We continue with our new miniseries on major college football history for MNC Wednesdays, as we go back and look at Heisman Trophy winners from the past—and whether or not they truly deserved the award. We started in 1956, as that was the most distant season where we have something resembling full statistics for offensive players.
By the way, here is our mythical national championship analysis from this season, too, for context.
1959 Heisman Trophy winner: Billy Cannon, RB, LSU (original); Charlie Flowers, RB, Mississippi (revised)
With 759 scrimmage yards and 5 scrimmage TDs, LSU running back Billy Cannon won the Heisman vote, as his team went 9-1 in the regular season while not winning the SEC in the process. The Tigers then lost the Sugar Bowl, 21-0, to Ole Miss. He basically won the Heisman because of this punt return, even though it was his only return score of the season.
Talk about SEC hype! Even in the 1950s, it was lame. That looks more like a lot of bad tackling from the Rebels, in truth. But we digress. Who else can we consider for the award? Here’s our list of vetted candidates:
- Don Meredith, QB, SMU: 125.8 QB rating (second in the country), 13 total TDs, 10 INTs
- Tom Watkins, RB, Iowa State: 875 scrimmage yards, 7 scrimmage TDs
- Dwight Nichols, QB, Iowa State: 749 scrimmage yards, 17 total TDs, 5 INTs
- Chris Burford, WR, Stanford: 757 scrimmage yards, 6 scrimmage TDs
- Charlie Flowers, RB, Mississippi: 801 scrimmage yards, 11 scrimmage TDs
The Mustangs went 5-4-1, while the Cyclones posted a 7-3 mark. The Indians finished with a losing record; the Rebels ended up 10-1 with the bowl win over the Tigers, which should be irrelevant, since it happened after the vote occurred. But still, Flowers was clearly a better player than Cannon was—he just didn’t have the hype or reputation, really, as LSU had won the 1958 MNC from the Associated Press.
The two Cyclones players cancel each other; how did Iowa State only win 7 times in 10 games with those two guys going together? We feel Flowers outdid Cannon, and he finished only fifth in the Heisman voting, as he did not have the preseason buildup that Cannon may have—or the “Heisman moment” of the punt return. But raw stats tell us he may have been the better player this season.
Consider that Cannon also threw two INTs on the year, which seals it for us: Flowers, an unanimous All-America selection, should have won this award instead. And people wonder why the trophy is sarcastically called the “Hypesman” by many sports analysts and experts—this is a classic example of why.
Congratulations to Charlie Flowers, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1959.