This current MNC Wednesday miniseries is analyzing Heisman Trophy history, and in 46 seasons overall so far, we have confirmed just 15 winners—clarifying that the voting process really came down to a lot of hype and bandwagon voting. It is sad to think about how sports history could be different if the voters had been able to apply any objective, critical-thinking skills to their decision-making processes. So, here we go again … on with our Heisman show, which is better than the real Hypesman, of course.

2002 Heisman Trophy winner: Carson Palmer, QB, USC (original, confirmed)

For the first time in more than 20 years, the USC Trojans had a Heisman vote winner: quarterback Carson Palmer (3,942 passing yards with 37 total touchdowns and 10 interceptions). The Trojans played the hardest schedule in the country, too, earning an Orange Bowl bid. His 149.1 QB rating was underwhelming, but that mark was the fifth-best one in the nation. The raw numbers are still impressive, though, especially when considering that No. 1 SOS.

As usual, there are always other candidates to consider, and this is our final list of properly vetted Heisman candidates for the 2002 Heisman Trophy, which is full of quality talent:

  • Brad Banks, QB, Iowa: 2,996 total yards with 31 total TDs and 5 INTs for a 157.1 rating (No. 41 SOS)
  • Quentin Griffin, RB, Oklahoma: 2,148 scrimmage yards and 18 TDs (No. 17 SOS)
  • Willis McGahee, RB, Miami-FL: 2,108 scrimmage yards and 28 TDs (No. 37 SOS)
  • Larry Johnson, RB, Penn State: 2,436 scrimmage yards and 23 TDs (No. 23 SOS)

Banks led his team to a shared B1G title, but the SOS drops him below Palmer, for sure. Griffin helped the Sooners to earn a random Rose Bowl bid, and the SOS is pretty great, all things considered. The Hurricanes reached the BCS Championship Game again, thanks to McGahee’s efforts, but the SOS isn’t very strong in comparison to Griffin. Penn State had an also-ran finish in the B1G, but Johnson’s season is equitable to Griffin’s season, although we’d give Griffin the edge for the overall team finish.

In the end, none of these players faced the level of competition that Palmer did, and his ability to get his team to the Orange Bowl in spite of the tough schedule speaks volumes. Banks may have had the superior season, but it’s because of the 40 slots down the chart for the SOS. Johnson’s season was stunning, but his team’s close losses in conference play ended up hurting his overall profile. Thus, we confirm Palmer’s vote win, despite the impressive list of contenders.

Congratulations to Carson Palmer, the legitimate Heisman Trophy winner for 2002.