It’s the middle of the 1980s on MNC Wednesday today, as we continue re-evaluating Heisman Trophy history: In 29 seasons, we have confirmed just 10 winners—demonstrating that a lot of the voting process really came down to hype and not much common sense or objective analysis. They call it the “Hypesman” after all … so, it’s clear why, at this point, because the award was so often given wrongly.
By the way, here is our MNC analysis from this season, too, for context.
1985 Heisman Trophy winner: Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn (original); Jim Harbaugh, QB, Michigan (revised)
Despite the Tigers going just 3-3 in conference play, Auburn running back Bo Jackson won the Heisman vote by gaining 1,859 scrimmage yards and scoring 17 touchdowns against the No. 3 schedule in the country. That is a great season against a stellar slate of opponents, but the Tigers finished sixth in a 10-team league. That is almost disqualifying by itself.
Auburn lost by 18 points on the road to Tennessee, by 4 points at home to Florida, and by 2 points to Alabama in the Iron Bowl at Birmingham. Jackson ended up winning the vote by the closest margin ever at the time, which is something we will remember below in our analysis, as well.
By now, you know how this works; there are other candidates to consider here. This is our final list of fully vetted Heisman candidates for the 1985 Heisman Trophy, which is interesting, to say the least:
- Chuck Long, QB, Iowa: 2,978 passing yards for 27 total TDs with 15 INTs and a 153.0 rating (SOS No. 25)
- Jim Harbaugh, QB, Michigan: 2,115 total yards for 22 total TDs with 6 INTs and a 157.9 rating (SOS No. 2)
- Kerwin Bell, QB, Florida: 2,687 passing yards for 21 total TDs with 8 INTs and a 159.4 rating (SOS No. 5)
The Hawkeyes won the B1G and were ranked No. 1 for five weeks before finishing the regular season at No. 4 in the country and earning a Rose Bowl bid. The Wolverines finished second in the B1G (9-1-1 overall) and earned a Fiesta Bowl appearance. The Gators tied for the SEC lead, but they were on probation and ineligible for bowl season.
Bell topped the nation in QB efficiency, followed by Harbaugh and then Long. Jackson was almost 300 yards behind the nation’s leader in rushing (Michigan State’s Lorenzo White ran for over 2,000 yards). What is key to us here is both the probation issue—which all but DQs Bell here, since he benefitted from an “illegal” roster—and the SOS factors.
Jackson won the vote by 45 points over Long, but the Iowa SOS means, in truth, that Harbaugh was the better QB. That reduces our debate here to Jackson versus Harbaugh, surprisingly: Both finished second in the country in their respective statistical categories, and both played Top-3 schedules. Yet one lead his team to a 9-1-1 record, while the other could only manage an 8-3 record with his team.
We’re having a hard time overlooking those 3 losses when there is a comparable candidate from a significantly better team available. Michigan lost to Iowa on the road by 2 points and tied Illinois on the road, and those are “better” downsides than the ones listed above for Auburn. After all, where was Jackson when his team was losing by 18 points? Where was he in the Iron Bowl?
We realize Jackson had a bigger load to carry for the Tigers, but Harbaugh was a better player on a better team, running the show for an MNC contender. Jackson cannot say the same thing, and the gap between Jackson and the top rusher in the nation was bigger than the gap between Harbaugh and Bell. In almost every way, on paper, Harbaugh was the better player here. We are just as shocked as you.
Congratulations to Jim Harbaugh, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1985.