The Heisman Trophy is supposed to honor the greatest player in college football every year, but over the years that definition has slowly dissolved. Some year – many years, actually – it’s the Best Player on the Best Team Award. In other years, it’s about who had the most signature moment…the Heisman Moment.
That was never more apparent than last season, when Lamar Jackson all but ended the Heisman race before October. His hurdling touchdown run against Syracuse, coupled with several mind-bending touchdowns against Florida State a week later, virtually sealed the race as early as I can remember. It was enough to survive a November free-fall that saw Jackson lose two games – a humiliating loss to Houston on national TV and a loss to 27-point underdog Kentucky at home.
Those images of Jackson from early September were burned into our memory, though, and it was enough (along with an admittedly weaker field than usual) to carry him through and win the Heisman in 2016.
Because there’s still 10 days left before we can watch a real live college football game, I’m using today to count down the 10 best Heisman Moments of the last 20 years.
Also, be sure to subscribe to the CFB Country podcast. I had Bruce Feldman on Tuesday’s episode, and coming Friday I’ll have Chris Fallica, better known as The Bear on College Gameday, who’ll join me from Las Vegas for a gambling preview of the 2017 season. Subscribe here now.
#10 – Tim Tebow’s 7 touchdown night (2007)
If there was ever a quintessential Tebow game, this was it. With Percy Harvin sitting out, Tebow scored all seven of Florida’s touchdowns – five rushing, two passing. He threw for 304 yards and rushed for 120.
Tebow had more signature moments in his career, but none during the Heisman season. The speech vs Ole Miss in 2008 or the jump pass vs LSU in 2006 come to mind. When the legend of Tebow is told, those two come to mind well before this game.
Still, Tebow accounted for an obscene 55 touchdowns that season, and that South Carolina game perfectly mirrored how dominant he was during that season. Maybe the most dominant individual season in college football history.
#9 – Sam Bradford’s flip (2008)
Oklahoma was two games away from a national championship appearance – it’s third in nine years under Bob Stoops – and Bradford was in the midst of a season where he threw FIFTY touchdown passes.
But it was a run…well, two runs, actually … that became his Heisman moment. Towards the end of the third quarter on the road against 12th-ranked Oklahoma State, Bradford scrambled towards the end zone and launched his body towards the pylon. Four Cowboy defenders converged on him at the same time, sending him spiraling into the air and the football flying out of bounds.
One player later, on 4th and goal, Bradford fumbled the snap, but avoided disaster by scooping it up and diving across the goal line himself.
The Flip is the play that will go down in history as Bradford’s moment, but the touchdown helped lift Oklahoma to victory and ensure the Heisman was Bradford’s for good.
#8 – RGIII’s game-winner over Oklahoma (2011)
2011 was one of the weaker Heisman races in recent memory, but Robert Griffin III’s two-minute drive to erase Oklahoma’s national title hopes will go down as the most memorable moment of that season. After the Sooners erased a 14-point deficit in the 4th quarter, Griffin scrambled his way down the field, play after play, leading up to the final memorable touchdown pass to Terrence Williams.
It’s a shame that 2011 Baylor team didn’t have a single ounce of defensive talent, because RG III had the talent and moxie to carry a team to a national title.
#7 – Jameis Winston Hail Mary vs Boston College (2013)
There were several iconic moments from Winston’s freshman season. The lights-out debut against Pittsburgh on opening weekend comes to mind, but this Hail Mary against Boston College showcased so much of Winston’s skill set on one play. The strength to shake off a sack, moving around in the pocket, and then uncorking a freaking howitzer to Kenny Shaw, 60 yards with pinpoint accuracy. After that point, you started to wonder “what can’t Jameis Winston do?”
#6 – Eric Crouch’s throwback TD catch (2001)
Eric Crouch, man. The Great White Hope. Nevermind that Crouch and Nebraska got swept off the field by the closes thing college football has ever seen to an NFL team (Miami), but Crouch’s touchdown catch to help beat Oklahoma is one of the most memorable plays in college football history. The Sooners were 7-0 entering this game and the defending national champs.
My favorite part about this play might be that it started with a handoff to Thunder Collins, a first-ballot All-Name Hall-of-Famer.
#5 – Lamar Jackson hurdles over Syracuse (2016)
I wrestled between this and Jackson’s destruction a Florida State the week later, but to me, Jackson’s hurdle put him on the map and he never looked back. Jackson is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Michael Vick in the last 15 years, and Vick never had a play like that. It’s going to be impossible for Jackson to top last year’s highlight reel.
#4 – Reggie Bush breaks Fresno State’s ankles (2005)
For my money, Reggie Bush is the best college football player I have ever seen. He was untouchable. His run against Fresno State, where he made every single defender miss on the way to a 50-yard touchdown run was the most incredible play of his career. The most MEMORABLE play? No – that’s the Bush Push. But this play was the most eye-popping run of his life.
#3 – Cam Newton bulldozes LSU (2010)
We’ve never seen a player like Cam Newton in college football. Not before, not since. He was Tim Tebow, but faster. He was Michael Vick, but bigger. He ran through LSU like it was Louisiana-Monroe. Thank God there wasn’t a camera in the broadcast booth or else we’d have seen Verne Lundquist’s boner on national TV.
#2 – Ricky Williams breaks Dorsett’s record (1998)
Man…watching this video takes you back to a different era of college football. The era of the four-year workhorse running backs. We’ll never see anything like Ricky Williams again. No one will carry the ball 1,000 times in their career again – certainly not at a major school like Texas.
This play, this singular play, is college football nirvana. An all-time great player, on an all-time great play, with an all-time great call. Musburger at his best.
#1 – Johnny Manziel scrambles past Alabama (2012)
For more than a decade, Nick Saban has struck the fear of God into anyone who crosses his path. For one evening in Tuscaloosa, Johnny Manziel was his kryptonite. Johnny Football shimmied and shook his way through the Tide for one of the most thrilling upsets in years. There were a half-dozen plays from Manziel in this game that you could lop together into one, but there’s one single play that stands out above the rest.
The bobble. The scramble. The throw. This was the moment Johnny Football was born.