the championship of our “Top SEC stars of all-time” bracket and presence in many of our running-back themed rankings this week. I’ve learned something new about Walker every time. Today’s nugget: he’s the only player in NCAA history to finish Top 5 in the Heisman Trophy voting three consecutive seasons. Never mind that No. 1 Georgia lost to No. 2 Penn State in the ’82 season Sugar Bowl. There’s something unquantifiable and intangible about Walker as an SEC legend. Despite his humongous workload the previous two seasons, he remained the nation’s best football player in ’82.
2. Frank Sinkwich, Georgia (1942): Clearly I never saw Sinkwich play, and I challenge any of you to give a detailed analysis of his game. What I do know is that the Associated Press overwhelmingly voted him the No. 1 athlete of ’42 by a wide margin ahead of Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams. Sinkwich set an NCAA single-season record for total yards (2,187 yards), a sort of old-school version of Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel in that he both ran and passed. He led UGA to an SEC title and Rose Bowl win that season as well.
3. Bo Jackson, Auburn (1985): In one of the closest Heisman Trophy votes you’ll ever see, Jackson squeaked past Iowa quarterback Chuck Long. But don’t confuse the margin of victory with a lack of dominance on the field. Jackson averaged 6.4 yards per carry — for a whopping 278 carries. Auburn fielded a strong running game, but not a single receiver reached 400 yards and the defense ranked 31st in the country in points allowed. Many plays, everyone in the stadium knew big No. 34 would get the ball, and it never mattered. Not one of Pat Dye’s best Auburn teams, Jackson made the ’85 group worth watching.
4. Mark Ingram, Alabama (2009): He gained the most yards from scrimmage (1,992) and scored the most touchdowns (20) of any player on the Crimson Tide’s 14-0 national championship team. He almost won the trophy by default, as Florida’s Tim Tebow and the Gators took an imperceptible slip back, Texas’ Colt McCoy didn’t have the numbers and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh played the wrong position. Ingram played a tremendous, productive football season in ’09, but his Heisman, the first in Alabama history, was at least in part a team award.
5. Billy Cannon, LSU (1959): LSU retired Cannon’s No. 20 jersey immediately after the ’59 season — and didn’t retire another for 50 years. His Halloween-night 89-yard punt return touchdown that won the game against No. 3 Ole Miss, with the team trailing 3-0, is one of the most thrilling plays in team history. Cannon also played one of his best games ever in a 10-0 win against No. 9 TCU. He finished 20th in the NCAA in yards from scrimmage, ranking behind Vanderbilt’s Tom Moore and Ole Miss’ Charlie Flowers.
These two players won Heisman Trophies at the position prior to SEC membership for their respective programs.
John David Crow, Texas A&M (1957)
George Rogers, South Carolina (1980)