College Sports

Top College Football Players Who Never Won The Heisman Trophy

Joe Burgett - June 16, 2019
College Sports

Top College Football Players Who Never Won The Heisman Trophy

Joe Burgett - June 16, 2019

Darren McFadden, Arkansas
Photo Credit: ChatSports

22. Darren McFadden

McFadden was a dominant running back for the Arkansas Razorbacks from 2005 to 2007. His final two years were his most explosive seasons when the “Wildcat” playbook was introduced. This allowed McFadden to be not only a running and receiving threat, but also a threat to pass. This led to McFadden putting up huge sophomore year numbers with 1,647 yards rushing and 14 TDs. He caught a TD, returned a kick for a TD, and threw for three more.

Photo Credit: Arkansas Fight

His junior year, McFadden rushed for 1,830 yards and 16 TDs. This included one receiving TD and four passing TDs. He was First-Team ALL-SEC all three years he started. His final two years, he won the Doak Walker Award and SEC Offensive Player of the Year, as well as took home All-American honors twice each. He is still among only a handful of players to finish second in the Heisman race two years in a row and never win.

Toby Gerhart, Stanford
Photo Credit: Stanford University Athletics

21. Toby Gerhart

Gerhart may not be a name people know all that well today. However, at one point he could have been called the best college football player alive. He had a good collegiate career at Stanford with his last few years being his best. In his junior year, he rushed for 1,136 yards and 15 TDs. However, Gerhart exploded during his senior year.

Photo Credit: Stanford Daily

Gerhart put up 1,871 yards rushing and 28 TDs. He even threw for a TD as well. His 2009 senior campaign was so successful that he achieved multiple awards. Gerhart took home All-American honors, PAC-1o Offensive Player of the Year, and the Doak Walker Award. However, he came in second in the Heisman race. To this day, it is the smallest margin of victory over another player in the history of the Heisman.

Jim McMahon, BYU
Photo Credit: Deseret News

20. Jim McMahon

McMahon is most known for his Super Bowl win with the Chicago Bears. However, like a few men on this list already, McMahon was a huge star for BYU. McMahon attended the school all four years, but his last two years he was the starting quarterback. McMahon skipped his playing time for two years between his sophomore and junior year to do the two-year Mormon mission. By the time he came back, for his junior campaign, he was impossible to stop.

Photo Credit: Time

McMahon threw for 4,571 yards and 47 TDs. The latter of which was an NCAA record for a bit. He had a modest Senior year, throwing for 3,555 yards and 30 TDs. He won the WAC Offensive Player of the Year Award in 1978, 1980, and 1981. In ’81, he was also given the Sammy Baugh Trophy and Davey O’Brien Award. Sadly, he never finished higher than third in the Heisman race.

Colt Brennan, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Icon Sports Wire

19. Colt Brennan

Brennan was a terrific Quarterback for the University of Hawaii from 2005 to 2007. He put up huge numbers for the University every single year. His sophomore year, Brennan threw for 4,301 yards and 35 TDs, on top of 154 yards rushing and two TDs. During his junior year, Colt threw for 5,549 yards and 58 TDs with 366 yards rushing and five TDs. Meanwhile, during his senior season, Brennan threw for 4,343 yards and 38 TDs with eight rushing TDs to add onto this.

Photo Credit: USA Today

Needless to say, awards flowed in. He was First-Team All-WAC twice, WAC Offensive Player of the Year twice, and the Sammy Baugh Trophy winner. He was a finalist for every other passing award known as well. Despite his impressive play, Brennan never finished higher than third in the Heisman race.

Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Photo Credit: Hustle Belt

18. Jordan Lynch

Lynch put up some of the most historic numbers ever for a quarterback in collegiate history. While he did see time on the field all four years he was at Northern Illinois, he started the last two. His junior season, Lynch passed for 3,138 yards and 25 TDs. This is along with 1,815 rushing yards and 19 TDs. His senior year was even bigger. He threw for 2,892 yards and 24 TDs, while he rushed for 1920 yards and 23 TDs. He even caught a TD for good measure.

Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

This is years of 4,953 & 4,835 total yards from scrimmage each. Lynch would become the MAC Offensive Player of the Year both years as a result. He won Second-Team All-American honors his Junior year while winning First-Team All-American honors his senior year. However, the highest Lynch finished in the Heisman race was third.

Case Keenum, Houston
Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

17. Case Keenum

Keenum was a quarterback for the University of Houston. It seemed like the man was simply unstoppable in college. He is among only a handful of men at any level of collegiate football to throw for 5,000 yards in three different seasons. While he threw for 44 TDs in both 2008 & 2009, both 5,000+ passing seasons, his senior season was his best year. That season, he threw for 5,631 yards and 48 TDs. Not to mention, Keenum has 23 rushing TDs for his entire college career.

Photo Credit: Chron

Clearly, Keenum won several awards for his work all three starting seasons. He’d finish with Second-Team All-American honors at best. However, in 2008, won the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year and even became the Conference USA Most Valuable Player Awards winner twice (2009, 2011). He also won the Sammy Baugh Trophy twice (2009, 2011). Sadly, the highest Keenum finished in the Heisman race was seventh.

Troy Davis, Iowa State
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16. Troy Davis

Davis is one of the best running backs in college football history. He played for the Iowa State Cyclones during his collegiate period and put up huge numbers his last two years there. During his junior season, Davis rushed for 2,010 yards and 15 TDs, with an additional receiving TD on top of it. His senior season, however, Davis rushed for 2,185 yards and 21 TDs.

Photo Credit: Desmoines Register

Davis won All-American honors both years, and in his final year of 1996, he won the Jim Brown & Chic Harley Awards. During the 1996 Heisman race, he sadly finished second, his highest. Yet this only goes to show that Davis truly is one of the best players who never won the Heisman Trophy.

Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

15. Graham Harrell

The Texas Tech quarterback Harrell put up some massive numbers while playing. From 2006 to 2008, Harrell managed to destroy every opponent Texas Tech faced off against in Mike Leach’s Airraid offense. His sophomore season, Graham threw for 4,555 yards & 38 TDs. In his junior season, Harrell threw for 5,705 (second-most in a season) & 48 TDs. Finally, his senior season, he threw for 5,111 yards & 45 TDs.

Photo Credit: Section 215

This is in addition to 4 rushing touchdowns his junior season and six rushing touchdowns his senior season. In 2007, Graham won the Sammy Baugh Award and landed on the ALL-BIG 12 Second-Team. Meanwhile, in 2008, Harrell won the AT&T All-America Player of the Year Award & The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He’d also win the Sporting News Player of the Year Award in a three-way tie. Sadly, he finished fourth in the Heisman race that year.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Sean Gardner

14. Tyrann Mathieu

On the surface, Mathieu’s numbers during his two years at LSU may not seem as impressive to you as they actually are. However, “The Honeybadger” was known to be tough to play against. In his 2010 campaign, Mathieu recorded 57 total tackles with 8.5 going for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two INTs, five fumbles forced, and three fumbles recovered.

Photo Credit: Football Study Hall

In his 2011 run, Mathieu recorded 76 total tackles with 7.5 going for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and two INTs. He also had six forced fumbles and had five fumble recoveries, two of which he took back for touchdowns. He also took two punt returns back for touchdowns. In this same year, he became the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He’d finish First-Team All-SEC, an All-American, and win the Chuck Bednarik Award. Mathieu even won the SEC Championship. Sadly, he’d land fifth in the Heisman race.

Kellen Moore, Boise State
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13. Kellen Moore

Moore is a winner, plain and simple. The man could do no wrong as the quarterback for Boise State. He’d have four straight years where he threw for over 3,400 yards. His last three years improved not only in efficiency but also in touchdowns. He threw for 39 TDs his sophomore year, 35 TDs his junior year, and 43 TDs his senior year. This compared to the 25 TDs he threw as a freshman.

Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

Moore became a 2-time WAC Offensive Player of the Year, one-time MWC Offensive Player of the Year, two-time First-Team ALL-WAC, and Second-Team ALL-WAC once. He would also lead the Boise State Broncos to three WAC Championships and two big Fiesta Bowl wins. Sadly, Moore finished no higher than fourth in the Heisman race. Proving Moore is one of the best players who never won the Heisman Trophy.

Peyton Manning, Tennessee
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12. Peyton Manning

Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. However, it truly all began for him when he played for the University of Tennessee. He started for the team officially for three years but played for four years with the Volunteers. His final two years are his most successful. As a junior, he threw for 3,287 and 20 TDs with three rushing TDs. As a senior, Manning threw for 3,819 yards and 36 TDs with three rushing TDs.

Photo Credit: Head Topics

Manning led his team to an SEC Championship but failed to win against Nebraska in the National Title game in 1996. In 1997, Manning won several awards for his work. This included the Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Maxwell Award, and 1997 SEC Player of the Year. Manning also took home All-American honors a few times. Sadly, the highest he finished in the Heisman race was second during his 1997 season.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Photo Credit: Sportsnaut

11. Saquon Barkley

Barkley was a stud running back for the Penn State Nittany Lions for 3 years. Serving as their back from 2015 to 2017, he put up incredible numbers that helped Penn State become a threat in the Big Ten. His best two seasons were 2016 & 2017, however. In 2016, Barkley rushed for 1,496 yards and 18 TDs with 402 receiving yards and four TDs. In 2017, Barkley rushed for 1,271 yards and 18 TDs with 632 yards receiving and three TDs. He also recorded a passing touchdown this year as well.

Photo Credit: Si

His performance led to First-Team ALL-BIG 10 honors both seasons as well as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year twice. In 2017, he received All-American honors to add to his conference awards. However, Penn State did not do as well as they would have liked in 2017, so he finished fourth in the Heisman race that year.

Andrew Luck, Stanford
Photo Credit: Pacific Takes

10. Andrew Luck

Luck first became known to the world due to his amazing work as the quarterback for the Stanford Cardinal. In his sophomore (RS) year, he passed for 3,338 yards and 32 TDs with 453 yards rushing and two TDs. His redshirt junior year, Luck passed for 3,517 yards and 37 TDs with two rushing touchdowns to add to this. Luck led his team to a win in the 2011 Orange Bowl but barely took a loss in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl.

Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

Luck was named to the First-Team All-PAC 12 & took home First-Team All-American honors twice. He also won the PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year both years. During the 2011 season, he took home the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Maxwell Award, and the 2011 Walter Camp Player of the Year. Sadly, he finished second in the Heisman race in both 2010 & 2011.

Reggie Bush, USC
Photo Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

9. Reggie Bush

We know what you’re saying, “but he won!” While true, his Heisman was taken away or essentially given back. Basically, it is like he never won it. Therefore, he’s legal to use for this list. Bush was a top player for USC. He was a top reason why they were able to take home two National Championships and get to three in a row from 2003 to 2005.

Photo Credit: Inside Hook

As a sophomore, Bush rushed for 908 yards and seven TDs, had 509 receiving yards and seven TDs, had two punt return touchdowns, and a passing touchdown. As a junior, he rushed for 1,740 yards and 17 TDs, had 478 receiving yards and two TDs, and he had one punt return touchdown. This led Bush to winning the PAC-10 Offensive Player of the Year twice. In 2005, he took home the Doak Walker Award, AP Player of the Year, and Walter Camp Player of the Year. Since his Heisman is vacated, the highest he finished in the Heisman race was 5th in 2004.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

8. Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey was a gifted player for the Stanford Cardinal when he played for them from 2014 to 2016. His later years were the most successful. In 2015, he rushed for 2,019 yards and eight TDs, with 645 receiving yards and five TDs. This includes kick return & punt return touchdowns. McCaffrey also had two passing touchdowns on the year. Stanford ultimately led the Pac-12 Conference Championship the same year.

Photo Credit: Espn

In 2016, he rushed for 1,603 yards and 13 TDs with 310 receiving yards and three TDs. Both seasons gave McCaffrey First-Team All-PAC 12 honors twice. However, in 2015, McCaffrey saw Consensus All-American honors along with being named the PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year & AP Player of the Year. He also took home the 2015 Johnny Rodgers Award, 2015 Paul Hornung Award, and 2015 Jet Award. Sadly, the highest McCaffrey finished in the Heisman race both years was second in 2015.

Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

7. Adrian Peterson

Peterson is one of the greatest running backs in history and it is quite clear that all of this started with his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma. During this year, Peterson rushed for 1,925 yards and 15 TDs. His dominance on the field led to one of the highest finishes for a true freshman in Heisman history with a second-place finish.

Photo Credit: Draft Kings Nation

He followed it up with a sophomore year where he rushed for 1,104 yards and 14 TDs through an injury-plagued season. His junior year, Peterson rushed for 1,012 yards and 12 TDs, adding a receiving TD on top of it. Yet again doing so through injuries. Adrian would be named a Unanimous All-American in 2004 but was named First-Team All-BIG 12 all three years he was at Oklahoma. Many believe Peterson deserved the 2004 Heisman, sadly, it was not to be.

Tommie Frazier, Nebraska
Photo Credit: Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated

6. Tommie Frazier

It is well-known to college football fans that Frazier was a huge reason why Nebraska went to three National Championship games in a row, winning two of them in 1994 & 1995. However, he was never given the credit he deserved by the Heisman committee.  His best year was in 1995 as part of, what experts claim, is the greatest college football team in history.

Photo Credit: ESPN

In ’95, Frazier passed for 1,362 yards and 17 TDs while he rushed for 604 yards and 14 TDs. This led to Consensus All-American honors and the 1995 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Frazier was named Orange Bowl MVP twice due to the National Title wins that took place there. However, despite losing to Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl for the National Title, Frazier would be named MVP there as well.

Hugh Green, Pitt
Photo Credit: Pitt Panthers

5. Hugh Green

Green was one of the most dominant college football defenders in history. He played for the University of Pittsburgh from 1977 to 1980, putting up big numbers each year. In 1977, he had 92 tackles, 15 for a loss, 12 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and one INT. In 1978, Green had 109 tackles, 12 for a loss, 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two INTs. The 1979 season saw Green get 135 tackles, 14 for a loss, 11 sacks, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and one INT.

Photo Credit: Main Line Autographs

Finally, in 1980, Green managed 123 tackles, 11 for a loss, 17 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. As you can see, Green was literally unstoppable. Green was named to the First-Team All-BIG East 4 times &  took home Consensus All-American honors three times (1978, 1979, 1980). In 1980, he won the Maxwell Award, the Vince Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. However, his best Heisman finish was second in 1980.

AJ McCarron, Alabama
Photo Credit: Roll Bama Roll

4. A.J. McCarron

On the surface, people may look at McCarron’s numbers and assume he shouldn’t be a Heisman winner. However, he put up huge numbers for an Alabama Crimson Tide QB and he was a true winner. The best thing McCarron did was also what he didn’t do. He rarely made a turnover, giving the Tide wins based simply on perfection. As a sophomore, he threw for 2,634 yards and 16 TDs.

Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle

As a junior, he’d throw for 2,933 yards and 30 TDs. Finally, as a senior, McCarron threw for 3,063 yards and 28 TDs. This resulted in two SEC Championships as well as two BCS National Championships. He also contributed to a third National Title earlier in his career. In 2013, he’d win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award & The Maxwell Award. Sadly, he finished second in the Heisman race that year.

Vince Young, Texas
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3. Vince Young

The architect for one of the greatest National Championship wins in history, the Texas Longhorns great known as Vince Young really deserved more respect. Young had two great years at Texas, 2004 & 2005. In 2004, he passed for 1,849 yards and 12 TDs with 1,079 yards and 14 TDs. In 2005, Young would destroy everything. He passed for 3,036 yards and 26 TDs with 1,050 rushing yards and 12 TDs.

Photo Credit: Fox Sports

This 2005 season led to Young winning the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, and he was Consensus All-American. Sadly, he lost the Heisman race to Reggie Bush in 2005. This led to a Rose Bowl game with USC and Texas where the Trojans had 2 Heisman winners on offense. Young and the Longhorns would defeat them to become the 2005 BCS National Champions. Young had 467 total offensive yards, scoring three rushing TDs, including the go-ahead game-winner.

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Photo Credit: Wisconsin Athletics

2.  Melvin Gordon III

Gordon III was a tremendous running back for the Wisconsin Badgers from 2011 to 2014. He’d get the start his final two years with the team. In his junior year, he rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 TDs. Gordon then exploded his senior year, rushing for 2,587 yards and 29 TDs, along with 153 receiving yards and three TDs.

Photo Credit: NBC 15

Gordon also took part in back to back Big Ten Championships in 2011 & 2012. However, 2014 was his year in which he was named First-Team All-Big Ten & a Unanimous All-American. He’d also win the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Award and the Doak Walker Award. Sadly, he somehow finished second in the Heisman race.  Gordon is clearly one of the best players who never won the Heisman Trophy.

Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Photo Credit: NCAA

1. Deshaun Watson 

The brilliant player who is Watson may be proving he’s an amazing player with the Houston Texans, but we all knew from watching him play with the Clemson Tigers. Watson played for Clemson from 2014 to 2016, however, he started all of 2015 & 2016. In 2015, he put up solid numbers with 4,109 passing yards and 35 TDs with 1,105 rushing yards and 12 TDs.

Photo Credit: Chicago Sun Times

In 2016, he’d pass for 4,593 yards and 41 TDs with 629 rushing yards and nine TDs. For his 2015 campaign, he’d win the ACC Player of the Year & Offensive Player of the Year as well as be named a Consensus All-American. For both seasons, he was named the ACC Athlete of the Year and won both the Davey O’Brien & Manning Awards twice. In 2016, he and the Tigers won in the College Football Playoff National Championship in heart-stopping fashion against the Alabama Crimson Tide as well.