Welcome to another week of offseason college football coverage, and that means it is MNC Wednesdays time! We’re looking retrospectively at Heisman Trophy winners—and whether or not they truly deserved the award. We have confirmed just 4 winners in the 15 seasons of analysis so far, and that tells us much about … well, many things. Each time out, we never know where it’s going, either. Fun!
By the way, here is the MNC analysis from this season, too, for context.
1971 Heisman Trophy winner: Pat Sullivan, QB, Auburn (original); Jerry Tagge, QB, Nebraska (revised)
Building off his stellar junior campaign, Auburn Tigers quarterback Pat Sullivan—2,330 total yards with 23 total TDs and 13 INTs—won the Heisman vote as he led his team to a 9-1 record, a conference title, and a Sugar Bowl berth … all against the 18th-toughest schedule in the country.
His QB efficiency dropped more than 20 points from his prior season, however, down to a middling 127.8 rating; Sullivan literally was worse in every statistical way. Will it end up mattering? We have seen a lot of votes based on someone’s prior season’s success, where the ballot casters just made up their minds in advance.
Plus, there are always other contenders to consider. Here’s our final list of fully vetted Heisman candidates:
- Ed Marinaro, RB, Cornell: 1,932 scrimmage yards and 24 TDs in just 9 games
- Jerry Tagge, QB, Nebraska: 2,508 total yards with 26 total TDs and 4 INTs for 149.2 QB rating
- Jack Mildren, QB, Oklahoma: 2,178 total yards with 30 total TDs and 2 INTs
- Lydell Mitchell, RB, Penn State: 1,721 scrimmage yards and 29 TDs
- Greg Pruitt, RB, Oklahoma: 1,868 scrimmage yards and 18 TDs
Marinaro finished a close second in the vote, but the issue here is that he played against the 11th-easiest schedule in the sport. It’s hard to take those statistics seriously under the circumstances, even if they are really impressive. Meanwhile, Tagge—who also was a top contender in 1970 for this award—put up some stunning numbers against a tougher schedule than Sullivan faced at Auburn as his team went 12-0.
Mildren’s marks are really impressive, but he only threw the ball 68 times, completing just 32 passes all season. That means he’s more of a running back, and the Sooners went 11-1 with the single loss being in the Game of the Century to the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma played an even better schedule than NU, too.
Like his counterpart at Cornell, Mitchell’s impressive season is downgraded due to a middling schedule strength, even though the Nittany Lions did post a 10-1 record to earn a Cotton Bowl berth. Meanwhile, did Pruitt benefit from Mildren? Or was it the other way around? Teammates tend to cancel each other out here, so it’s one of those unfortunate twists for both Sooners at this point. Plus, they did lose, too.
This comes down to Tagge and Sullivan, then, and Tagge (highest QB rating in the nation) was better against a better schedule. Another thing we do not like is that Auburn lost its season finale to Alabama by a whopping 24 points, and if that was the biggest stage for Sullivan, he choked big time—while Tagge never lost a game with the Cornhuskers, not even that Game of the Century against Mildren, Pruitt & Co.
Congratulations to Jerry Tagge, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1971.
Make sure to check back every Wednesday on the Daily McPlay for the next entry in our Heisman analysis!