We march back to 1981 on MNC Wednesday this week, to continue assessing Heisman Trophy history: In 25 seasons (as we started in 1956 when statistics were somewhat readily available), we have confirmed just 7 winners—demonstrating that a lot of the voting process really came down to hype and not much common sense or objective analysis. Hence, the “Hypesman” moniker … you betcha.

By the way, here is our MNC analysis from this season, too, for context.

1981 Heisman Trophy winner: Marcus Allen, RB, USC (original, confirmed)

The No. 8 USC Trojans went 9-2 and earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 7 Penn State, mostly on the legs of running back Marcus Allen (2,683 total yards and 23 TDs)—our choice for the Heisman last year and the voter’s choice for the Heisman this year. The Trojans played the No. 31-ranked schedule, which is not super, but it is decent enough. Those stats were something else, too!

Obviously, there are always other candidates to consider here. This is our final list of fully vetted Heisman candidates for the 1981 Heisman Trophy, which includes some studs:

  • Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia: 1,975 total yards with 20 TDs and 1 INT (No. 29 SOS)
  • Jim McMahon, QB, BYU: 3,555 passing yards with 30 TDs and 7 INTs (No. 86 SOS)
  • Dan Marino, QB, Pittsburgh: 2,876 passing yards with 39 total TDs and 23 INTs (No. 14 SOS)
  • Art Schlichter, QB, Ohio State: 2,551 passing yards with 23 total TDs and 10 INTs (No. 59 SOS)

Walker didn’t do more with his season than Allen did, so it’s on to the quarterbacks. McMahon is out with that weak SOS, and Marino—despite the high number of turnovers—is the best of the bunch for posting those stats against a tough schedule. He was third in the nation for QB efficiency, posting a 143.1 rating. However, it’s hard to ignore Allen’s cumulative stats, as Marino’s numbers are just “good” … not great.

One thing that shocks us is the usage factor: Allen had 467 touches, and the rest of the Trojans skill-position players had just 265 total touches. USC QBs completed just 102 passes all season long, and the next-best skill player on the Trojans roster managed just 543 scrimmage yards. Basically, the defense knew Allen was going to see the ball on most plays, and he still piled up all those yards.

Usage against a good-enough schedule and success enough to get to the Fiesta Bowl: That’s the ticket. This is the fourth-straight season we’ve given the Heisman to a USC running back, and usage is often the factor, combined with success and SOS. It is what it is: Tailback U. Overall, four different Trojans RBs have won two Heismans from us, while a fifth RB won another.

Yet we also took away a Heisman from one USC player as well (Mike Garrett). So, we see things clearly, fairly, and honestly—both ways. But historically speaking, it’s quite impressive what Trojans RBs were able to do through the decades, usually thanks to a dominant offensive line, too. We cannot forget that reality, even if we have little ability to measure it in the past. But we digress …

Congratulations to Marcus Allen, the legitimate Heisman Trophy winner from 1981.