This current MNC Wednesday miniseries is analyzing Heisman Trophy history, and in 47 seasons overall so far, we have confirmed just 16 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.

2003 Heisman Trophy winner: Jason White, QB, Oklahoma (original); Chris Perry, RB, Michigan (revised)

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jason White won the vote, while leading his team to a 12-1 regular-season record. He compiled 3,846 passing yards with 41 total touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 158.1 QB rating. The rating was only the seventh-best mark in the country, as the Sooners faced the No. 32 schedule. In all probability, White earned his votes with Oklahoma’s 12-0 start, and voters either already voted before (or ignored?) the Sooners’ 35-7 loss in the Big XII title game where White was terrible.

So, as usual, there are always other candidates to consider, and this is our final list of firmly vetted Heisman candidates for the 2003 Heisman Trophy, which is a shockingly impressive list, overall:

  • Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh: 1,679 scrimmage yards and 22 TDs (No. 55 SOS)
  • Chris Perry, RB, Michigan: 2,041 scrimmage yards and 20 TDs (No. 34 SOS)
  • Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami-OH: 4,597 total yards with 40 TDs and 10 INTs for a 165.8 QB rating (No. 83 SOS)
  • Philip Rivers, QB, North Carolina State: 4,596 total yards with 37 TDs and 7 INTs for 170.5 QB rating (No. 21 SOS)
  • Matt Leinart, USC, QB: 3,815 passing yards with 29 TDs and 8 INTs for a 164.5 QB rating (No. 36 SOS)
  • Darren Sproles, RB, Kansas State: 2,735 total yards and 19 TDs (No. 53 SOS)

The Panthers finished one game out of the lead for the Big East championship, but the SOS for Fitzgerald is weak—even if he did carry his team to a near title. The Wolverines did win the B1G, so there’s that on Perry’s ledger, but his SOS is worse than White’s slate. Does the conference title make up for it? We will see. Big Ben was better than White, although against very poor competition—yet Roethlisberger also punted 12 times for a 37.8-yard average. That’s versatility on a team that went 13-1 overall.

Rivers led the nation in passing efficiency (although for some reason voters gave Mississippi QB Eli Manning and his 148.1 QB rating against the No. 47 SOS enough votes to finish third in this balloting—laughable!), but his team lost 5 times, and that is too much for a legitimate Heisman winner. Meanwhile, Leinart led the Trojans to the Pac-10 title with an 11-1 record, albeit against a common schedule. But he’s the best QB candidate here, so White and Big Ben are now out of consideration.

Sproles helped Kansas State win the Big XII with that win over Oklahoma, but the SOS slots him below Perry in the RB division, for sure. Plus, the Wildcats had three regular-season losses, compared to Michigan’s single defeat. So, it comes down to Leinart, Perry, and Fitzgerald—and Fitz is going to lose out due to the lack of a league title and the significantly lower SOS. It’s ironic that USC and Michigan played each other in the Rose Bowl, too, which is irrelevant to this debate.

So, onto the the teammates: Both players were on rosters with a lot of talent, but overall, we think the Trojans had more talent (Mike Williams, Keary Colbert, Reggie Bush, and Lendale White) than the Wolverines did (John Navarre at QB? Ouch!). The only real decent teammate Perry had was WR Braylon Edwards. Thus, we give this Heisman nod, surprisingly, to Perry. We had the honor of seeing him carry the ball 51 times in a game on November 1, 2003, as well, which emblematically proves our point.

Congratulations to Chris Perry, the real Heisman Trophy winner for 2003.