Movin’ right along on MNC Wednesday, we are re-assessing Heisman Trophy history like good sports historians should: In 31 seasons, we have confirmed just 11 winners—demonstrating that a lot of the voting process really came down to hype and not much else. We have another fun, interesting season to take on today, so hang on for the (bumpy?) ride …
1987 Heisman Trophy winner: Tim Brown, WR, Notre Dame (original); Lorenzo White, RB, Michigan State (revised)
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish posted an 8-3 record against the No. 2 schedule in the country, and wide receiver Tim Brown won the Heisman vote despite catching just 39 passes all season. The Irish lost on the road twice as a Top 10 team, both times against unranked opponents. Brown totaled just 1,391 yards and 7 total touchdowns (3 receiving, 1 rushing, 3 on kick returns). We’re not super impressed, in truth.
There are always other candidates to consider here. So, this is our final list of fully vetted Heisman candidates for the 1987 Heisman Trophy, which is a big mix of great players this time out:
- Don McPherson, QB, Syracuse: 2,578 total yards with 28 total TDs and 11 INTs for a 164.3 QB rating (No. 58 SOS)
- Lorenzo White, RB, Michigan State: 1,687 total yards with 16 total TDs (No. 4 SOS)
- Craig Heyward, RB, Pittsburgh: 2,060 total yards with 14 total TDs (No. 49 SOS)
- Thurman Thomas, RB, Oklahoma State: 1,797 total yards with 17 total TDs (No. 61 SOS)
- Chuck Hartlieb, QB, Iowa: 2,855 passing yards with 20 total TDs and 8 INTs for a 161.4 QB rating (No. 51 SOS)
- Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA: 2,527 passing yards with 19 total TDs and 8 INTs for a 157.6 QB rating (No. 21 SOS)
- Blair Thomas, RB, Penn State: 1,772 total yards with 13 total TDs (No. 25 SOS)
- Ernie Jones, WR, Indiana: 1,807 total yards with 13 total TDs (No. 29 SOS)
First thing first: Was Brown even the best WR/KR in the country? Jones put up much better numbers for an 8-win Hoosiers team, and Brown had a much better offensive scheme to work within, too. We find this question the ultimate disqualification for Brown, if we’re not even sure if he was the best at his position. Either way, his scoring is underwhelming for a team that only won 8 games, too, so he’s out. Sorry, Irish.
Now, on to the RBs: It’s hard for any back to top White, who would have been a Heisman candidate in 1985 except for the fact his team was mediocre. This time out, the Spartans won the B1G to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since the mid-1960s. His yardage total against a Top-5 schedule puts up at the top of the pack, for sure, as the other backs all had easier pathways to their comparable stat totals.
As for the QBs, McPherson, Hartlieb, and Aikman finished 1-2-3 in QB efficiency. The Orangemen went undefeated against a middling schedule, while both the Hawkeyes and the Bruins won 9 games to finish high enough in their respective conferences. Aikman’s SOS puts him at the top of the bunch in our minds, as the other statistics are comparable, as we don’t think Syracuse goes 11-0 against a real SOS.
So, we’re now down to Aikman or White: The bottom lines to us are the schedule strength and the conference finishes. MSU won the B1G; UCLA did not win the Pac-10. The Spartans’ only losses were to Top 10 teams in September; after that, MSU closed the regular season on a 7-0-1 run that clinched the Rose Bowl berth for the Spartans, and White’s legs did a lot of talking there against a brutal schedule.
Congratulations to Lorenzo White, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1987.