Ok, so the subheading is a little misleading. Colt Brennan should not have won the Heisman in 2006. But if Hawai’i was in a major football conference his 5,549 yards passing and 58 touchdowns would’ve looked more impressive for the FBS purists who would probably say he wouldn’t/couldn’t have put up those numbers in a BCS conference.
But I’m not going to sit here and let you run all over the Student-Athlete. I don’t care if a player went to Alabama or Alabama-Coushatta State Technical College. You can’t discount the hard work put into the athletic careers of college football players.
Usually for the small-schooled superstar the bigger prize is that multi-million dollar contract to play on Sundays. And much like me the pros don’t care where you went to school. Talent shines and scouts will find them.
For those talents the Heisman is the ultimate prize for the individualist in college football. Reserved usually for the sexier positions: Quarterback, Running Back, etc. and even more so for the fortunate who play in the P5. But is the player from the bigger school really the best choice to hoist the Heisman?
Below is my list of Group of 5 and Football Championship Subdivision players that deserved to win in their respective year.
*A quick note: No current G5 or FCS school has won the Heisman with the exception of winners from Chicago, Yale, SMU, Princeton and Houston. Those schools were in major conferences at the time of producing a winner despite being a current G5, FCS or D-III program.
Howard Twilley, 2nd in Voting: 1965
Playing for Tulsa when they were a part of the Missouri Valley Conference Howard Twilley put up some video game numbers in his career. His 1964 season saw him haul in 95 receptions to set the new NCAA record for catches in a season. In 1965 though the Houston native smashed nearly all the major single-season receiving records.
In an era where teams were running the wishbone and t-formation Twilley would snag a mind boggling 134 receptions for 1,779 yards and 16 touchdowns. The catch and yardage marks wouldn’t be broken until 1989 & 1995, respectively.
Running back Mike Garrett of USC would win ultimately win the award but the precedent set by the Twilley is undeniable.
Twilley would go on to be drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 12th round and would end playing in three Super Bowls and catching a touchdown in VII.
Marshall Faulk, 2nd in Voting, 1992
San Diego State
If you followed Marshall Faulk’s NFL career well he basically did the same thing in college.
A dual threat back he was originally scouted by many schools at cornerback due to him being a defensive standout in high school. Faulk loved playing running back and chose San Diego State, the first team to offer him a chance at that position.
Faulk would be on the Heisman ballot from 1991-1993 but had his best chance in 1992. Rushing for 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns he would be the runner-up to Miami’s Gino Torretta mainly due to the Hurricane’s 11-0 record. But Torretta was a glorified system quarterback and everybody knew it. This opinion of mine wasn’t isolated. Many felt the same way back then.
The three-time All-American’s 1993 campaign was way more productive but the 1992 Heisman should be on display at the Aztec’s athletic facility today.
A certified can’t miss prospect Faulk would go on to be the second overall pick in 1994, a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time Offensive Player of the year, a league MVP, a Super Bowl champion and a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Gordie Lockbaum, 3rd in Voting, 1987
In modern times nobody really plays more than one position. The “Iron Man” of yesteryear went the way of the Tasmanian Tiger, Ivy League contention and Myspace. But for a couple of years Gordie Lockbaum became the first two-way players since 1968.
Lockbaum played in the secondary his freshman and sophomore year before Crusader head coach Mark Duffner decided to use him on both sides of the ball.
The move paid off and in 1986 he rushed for 827 yards, had 860 yards receiving, scored 22 offensive touchdowns, had 46 tackles and also returned kickoffs. His efforts were rewarded with fifth place in that season’s Heisman voting.
1987 would be Lockbaum’s defining season. The Human Swiss Army Knife had 403 yards rushing and 1,152 yards receiving. Along with return yardage he would tally 2,041 total yards and 22 total touchdowns.
His school’s I-AA status prevented ol’ Gordie from winning. He finished third behind runner up Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson and winner Tim Brown from Notre Dame. McPherson put up descent numbers for an undefeated Syracuse squad and Brown only had seven combined touchdowns for an 8-4 Fighting Irish squad.
Lockbaum would be drafted in the ninth round by the Steelers in 1988 and toil on practice squads in the NFL and one season of arena football before retiring in 1994.
Steve McNair, 3rd in Voting, 1994
As was the case with Marshall Faulk the talented and athletic Steve McNair was heralded as a can’t miss NFL draft pick that was “relegated” to a small school. Most analysts projected McNair as being a top-five pick even after his junior year.
McNair thought about going pro after 1993 because of the help a big payday would be to his family. But he ultimately decided on returning to quarterback the Braves and it turned out to be one of the most successful seasons for any I-AA player.
Alcorn State would finish 9-3 and McNair himself would have some of the most impressive numbers in college football history: 5,377 yards passing and 904 rushing yards along with 56 touchdowns. And this only in 11 games (the postseason and bowl games did not count with stats at that time).
In his final collegiate game against Jim Tressel’s Youngstown State squad McNair, nursing a torn hamstring would throw 514 yards and three touchdowns in a 60-20 loss. He would’ve ended up with nearly 6,000 yards passing and 60 touchdowns, if the playoff game was counted.
In terms of Heisman voting the hype was real. A music video produced by the Alcorn Athletic department and a cover story on Sports Illustrated vaulted his Heisman stock.
Despite the accolades as an underdog McNair would finish third in the voting. Rashaan Salaam of Colorado would be the winner after rushing for over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Following the season McNair would be drafted third overall by the Houston Oilers and would be the Tennessee Titans franchise quarterback for the next 12 years. McNair would finish up his pro career after two seasons in Baltimore. Air McNair would rack up three Pro Bowls, an NFL MVP and a trip to Super Bowl XXXIV. After his retirement he would be the last active Houston Oiler playing in the NFL.
Bob Gaiters, wasn’t voted in 1960
New Mexico State
This one is kind of tricky but this guy deserves some respect.
At running back Gaiters was sandwiched between the Aggies’ first All-American Pervis Atkins and two-time NCAA rushing leader Preacher Pilot. All three led the nation in rushing at various times from 1959-1962. But Gaiters was the most impressive.
In 1960 the Aggie’s featured back rushed for 1,338 yards and 23 touchdowns all while leading the nation in all major rushing categories.
Despite leading New Mexico State to an 11-0 record and a Sun Bowl win against Utah State Joe Bellino, the running back from Navy would snag the award.
Bellino much like the aforementioned Gordie Lockbaum was an all-around athlete. He rushed for 834 yards, led the team in touchdown receptions, tossed a couple of touchdowns, ran back kicks and even punted.
Being from a storied Navy program would unfortunately overshadow any accomplishments a player from a smaller school.
Gaiters would go on to be drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Giants and was the first overall pick of the Broncos of the AFL in 1961.
He would go on to play until 1967 in the NFL, AFL, CFL and COFL with a career highlight being a 129 yard against the Dallas Cowboys in his rookie campaign.