This second MNC Wednesday miniseries evaluates only Heisman Trophy history: In 42 seasons overall, we have confirmed just 14 winners—demonstrating that the voting process really came down to hype and shallow-thought voting. This .333 batting average for the voters when facing hindsight analysis is not a good reflection on the sports media throughout the latter twentieth century—not at all.

1998 Heisman Trophy winner: Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (original, confirmed)

Against a Top 10 schedule, Texas Longhorns running back Ricky Williams posted incredible stats: 2,386 total yards with 28 TDs. His team improved 4 wins from the prior year’s losing season and earned a Cotton Bowl bid, which is as good as it gets in the South for a team that didn’t win its conference championship. The Longhorns’ only Big XII losses came against the teams that played in the title tilt.

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 1998 Heisman Trophy, which is all quarterbacks:

  • Michael Bishop, QB, Kansas State: 3,592 total yards with 37 TDs and 5 INTs (No. 41 SOS)
  • Cade McNown, QB, UCLA: 3,674 total yards with 28 TDs and 11 INTs (No. 7 SOS)
  • Donovan McNabb, QB, Syracuse: 2,582 total yards with 30 TDs and 5 INTs (No. 36 SOS)
  • Joe Germaine, QB, Ohio State: 3,330 passing yards with 25 TDs and 7 INTs (No. 21 SOS)
  • Shaun King, QB, Tulane: 4,157 total yards with 49 TDs and 6 INTs (No. 93 SOS)

Williams won the vote in a landslide, although it was also somewhat of a lifetime achievement award for him, too, as he set the all-time rushing yardage record (7,206). Meanwhile, Bishop led his team to a 12-0 regular season and a berth in the Big XII title game, albeit against a much weaker schedule. McNown took the Bruins to the brink of an undefeated season and got UCLA to the Rose Bowl, so there’s that.

McNabb led Syracuse to the Big East title and an Orange Bowl berth, but his SOS can’t match McNown’s mark. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes didn’t win the Big Ten, despite getting a Sugar Bowl invite off a 1-loss regular season. And again, the SOS here can’t compete in the QB category. We included King for his then-record 178.7 QB rating and perfect season with the Green Wave, but obviously, the SOS is very bad.

So, it’s McNown against Williams: The issue with McNown is simple as he threw “too many” INTs and dropped his QB rating down the charts. But the SOS stands out for sure, as does his team’s run through the Pac-10 undefeated on the way to the Rose Bowl. Yet Williams has more impressive stats against a comparable SOS. Looking at the two teams’ rosters also tells us a lot.

The Bruins had two skill position players who combined for 2,150 scrimmage yards and 21 TDs, while the Longhorns had a freshman quarterback who also threw 11 INTs—and managed just 18 total TDs. Williams was carrying more of a load than McNown was, even though the UCLA QB got better traction with his teammates as a whole. Dilemma! In the end, the overwhelming stats/SOS combo wins out. Williams, it is!

Congratulations to Ricky Williams, the legitimate Heisman Trophy winner from 1998.