An incredible decade of Heisman excellence comes to a close this year and while we don’t yet know who will win the 2019 trophy, he will join an extraordinary cast of college football greats.
In a sports decade defined by the explosion of social media and the empowerment of athletes to tell their own stories, the Heisman winners from 2010-2018 represented some of the biggest sports narratives of the past 10 years.
As a body, the Heisman winners – eight quarterbacks and one running back – represented a collective offensive juggernaut. As college football evolves, so do the skillsets of the award winners, particularly at quarterback. Virtually every signal-caller on the list dominated games as much with their feet as they did with their arms.
Let’s take a look…
Cam Newton enrolled at Auburn in 2010 with all of 12 career Division I pass attempts during two years at Florida in 2007 and 2008. But after a 2009 transfer to Blinn Junior College where he led it to a J.C. national title, Newton was reading to take another crack at the NCAA.
And did he ever succeed. The Tigers starter from day 1, Newton became an instant force in college football, leading Auburn to a perfect season. He threw for 2,589 yards and 28 TDs while rushing for another 1,409 yards and 20 scores, leading Auburn to an SEC title.
In one notable three-game stretch against Kentucky, No. 12 Arkansas and No. 8 LSU, Newton rushed for 603 yards and nine TDs. In a win over No. 10 Alabama, he threw for 216 yards and three TDs.
The 2010 AP Player of the Year, he won Auburn’s third Heisman Trophy in a landslide and then led the Tigers to victory in the BCS title game over Oregon.
Unlike Newton, Robert Griffin III entered his 2011 redshirt junior year with two full seasons under his belt, including a 3,501-yard, 22-TD sophomore campaign.
But those totals, fantastic by any measure, paled in comparison to his 2011, when he threw for 3,998 yards and 36 TDs to go with 644 rushing yards and nine more scores, leading Baylor to a top 15 ranking, its best in a quarter of a century.
During a string of five mid-season games, Griffin threw for over 400 yards four times, including a 479-yard, four-TD masterpiece against Oklahoma. He finished the year with a passing efficiency of 192.31, best in Heisman history at the time.
For decades, the Heisman was an award only won by seniors and occasionally juniors. By the late 1980s, juniors began to win with regularity. Between 2007-09, the first sophomores won the award.
But not until Johnny Manziel did a freshman, albeit a redshirt, capture the coveted honor. That came in 2012, when the Tyler, Texas, native became a sensation at Texas A&M.
After a 2-1 start, Manziel burst onto the national landscape with a 453-yard-passing, 104-yard-rushing, four-TD effort in game 4 against Arkansas. On Nov. 10, he led the Aggies to an upset over No. 1 Alabama with 345 total yards. He finished the regular season with 3,419 yards passing with 24 TDs and another 1,181 yards rushing with 19 more scores.
A year later, Manziel’s numbers were arguably better, but he finished fifth behind another redshirt freshman who captured the fancy of the NCAA, Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
Winston, like Manziel, won the Seminole QB job in his second year in school and took off, opening his career with a 356-yard, four-TD performance at Pittsburgh. He followed back-to-back 300-yard games against Boston College and Maryland (with nine TD passes) with a 444-yard, three-TD showing in a 51-14 blowout of No. 8 Clemson.
Winston kept the Seminoles unbeaten in 2013, finishing the regular season with 3,820 yards and 38 TDs en route to a Florida State ACC title.
After becoming the second freshman to win the Heisman, Winston led the Seminoles to the BCS championship with a win over Auburn and finished the season with over 4,000 yards passing and 40 TDs.
The Heisman Trophy made its way to the Pacific Northwest in 2014 and with it generated a host of firsts. Marcus Mariota became the first Oregon Duck to win the award as well as the first Hawaiian-born player and the first Polynesian player to hoist the trophy.
Mariota was no sleeper pick. Smack in the middle the Ducks strong start to the decade, Mariota earned All-Pac-12 first team honors as a redshirt freshman (2012) and sophomore (2013), leading Oregon to a combined record of 23-3.
As a junior, Mariota was spectacular, throwing for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Fleet of foot, he also gained 669 yards on the ground with 14 more scores and even caught one pass for a TD. His 53 TDs, in fact, tied Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford for the most total touchdowns in Heisman history.
He led the nation in TDs, passing efficiency (186.33) and total offense (4,452) and won the Heisman with the third-highest vote total in the award’s history. Mariota helped lead Oregon to a CFP semifinal win over Winston and FSU before falling in the title game to Ohio State.
It took until 2015 to see the decade’s lone Heisman winner who lined up at running back. That was Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who turned in a dominant junior campaign to join fellow Crimson Tide back Mark Ingram as Tuscaloosa Heisman winners.
Henry averaged over 10 yards a carry in limited snaps as a 2013 true freshman, but still gained almost 400 yards. He totaled nearly 1,000 yards to go with 11 TDs as a 2014 sophomore while splitting time.
But as a junior, the starting job was his and he ran with it – and never stopped. Henry set the SEC single-season rushing record with 1,986 yards on 339 carries (both nation-leading numbers) and tied the conference mark with 23 TDs. He joined fellow Heisman winners Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson as the only SEC players with four 200-yard games in a single season.
His play was just good enough to edge fellow star running back Christian McCaffrey of Stanford in a close Heisman race. A month later, Henry gained 158 yards and scored three TDs in Alabama’s national-title-winning game against Clemson.
The 2016 Heisman Trophy was given to another quarterback, but you would be excused if you thought it went to another runner. That’s how effective Louisville sophomore Lamar Jackson was regardless of whether he was in the pocket throwing or leaving the pocket to run.
The Florida native became a Cardinal starting QB as a 2015 freshman and threw for nearly 2,000 yards while rushing for almost 1,000. He would crush those numbers as a sophomore.
Jackson opened with eight total TDs against Charlotte and took off from there. He threw for 411 yards and rushed for 199 in a week 2 win at Syracuse, went for a combined 362 passing and rushing yards in a win over Florida State and then passed for 295 yards and ran for 162 in a six-point loss to No. 1 Clemson.
Jackson kept churning throughout the fall and the one-man show finished with 3,390 yards passing and 30 TDs to go with an eye-popping 1,538 yards rushing and 21 more TDs. His 4,928 yards of total offense were second in Heisman history behind only Ty Detmer’s 1990 total of 5,022.
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was a well-known commodity by the time his 2017 senior year rolled around. He had been a true freshman walk-on at Texas Tech when he won the starting QB job. Mayfield then transferred to Oklahoma and, after sitting out a year, won the Sooner QB job and promptly starting putting up massive numbers.
As a 2015 redshirt sophomore, he passed for 3,700 yards and 37 TDs and finished fourth in that year’s Heisman race. In 2016, he set the NCAA passing efficiency record at 196.38 while passing for 3,965 yards and 40 TDs. He earned a trip to New York, but finished third behind Jackson and DeShaun Watson.
As a 2017 senior, however, he outdid himself, passing for 4,340 yards and 41 TDs against just five interceptions (while rushing for 310 yards), leading Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff.
Mayfield threw for 598 yards and five TDs at rival Oklahoma State and for over 300 yards seven other times. He broke his own passing efficiency record with a new mark of 203.76 and ran away with the Heisman race in his fifth top 5 finish in New York. Jackson was third.
A year later, Oklahoma did it again, as redshirt junior QB Kyler Murray won the Sooners’ second straight Heisman Trophy. Like Mayfield, Murray had transferred to Oklahoma from a Texas school, this time from Texas A&M.
He sat out 2016 and backed up Mayfield in 2017 before taking over as starter in 2018 and the Sooners didn’t miss a beat.
Murray passed for over 300 yards nine times, including a season-best 432-yard, six-TD performance against Baylor and a 364-yard, three-TD game at West Virginia in which he also ran for a season-high 114 yards.
He then led Oklahoma to a win over Texas in the Big 12 title game with 379 yards passing and three more scores, avenging the Sooners’ only loss of the season.
Murray finished with 4,054 yards passing and 40 TDs with another 892 rushing yards and 11 more scores, leading Oklahoma to another CFP berth. His passer rating of 205.72 was the best in Heisman history, eclipsing Mayfield’s 2017 record.
Murray became the fourth Heisman winner of the decade to go first in the 2019 NFL draft, joining Mayfield (2018), Winston (2015) and Newton (2011) while Mariota (2015) and Griffin III (2012) were the No. 2 overall picks.
Manziel went 22nd overall in 2014, Jackson went 32nd in the 2018 draft, and Henry was taken 45th overall in the 2016 draft.