This year’s Heisman Trophy voting will likely be close. In fact, even though Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson are each a deserving finalist, a case could have been made to invite another player or two to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City for the announcement.
In some years, one candidate simply stands out and wins by a landslide. Here are the five that won by the biggest margin (in terms of total points).
NOTE: Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner in 1974 and ’75 is the only player to win the award twice and each time he was clear of the runner-up by more than 1,100 votes.
5. Ricky Williams, Texas, 1998
The finalists that year were Williams and four quarterbacks –Kansas State’s Michael Bishop, UCLA’s Cade McNown, Kentucky’s Tim Couch and Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb. All had excellent seasons, but Williams rushed for 2,124 yards, averaging nearly six yards a carry, and racked up 28 touchdowns. At the time, it was the sixth-best rushing season in college football history. Most importantly, he broke Tony Dorsett’s 22-year-old career rushing record on a 60-yard touchdown run in an upset of Texas A&M on Thanksgiving weekend. Williams received 714 first-place votes and a total of 2,355 points, 1,563 more than runner-up Bishop.
4. Desmond Howard, Michigan, 1991
As his team was spanking Ohio State, Howard returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown and did the Heisman pose in the end zone. He would have looked like a first-rate boob if he had not actually won the stiff-armed trophy, but like a good politician, he knew he had the votes. Howard led the nation in touchdown receptions and finished with 23 total scores (19 receiving, 2 rushing, 1 kickoff return and 1 punt return). He received 640 first-place votes and a total of 2,077 points, which were 1,574 more than Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon, who came in second.
3. Charlie Ward, Florida State, 1993
Ward was ahead of his time in many ways. If he played in the NFL today, the dual-threat quarterback would likely be mentioned in the same breath as Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. In 1993, Ward’s options for pro football were limited and he chose to play point guard for 10 seasons in the NBA instead. However, in college football, he was sensational. Ward powered Florida State’s fast-break offense, which averaged 43 points a game, and led the team to the school’s first national title. He garnered 740 first-place votes for a total of 2,310 points. Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler finished a distant second, with just 10 first-place votes and 1,622 points behind Smith.
2. Troy Smith, Ohio State, 2006
Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll and held the top spot through the entire regular season. The Buckeyes won all but two of their regular season games by double digits and their final one was a 42-39 victory over No. 2 Michigan in one of the most hyped contests in college football history. Ohio State had many weapons, but the heart and soul of the team was its quarterback. Smith threw for 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions and led the Big Ten in passing efficiency. Smith dominated the voting, picking up 801 first-place votes and a total of 2,540 points. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden finished second with 45 first-place votes and 878 points. That’s a difference of 1,662 points or nearly double McFadden’s total.
1. O.J. Simpson, USC, 1968
Yes, the top spot on this list belongs to someone who doesn’t even own his trophy anymore. After finishing second to UCLA quarterback Gary Beban in 1967, Simpson had an even better season in 1968. He blistered defenses by rushing for 1,880 yards and 23 touchdowns as USC won the Pac-10 and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl. Simpson received 855 first-place votes and 2,853 total points, 1,750 more than the runner-up, Purdue halfback Leroy Keyes. To put it another way, Keyes and the other eight players that received votes that year had a total of 147 first-place votes combined.
In 1997, a civil court jury ruled ordered Simpson to pay $33.5 million in damages to the families of murder victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. His assets, including his Heisman trophy, were seized and auctioned. In 1999, Triad Metals International owner Tom Kreissman purchased the trophy for $230,000 and a 15 percent sales commission. It now sits in a safety deposit box in a Philadelphia bank.
— 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.