Which College Has Won the Most Heisman Trophies?

Eight players from the University of Southern California have won Heisman Trophies, making it the winningest program, but nearly 40 schools since 1935 have been home to the highest honor in college football.
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Data Summary

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    Eight players from the University of Southern California have won Heismans, making USC the winningest program.[1]
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    Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Oklahoma are tied in second. Each school has seven Heisman winners.Note Reference [1]
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    The majority of Heisman winners have been running backs and quarterbacks. Since 1935, 44 running backs and 36 quarterbacks have won the trophy.Note Reference [1]
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    Nearly 70% of Heisman winners have been senior players.Note Reference [1]
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    About 22% of the winners have been juniors.Note Reference [1]
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    The Big Ten member schools have won just over 20% of Heisman Trophies.Note Reference [1], [2]

In 1935, New York's Downtown Athletic Club (DAC), led by athletic director John Heisman, awarded the University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger with the first DAC Trophy. After Heisman's death a year later, the trophy was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy, as it is still known today.[3]

Since then, a selection committee has chosen the best college football player in the country each year and honored them with the Heisman Trophy.

There have been several milestones in the history of the Heisman. To name just a few:Note Reference [3]

  • Syracuse running back Ernie Davis became the first African American player to win the Heisman in 1961.
  • Ohio State's Archie Griffin won the Heisman in back-to-back years in 1974 and 1975.
  • Playing for Florida, Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman in 2007.
  • Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first redshirt freshman to win in 2012.

This report covers the college football teams whose players have received the most Heisman awards throughout the years.

Colleges with the Most Heisman Trophy Winners

Since 1935, players at 39 different programs have claimed the Heisman award. Here are the programs that have made the biggest splash.

  • Eight players from USC have won Heismans, making the school the winningest program.Note Reference [1]
  • The NCAA and The Heisman Trophy trust currently recognize seven of USC's wins.[4]
  • Three other universities have had seven players win Heismans: Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.Note Reference [1]
  • During the 86 years that the Heisman has been awarded, the top four universities have accounted for nearly one-third of winners (32.1%).Note Reference [1]
  • The most recent Heisman winner — Caleb Williams — played for USC.Note Reference [1]
  • Army, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, and Nebraska have each had three players win the Heisman.Note Reference [1]

Did You Know…

What happened to the 2005 Heisman Trophy?

Our count of which colleges have the most Heisman Trophy winners includes the 2005 Heisman Trophy awarded to USC's Reggie Bush.

Technically, Bush forfeited the Heisman in 2010, following NCAA investigation that he violated college athlete compensation rules at the time. Bush returned the trophy, and USC returned its replica trophy.Note Reference [4]

Since then, college athlete compensation rules have changed, and players are allowed to earn money for marketing activities. The NCAA has not reinstated Bush's Heisman.

Two-Time Heisman-Winning Programs

Eight college football programs are tied for having two Heisman Trophy winners. Below, find the schools listed in alphabetical order with the names of the Heisman recipients and the years they won.Note Reference [1]

Georgia

  • Frank Sinkwich, 1942
  • Herschel Walker, 1982

LSU

  • Billy Cannon, 1959
  • Joe Burrow, 2019

Miami (FL)

  • Vinny Testaverde, 1986
  • Gino Torretta, 1992

Navy

  • Joe Bellino, 1960
  • Roger Staubach, 1963

Texas

  • Earl Campbell, 1977
  • Ricky Williams, 1998

Texas A&M

  • John David Crow, 1957
  • Johnny Manziel, 2012

Wisconsin

  • Alan Ameche, 1954
  • Ron Dayne, 1999

Yale

  • Larry Kelley, 1936
  • Clint Frank 1937

One-Time Heisman-Winning Programs

Twenty-one additional programs are tied for having one Heisman Trophy winner each. Below, find the schools listed in alphabetical order with the names of the Heisman recipients and the years they won.Note Reference [1]

  • Baylor: Robert Griffin III, 2011
  • Boston College: Doug Flutie, 1984
  • BYU: Ty Detmer, 1990
  • Chicago: Jay Berwanger, 1935
  • Colorado: Rashaan Salaam, 1994
  • Houston: Andre Ware, 1989
  • Iowa: Nile Kinnick, 1939
  • Louisville: Lamar Jackson, 2016
  • Minnesota: Bruce Smith, 1941
  • Oklahoma State: Barry Sanders, 1988
  • Oregon: Marcus Mariota, 2014
  • Oregon State: Terry Baker, 1962
  • Penn State: John Cappelletti, 1973
  • Pitt: Tony Dorsett, 1976
  • Princeton: Dick Kazmaier, 1951
  • SMU: Doak Walker, 1948
  • South Carolina: George Rogers, 1980
  • Stanford: Jim Plnkett, 1970
  • Syracuse: Ernie Davis, 1961
  • TCU: Davey O'Brien, 1938
  • UCLA: Gary Beban, 1967

Behind the Numbers

Each year, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the most outstanding college football player. But who determines this honor? And how?

A selection committee makes the decision through a balloting process. Sports journalists from six different regions of the U.S. make up most of the committee.[5]

Each state in a region has a certain number of votes allotted to it depending on the size of the state and the number of media outlets within it. However, each region receives 145 media votes total.Note Reference [4]

Former Heisman Trophy recipients can also each cast a single vote for the player that they believe to be the best in the country.Note Reference [5]

Additionally, since 1999, a special program has allowed the public to vote, and whoever receives the majority vote from the public gets one additional ballot cast in their favor. In 2021, there was a grand total of 928 votes.Note Reference [5]

An independent accounting firm tallies the votes. Whichever player receives the most votes wins the Heisman Trophy.Note Reference [4]

Which Field Position Has Won the Most Heisman Awards?

  • Running backs make up half of all Heisman winners. Since 1935, 43 running backs have won, adding up to over half of the recipients, including the first-ever Heisman winner.Note Reference [1]
  • Quarterbacks have received the second-most Heismans, with 36 wins. Eleven of the last 13 winners since 2010 have been quarterbacks.Note Reference [1]
  • Players in other offensive positions have won Heismans, including tight ends and wide receivers.Note Reference [1]
  • Only one defensive player has ever won the Heisman Trophy. Charles Woods, a cornerback, won in 1997 as a Michigan Wolverine.Note Reference [1]
  • Although their positions are essential to team success, neither offensive nor defensive linemen have ever won a Heisman. However, they have been among the top 10 players with the highest votes, and in some cases, finalists.[6], [7]
  • Four defensive linemen have been finalists for the Heisman award, including Steve Emtman in 1991, Warren Sapp in 1994, Ndamukong Suh in 2009, and Chase Young in 2019.Note Reference [5]
  • 34 offensive linemen have been in the top 10 recipients of votes by the selection committee since 1936.Note Reference [6]

Is the Heisman Only Won by Upperclassmen?

In short, no, but juniors and seniors almost exclusively won the award until recently.

  • Up until 2007, only upperclassmen had won the Heisman. Since then, eight underclassmen (sophomores and freshmen) have won, including redshirt freshmen Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013.Note Reference [1]
  • The vast majority of winners (69%) have been senior players. Nearly 22% of the winners have been juniors.Note Reference [1]
  • The first junior won the Heisman in 1945, and since then, 18 other juniors have won.Note Reference [1]
  • All underclassmen recipients have been quarterbacks besides Mark Ingram, the winner from 2009, who played as a running back for the Crimson Tide.Note Reference [1]

Conferences With the Most Heisman Recipients

Seven different conferences have had players win a Heisman award.

  • The Big Ten has accumulated 18 Heisman winners, the most of any conference in the NCAA. That's about 21% of Heismans ever won.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]
  • Within the Big Ten, Ohio State (7), Michigan (3), and Nebraska (3) have the most Heisman winners.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]
  • The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is a close second with 17 Heisman Trophy recipients.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]
  • Both the Big Ten and the SEC have had seven different programs with Heisman award-winners.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]
  • The Pac-12 conference has had 13 Heisman recipients since 1936. The Big 12 has fittingly had 12.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]
  • The conference with the lowest number of teams, the FBS Independent, is home to 11 Heisman Trophy winners across three different teams: Notre Dame (7), Army (3), and BYU (1).Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]
  • Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, and the Sun Belt Conference have yet to produce Heisman winners.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]

The Most Heisman-Winning Programs by the Decade

  • Yale was the first program to dominate a decade, with two winners from 1935-1939.Note Reference [1]
  • Ohio State, Notre Dame, and USC have each been the majority winner or one of two majority winners in two different decades.Note Reference [1]
  • 1980-1989 saw the most widespread Heisman-winning programs, with no majority winner and players from nine separate teams winning.Note Reference [1]
The Most Heisman-Winning Programs by the Decade
1930s Yale
1940s Notre Dame
1950s Ohio State & Notre Dame
1960s Navy & USC
1970s Ohio State
1980s No majority winner
1990s Michigan
2000s USC
2010s Oklahoma
2020s Alabama
Note: The winningest program in each decade was determined by which program had the highest number of Heisman winners in that decade. The 2020s only take 2020 and 2021 into account.
Source: The Heisman TrophyNote Reference [1]

Frequently Asked Question About Which College Has Won the Most Heisman Trophies

When is the Heisman Trophy awarded?

The Heisman Trophy is typically awarded in December during the weeks leading up to the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Has a freshman ever won the Heisman?

Yes, two redshirt freshman football players have won the Heisman trophy: Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012 and Florida State's Jameis Winston in 2013.Note Reference [1]

Both players are considered redshirt freshmen because even though they were college sophomores, they were in their first year competing in games on the football team.

Can you win the Heisman twice?

Yes, you can win the Heisman trophy twice. In the history of the award, one college football player has earned the title twice. Ohio State's Archie Griffin won the award in 1974 and 1975.Note Reference [1]