Our second MNC Wednesday miniseries evaluates only Heisman Trophy history: In 41 seasons overall, we have confirmed just 14 winners—demonstrating that the voting process really came down to hype and shallow-thought voting. We have drama this time out as the voted winner should have been disqualified for accepting illegal benefits before and during the season. Facts matter.

1997 Heisman Trophy winner: Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan (original); Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee (revised)

Probably one of the worst examples of the “Hypesman” syndrome ever, Michigan Wolverines defensive back Charles Woodson won the Heisman vote while playing for the B1G champions against the No. 32 schedule in the nation. We stripped Michigan of its share of the mythical national title already because of the SOS weakness, but what about Woodson’s actual statistics? 7 interceptions, 564 yards, and 4 TDs.

Those yards include everything: rushing, receiving, passing, INT returns, and punt returns. Yeah, he did a little bit of everything, but the SOS was merely “good”—and there is the eligibility issue, which clearly shows he accept a paid trip to an agent’s office before the season began. This casts a dubious light on his efforts, as this was the player doing this—not his parents behind his back (allegedly).

But, of course, there are always other candidates to consider. As a result, this is our final list of properly vetted Heisman candidates for the 1997 Heisman Trophy, which is quite interesting, historically:

  • Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee: 3,819 passing yards with 39 total TDs and 11 INTs (No. 1 SOS)
  • Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State: 3,968 passing yards with 40 total TDs and 11 INTs (No. 29 SOS)
  • Randy Moss, WR, Marshall: 2,365 total yards with 26 TDs (No. 101 SOS)
  • Cade McNown, QB, UCLA: 3,142 total yards with 28 total TDs and 6 INTs (No. 14 SOS)

We included Moss here, since his only college season was pretty impressive, even against lesser competition. But in the end, we know he cannot win the award with that kind of SOS. McNown (166.0) and Leaf (158.7) led the nation in QB rating, although they did it against lesser opponents than Manning did his damage against. Either way, McNown has the edge on Leaf, based on QB efficiency and SOS.

Woodson’s schedule was even weaker than Leaf’s, and we won’t consider him for this award due to his dubious actions stated above. The Bruins started 0-2 and then ran the table to finish 9-2 in the regular season, one game behind WSU in the Pac-10 race, so McNown has a decent claim here. The Vols finished 10-1 in the regular season, winning the SEC, against the top schedule in the nation.

Manning finished second in the Heisman vote, probably because of the one loss to Florida. But it’s hard to overlook the numbers he put up even so. McNown was most efficient, but Manning was more productive—and his efficiency was good enough against the No. 1 schedule in the country.

There’s something to be said for the extra loss UCLA picked up against a lesser schedule, not to mention the Bruins’ lack of a conference title here. So, we will right a serious wrong and give this trophy to Manning, as should have been the case back in 1997.

Congratulations to Peyton Manning, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1997.