We kick off the out-of-control 1990s on this second MNC Wednesday miniseries, evaluating Heisman Trophy history: In 34 seasons overall now, we have confirmed just 12 winners—demonstrating that a lot of the voting process really came down to hype and mediots voting blindly. This is a season that, like 1984 with the MNC, changed the way people voted going forward, for sure.
1990 Heisman Trophy winner: Ty Detmer, QB, BYU (original); Eric Bieniemy, RB, Colorado (revised)
For the second year in a row, voters gave the Heisman to a video-game quarterback playing a soft schedule: BYU Cougars star Ty Detmer. Against the No. 54 slate, Detmer threw for 41 touchdowns, 28 interceptions, and 5,188 yards. The INTs are brutal, and his QB rating (155.9) was almost 20 points lower than it had been the prior season. What were the voters thinking? They weren’t. With one of the worst defenses in the country behind him, Detmer was always in throw mode, and context matters.
Luckily, there are always other candidates to consider here. So, this is our final list of properly vetted Heisman candidates for the 1990 Heisman Trophy, which is mercifully short:
- Raghib Ismail, RB/KR/PR, Notre Dame: 1,723 all-purpose yards with 6 TDs (No. 1 SOS)
- Eric Bieniemy, RB, Colorado: 1,802 total yards with 17 TDs (No. 2 SOS)
- Shawn Moore, QB, Virginia: 2,568 total yards with 29 TDs and 8 INTs (No. 35 SOS)
Moore led the country in QB rating (160.7), but the Cavs were an also-ran team in the ACC, going just 8-3 in the regular season. He is still a better candidate than Detmer, though, whose BYU team posted just a 10-2 record in the WAC while losing to Hawaii by 31 points! Either way, this comes down to Ismail and Bieniemy, and it’s clear who had the “better” season.
Ismail had 3 returns TDs in 1989, and just 5 scores overall, so we’re not quite sure why the voters felt the need to place him so high on the ballot this time around (second-place finish). He was a mediocre receiver who was better as a running back than anything else—but he only had 67 carries in 1990. For a guy who needed the ball in open space, getting just 99 touches from scrimmage for the season was a blunder on behalf of the coaching staff at Notre Dame.
Bieniemy did the dirty work for the Buffs, much like Darian Hagan had done the prior season. He did it against a tough schedule; he gained a lot of yards; he scored a lot of TDs. Sure, he was no Barry Sanders, but no one ever has been. But Colorado won its conference and got an Orange Bowl bid—which led to the split MNC in the eyes of the voters. He’s our winner here.
Congratulations to Eric Bieniemy, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1990.