The last time a Heisman Trophy winner also won a national championship was only as recent as 2015. It was Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who set the SEC single-season rushing record that still stands (2,219 yards) and led the Crimson Tide to a 45-40 title win over Clemson in the first of many thrillers between the two programs.
There are only 15 players in college football history to accomplish two such feats in the same season:
1. Davey O’Brien, QB, TCU, 1938
2. Bruce Smith, RB, Minnesota, 1940
3. Angelo Bertelli, QB, Notre Dame, 1943
4. Felix "Doc" Blanchard, FB, Army, 1945
5. John Lujack, QB, Notre Dame, 1947
6. Leon Hart, TE, Notre Dame, 1949
7. Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh, 1976
8. Charlie Ward, QB, Florida State, 1993
9. Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida, 1996
10. Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan, 1997
11. Matt Leinart, QB, USC, 2004
12. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama, 2009
13. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn, 2010
14. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State, 2013
15. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama, 2015
Next week Joe Burrow has a chance to join the exclusive group. Odds are in his favor after what he did to Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal. The LSU senior quarterback threw for a jaw-dropping 493 yards and scored eight touchdowns (seven passing in the first half, one rushing in the second) in a 63-28 annihilation. Burrow, who had been the frontrunner to win the Heisman most of the year, is also the projected No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
While we wait to see what kind of show Burrow puts on against Clemson in the Jan. 13 title game, let’s take a look at a few of the most memorable national championship performances by past Heisman winners:
1. Davey O’Brien, QB, TCU, 1938
O’Brien may have been small, but that didn’t stop him from being the most prolific and versatile player in college football back in those days. In his Heisman-winning year, O’Brien, who stood at 5’7” and 150 pounds, played quarterback, place-kicker, punter, defensive back and returned kicks for TCU. O’Brien was the first player in history to win the Heisman and national title, where he led TCU to a 15-7 win over Carnegie Mellon. In that game, he threw a touchdown pass, kicked a field goal and had an interception as the Horned Frogs finished the year 11-0.
2. Leon Hart, TE, Notre Dame, 1949
Hart never lost a game at Notre Dame, going 32-0-2, with ties against Army and USC. He was the third player at Notre Dame to win the Heisman, edging out SMU’s Doak Walker in 1949. Walker, who won the award the previous season, would miss the national championship game against the Fighting Irish due to an injury. With Walker out, Notre Dame was expected to run away with the win, but the game was tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter. That was before the Irish running game, led by Hart, Emil Sitko and Billy Barrett, put Notre Dame back on top to win its third title in four seasons.
3. Tony Dorsett, RB, Pitt, 1976
Dorsett set the NCAA career rushing record (which stood for two decades before Ricky Williams broke it in 1998) before becoming the first player to win a national championship as a senior and the Super Bowl as an NFL rookie with the Dallas Cowboys. In the 1976 national title game at the Sugar Bowl, Georgia’s “Junkyard Dogs” defense did a pretty good job containing Dorsett in the first half, holding him to 65 yards on 17 carries. But in the second half, Dorsett found cracks in the Bulldogs defensive line and gained 137 more yards on 15 carries to set a Sugar Bowl record of 202 rushing yards. Pitt ended up crushing Georgia, 27-3.
4. Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida, 1996
In the first meeting between Florida and Florida State in 1996, the Seminoles sacked Wuerffel six times on the way to a 24-21 win. But a few weeks later in the national championship game, Gators coach and former Heisman winner Steve Spurrier had his quarterback in the shotgun, frustrating the Seminoles’ fierce pass rush. Wuerffel ended up with 306 passing yards and three touchdowns plus one rushing score in Florida’s 52-20 revenge win at the Sugar Bowl and was named MVP.
5. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama, 2015
Henry entered the national championship as the SEC’s single-season rushing record holder (he still is) and ran for a game-high 158 yards and three touchdowns in Alabama’s 45-40 instant-classic title win over Clemson. Among the various big plays that day included Henry’s 50-yard burst up the middle to score the Tide’s first TD of the game. Now in his fourth NFL season with Tennessee, Henry is still bullying defenses. This year, he led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards on a league-high 303 attempts with 16 rushing touchdowns.