Notre Dame is tied with USC (counting Reggie Bush) and Ohio State for the all-time NCAA lead with seven Heisman Trophy winners. Army has three such awards and Navy has a pair of stiff-armed trophies.
That being said, only one of those 12 Heisman campaigns — Tim Brown in 1987 — took place after 1965. Needless to say, it has been a long drought for these three formerly esteemed programs. Manti Te’o nearly ended that trend last year with a remarkable senior season.
While Army, Navy and Notre Dame have been the preeminent Independent programs for nearly two decades in college football, Independent Heisman Trophies were much more common place than one might imagine. Miami’s Vinny Testaverde in 1986, Boston College’s Doug Flutie in 1984, South Carolina’s George Rogers in 1980 and Pitt’s Tony Dorsett in 1976 all won the great honor as an independent.
So who are the best Independent Heisman candidates in 2013?
1. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
A potential top-10 NFL draft pick next spring, Tuitt is one of the most physically impressive ends in the nation. The first-team All-American will spearhead one of the nation’s best defensive lines and plays a stat-heavy position, unlike teammate Louis Nix. Tuitt posted 47 total tackles, 12.0 sacks, 13.0 tackles for loss, forced three fumbles, blocked a kick and provided one of the most exciting highlights of last season with his 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Navy.
2. Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
The Cougars' outside defender is also penciled in as a first-round selection next May as he returns to lead one of the more underrated defenses in the nation. The do-everything linebacker posted an absurd 22.0 tackles for loss to go with 53 total tackles, 13.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and a pair of interceptions — one returned for a touchdowns.
3. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy
The young, hard-working freshman from Nashville, Tenn., took some time to earn his spot in the starting lineup. But when he finally broke through in Week 6 against Central Michigan, he blossomed into one of the more impressive first-year players in the nation. He finished with 898 yards passing and a 9:2 TD:INT ratio to go with his 649 yards rushing and 10 scores on the ground. More importantly, he led the Midshipmen to a 6-2 record. The Middies' sophomore signal-caller could explode onto the national scene in 2013.
4. Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
Wide receivers simply don’t get many Heisman votes but Hoffman is one of the nation’s top pass-catchers. He hauled in 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. He has to break in a new quarterback this time around, but new starter Taysom Hill (more on him in a second) has tons of ability and the system is a very statistically friendly one.
5. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
This sophomore from Pocatello, Id., is one of the most gifted athletes on the Cougars roster and he has fans excited about the future of BYU football. He missed the final seven games of the year but showed flashes of elite ability as just a freshman before getting hurt. He threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 336 yards and four more scores on the ground as Riley Nelson’s backup.
6. Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Elite All-American player who plays an unheralded position that doesn't pad stats.
7. George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame
Is the starter for now and has speed to burn. He will post big numbers if he gets 250 touches.
8. Raymond Maples, RB, Army
Could build on his 223-att., 1,215-yard, 2-TD season from a year ago if he can hold onto the ball.
9. Greg Bryant, RB, Notre Dame
The Irish's sleeper has elite ability and could easily take over the starting role.
10. Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Posted 74 receptions, 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore last year.
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