Our second miniseries on major college football history for MNC Wednesdays rolls onward and upward, as we go back and look at Heisman Trophy winners from the past—and whether or not they truly deserved the award. We have confirmed just one winner in the five seasons of study so far, so that tells you a lot about … well, many things.
By the way, here is our mythical national championship analysis from this season, too, for context.
1961 Heisman Trophy winner: Ernie Davis, RB, Syracuse (original); Pat Trammell, QB, Alabama (revised)
College football as a sport finally matured as it awarded the Heisman to its first African-American recipient, Syracuse running back Ernie Davis. We have never been afraid to be honest, as proven elsewhere, so we won’t let that element interfere with our analysis. That being said, Davis posted 980 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns for a 7-3 Syracuse team that went on to win the Liberty Bowl.
We obviously have to have some context for this: Syracuse played a middling schedule, losing to Maryland (7-3) and Notre Dame (5-5) on the road by a combined 3 points, while dropping a 14-0 decision at Penn State (8-3) as well. For a team that began the season ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll, these were disappointing results, for sure.
Also, Davis was basically better as a junior, too, statistically, so there’s that. But we have to look at who else is worth considering. Here’s our list of vetted Heisman candidates:
- Bob Ferguson, RB, Ohio State: 938 scrimmage yards and 11 total TDs
- Jimmy Saxton, RB, Texas: 969 scrimmage yards and 10 total TDs
- Pat Trammell, QB, Alabama: 1,314 total yards with 17 total TDs and 2 INTs
This is stiff competition, in truth, as the Buckeyes went 8-0-1 to finish No. 2 in the AP poll against a much-better schedule than Syracuse faced. The Longhorns went 9-1, albeit against a weaker schedule than Ohio State’s slate. Finally, the Crimson Tide went 10-0 against roughly the same quality of schedule as Texas, really.
So, that’s the reality: Trammell’s numbers look pretty impressive, although Ferguson’s stats came against a tougher schedule. Alabama finished No. 1 in the AP poll, which also sells well with voters. The issue to us is that all three RBs—Davis, Ferguson, and Saxton—look the same, really, with Davis actually trailing the others based on SOS and relative team success.
In the end, we really do think Trammell deserved this award more than Davis, even though he finished just fifth in the voting at the time. It’s hard to do this, considering the life Davis didn’t get to experience after college, but we have to be honest and transparent, too, even when it hurts.
Congratulations to Pat Trammell, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1961.