Alabama's Mark Ingram won the Heisman in 2009 by just 28 points over runner-up Toby Gerhart from Stanford
It is all but a forgone conclusion that Baker Mayfield will be awarded the Heisman Trophy this Saturday. Even with his "suspension" (he missed two plays in the regular-season finale vs. West Virginia), Mayfield is still most sportswriters’ pick to win the Heisman
But predictions do not matter... votes do. On many occasions, the Heisman race can come down to a very small amount of them. In some years, the preseason front-runner has lost steam and in others, a dark horse has emerged late in the season.
Before we delve into this list, I wanted to note that first Heisman winner, University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger, won by 55 votes in 1935. However, I am not including him on this list because the voting pool was much smaller than it was in subsequent years. Now with that out of the way, here are the five closest Heisman Trophy races of all time.
5. Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska, 2001
The Cornhuskers had started the season 11-0, with Crouch guiding the team’s success. Crouch rushed for 1,115 yards and threw for 1,510. He also caught one pass, a dramatic 63-yard touchdown against Oklahoma. Then on Thanksgiving weekend, Nebraska gave up 62 points, the most ever by a Husker team at the time, in a loss to Colorado. That put Florida in line for the national title game and its quarterback, Rex Grossman, in the driver’s seat for the Heisman. The Gators were beat the next week in The Swamp by Tennessee, who blew its national championship hopes by losing to LSU in the SEC title game the following week. The decision on the Heisman and who would play Miami for all the marbles in the Rose Bowl came down to razor-thin margins. Nebraska got in by a mere .05 points in the BCS rankings over Colorado and Crouch beat Grossman by 62 points to garner the Heisman. In the Rose Bowl, the Hurricanes routed Nebraska 37-14.
4. Johnny Lattner, RB, Notre Dame, 1953
The two best players in 1953 were Lattner and Minnesota’s Paul Giel. Lattner finished the ‘53 season with 651 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, 14 receptions for 204 yards, two kickoffs returned for touchdowns and four interceptions. The versatile Giel rushed for 749 yards, threw for 590 and snagged five interceptions. He also averaged 34.8 yards punting. In the end though, Notre Dame was 9-0-1 and Minnesota was 4-4-1. Lattner beat Giel by 56 points with the Irish’s famed Four Horsemen backfield in attendance at the awards ceremony.
3. Ernie Davis, RB, Syracuse, 1961
The first African-American to ever win the Heisman Trophy, Davis averaged 5.5 yards per carry, rushed for 12 touchdowns and caught two more. Davis was the runaway choice in the East and finished third in the South, Midwest and West regions to beat Ohio State running back Bob Ferguson, who also was African-American and the best back on the undefeated Buckeyes, by 53 points. President John F. Kennedy, who had followed Davis’ career, met with him in New York when he received the award. Davis was drafted by the Washington Redskins and then traded to the Cleveland Browns, but his life was tragically cut short by leukemia in 1963 and he never played professional football.
2. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn, 1985
Going into the 1985 season, Auburn was the favorite to win the national title and Jackson was the top contender for the Heisman. Statistically, Jackson had a great year, rushing for 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns and averaging 6.4 yards a carry. However, injuries forced him out of eventual losses to Tennessee and Florida and the Tigers also fell to Alabama on a last-second field goal. Meanwhile, Iowa quarterback Chuck Long had led Iowa to the Big Ten title and a shot at the national championship. The Heisman voting came down to regions. Long won the Midwest, North and West, while Jackson won the South, Mid-Atlantic and Southwest and the Heisman by a mere 45 points.
1. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama, 2009
The 2009 regular season ended with six undefeated teams and no clear-cut Heisman front-runner. There was Stanford senior running back Toby Gerhart, who had rushed for 28 touchdowns, but the Cardinal missed its shot at the Pac-10 title by losing to California 34-28 in the last game of the season (despite 136 yards and four touchdowns from Gerhart). Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was another option, but he threw three interceptions and was sacked nine times in a narrow 13-12 win over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, a contest in which Husker lineman Ndumakong Suh emerged as finalist after sacking McCoy 4.5 times. The last major contender was Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who had a shot a winning his second Heisman, but he and the Gators were blown out 32-13 by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. From that chaos emerged Mark Ingram, who rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the big win over Florida. Ingram had been the rock in Alabama’s undefeated season, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. With no strong contenders and Alabama playing the best football, the Heisman talk immediately turned to Ingram. The following weekend, he edged Gerhart by just 28 points, and gave one of the most heartfelt acceptance speeches in the history of the award.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.