It’s hard to follow up on a Heisman season. Often, players that return after winning the award digress in some way, leading to what some have dubbed a “Heisman Hangover.” Some get hurt, and some just get overtaken by new stars.
Last year, the world was introduced to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, and the sophomore from Boynton Beach, Fla. lit our eyes on fire. He took home the award after setting ACC record for rushing yards by a quarterback and touchdowns responsible for in a season.
In 2017, Jackson returns.
It’s not easy to repeat. Just ask Archie Griffin, the Ohio State running back who’s the only player to have done it, in 1974 and 1975. Before Griffin, the award was typically awarded to just seniors. But we’ve seen more underclassmen win recently, giving them an opportunity to come back and win it again.
Of the seven players in the last 20 years who’ve had chances to repeat, three finished in the top three in voting the next year. Nobody’s come all that close to repeating since 2008.
2003 QB Jason White, Oklahoma: White led the nation in passing efficiency and threw for 3,744 yards and 40 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. The Sooners made it to the BCS Championship, but lost to Nick Saban’s LSU.
White led the Sooners to another national championship game, but his numbers went down along the way. He did take home the Davey O’Brien Award and the Johnny Unitas Award, but finished third in Heisman voting, behind his teammate, running back Adrian Peterson, who missed first place by 328 votes. OU lost in the title game to the Trojans’ Heisman-winning quarterback, Matt Leinart, 55-19.
Leinart and White had similar numbers, but voters were looking for someone new. The USC quarterback was just that, and he had slightly better numbers. If a fresh face lights things up as Jackson did last year, the award will most likely go to the newer player.
2004 QB Matt Leinart, USC: He threw for 2,990 yards and 28 touchdowns. He was seventh nationally in passing efficiency and 25th in total offense.
Leinart’s decision to return was a surprise, but he did have eight starters back. Although he put up more passing yards per game in 2005 (294), his performance was overshadowed by his teammate, running back Reggie Bush. Bush took home the Heisman after rushing for 1,658 yards and 15 touchdowns with Leinart finishing third.
Jackson probably won’t have to worry about being overshadowed by a teammate, at least.
2007 QB Tim Tebow, Florida: Tebow became the first sophomore to win, after throwing for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushing for another 23. He was the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in a season.
During Tebow’s junior season, he threw for 2,515 yards and scored 40 total TDs, a slight dip numerically. The Gators did win the national championship, defeating Heisman-winner Sam Bradford and the Oklahoma Sooners.
The takeaway: don’t let your numbers go down, though if it means a title, it’s worth the trade.
2008 QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma: During his junior season, he led the highest-scoring offense in NCAA history, while throwing for 4,464 yards with 48 touchdowns.
After he came back as a senior in 2009, injuries ruined his chances at a repeat. He battled a shoulder injury, played in three games, re-aggravated it in Week 6, and had season-ending surgery.
2009 RB Mark Ingram, Alabama: Ingram won the Tide’s first-ever award, rushing for 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns. He won in the closest vote in the award's 75-year history, beating out Stanford’s Tony Gerhart by just 28 total votes. The Tide then won a national championship by beating Texas.
Like Bradford, Ingram dealt with injuries during his senior season, when he rushed for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns.
2012 QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was the nation’s fifth 3,000 passer/1,000 rusher. The Aggies went 11-2 and upset top-ranked Alabama.
Manziel’s next season began with his autograph controversy. As “punishment,” the NCAA suspended him for the first half of A&M’s opener. On the year, his numbers were better passing-wise, with 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns, but he ran less.
Manziel showed Jackson won’t win again if his team fades, if he gets into off-field trouble, or if he’s generally less exciting.
2013 QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: The redshirt freshman broke the ACC single-season and FBS freshman passing touchdown records.
Off the field, he was accused of sexual assault, stemming from an alleged 2012 incident that was made public in 2013. In December, Winston was cleared criminally.
In 2014, Winston saw a lot more pressure from opposing defenses, and he threw for 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His offense also had to compensate for losses on defense, and he was suspended a game for an obscenity he shouted on-campus.
Voters weren’t exactly excited about the idea of voting for Winston again, and his turnovers total compared to overwhelming winner Marcus Mariota meant Winston wasn’t really in the running.
Could Jackson be a finalist again?
In the Citrus Bowl against LSU, Jackson’s first game after winning, he scored no touchdowns and threw for just 153 yards and had 33 yards rushing.
Given how past returning winners have played, the odds are against him (he ranks behind USC’s Sam Darnold and others, depending on where you look), and he’s got a ton of big-name competition at QB alone.
But there are some reasons to be optimistic. Jackson doesn’t have any scandals. The Cardinals return most of their offense but are rebuilding on defense, which could either mean shootout wins or more losses.
Keeping his numbers up where they were last year (which is easier said than done) and staying healthy and out of trouble could be a recipe for another trip to New York, though he’d also have to hope a fresh name like Darnold or Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield didn’t match his performance.