Notre Dame Football: Who Will End the 33-year Heisman Drought?

The Fighting Irish still hold the record for the most Heisman Trophy winners, but the gap has closed. It has been 33 years since Notre Dame Wide Receiver Tim Brown brought the Irish their 7th Heisman Trophy. This season, Brian Kelly returns one of his most experienced quarterbacks in Ian Book. Although a Heisman dark horse, the resurgence of the program these past three seasons have laid the foundation for a potential Heisman campaign.

Seven Heisman Trophies

Oklahoma, Ohio State, and Note Dame tied at 7

Ohio State Buckeyes. The most recent Buckeye to win the Heisman Trophy was Troy Smith in 2006. Ohio State has a serious contender for the trophy heading into 2020 in quarterback Justin Fields, who had a tremendous 2019 campaign.

Oklahoma Sooners are closing in fast. The Sooners took home the Heisman in 2017 (Baker Mayfield), 2018 (Kyler Murray), and finished second in 2019 with quarterback Jalen Hurts. If Lincoln Riley remains in Norman, the Sooners will undoubtedly have quarterbacks in the Heisman talk every year.

Brady Quinn and Manti Te’o close finishes

Brady Quinn 4th in 2005 and 3rd in 2006. In 2005, Brady Quinn finished behind Reggie Bush, Vince Young, and Matt Leinart. After the 2006 season, the Notre Dame Quarterback finished behind Troy Smith and Darren McFadden in the Heisman voting. Troy’s victory over #2 Michigan and Quinn’s loss to USC, were two of the significant factors.

Manti Teo 2nd in 2012. In more recent memory, Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o finished close behind Johnny Manziel. His 2012 season was highlighted by an undefeated regular season, 113 tackles, and seven interceptions. Unfortunately, Johnny Manziel’s superb performance at #1 Alabama made all the difference in the voting.

Heisman Candidates on 2020 Roster

Ian Book has a shot this fall.  Last year, Ian Book threw for 3,034 yards at 60.2%, with 34 touchdowns and six interceptions. On the ground, he gained 546 rushing yards with four touchdowns. Those were solid numbers, but quarterbacks like Joe Burrow and Justin Fields put up video game like statistics in 2019. Book will have to take his game to the next level if he wants to earn a spot in New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Quarterbacks Brendon Clark and Drew Pyne show potential. Who else on the Irish roster has the best shot at a Heisman Trophy? Look no further than the quarterbacks who will have the opportunity to replace Ian Book after the 2020 season. With Tommy Rees as Offensive Coordinator and several seasons behind Ian Book, each quarterback will be primed to take control of the offense in 2021.

Incoming freshman running back Chris Tyree. The all-purpose back is one of the highest-rated backs under Brian Kelly. Tyree had offers from Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio State, among others. It is unlikely that Tyree will see much action this fall, but with his development under Coach Lance Taylor and stacked offense line in front of him, the Virginia native could have Heisman potential in his future.

Wide Receiver Jordan Johnson. The last Heisman winner in South Bend was a wide receiver, so it would be fitting to see another wideout bring home the trophy. Freshman Jordan Johnson is ranked as the #36 player in the country and #6 receiver according to 247 Sports. The Irish have had a long line of talented receivers with Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Will Fuller, and Chase Claypool, among others. Johnson may not see the field much his freshman season, but will undoubtedly be a household name before his career is concluded in South Bend.

Potential Heisman Caliber Recruits

5-Star QB Commit Tyler Buchner (2021). The Dual-Threat Quarterback out of La Jolla, California is one the Notre Dame’s highest-rated recruits in the Brian Kelly era. Buchner has been offered by virtually every elite program and is a significant threat with his arm and legs. His junior season was highlighted by 28 rushing touchdowns and 53 passing touchdowns.

Final Thoughts

Irish can break the drought. Playing quarterback at the University of Notre Dame has been compared to playing shortstop for the New York Yankees and quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. The spotlight at Notre Dame is greater than anywhere else, and Irish players will always have an excellent opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a national television audience.

8th Heisman Trophy in 2020? Ian Book brings a lot of experience back in 2020 and faces two huge matchups against Wisconsin and Clemson. Even though many experts do not have him at the top of their list, if Book can lead the Irish to another undefeated regular season, he will undoubtedly be in the mix. The Notre Dame quarterback will have to take his game to the next level as Joe Burrow did last fall for the Irish to end their Heisman drought.


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  1. I predicted after the Louisville game that Kyle Hamilton would be the next ND player to win the Heisman. His stellar play the rest of the season seals my prediction .

  2. Let’s not forget the fact that the award is named after the man who coached Georgia Tech to the worst defeat in college football history – October 1916 G.T. defeated Cumberland College 222-0.
    63-0 1st quarter, 126-0 2nd quarter, 180-0 3rd quarter, final score 222-0.

  3. Agree with #2, Chris. Mr. Owens has no idea which freshmen will or won’t be on the field this fall.

    Bruce G. Curme

  4. 1. Ian Book will not win the Heisman
    2. It is troubling that the author has the mindset to say that two of our biggest recruits at their respective positions that ND has gotten in many years “may not see the field that much this season”. Why not? We have nobody at receiver that is proven so why can’t Johnson come in and get a spot? Armstrong and the other RBs have not shown much so why can’t Tyree come in and be the starter if he has the talent? This reminds me of Hamilton last year who was clearly better than both of our safeties and was one of the best safety recruits to come out of high school. To me, Hamilton should have been starting from game 1 even though we had veteran guys with experience. Hamilton was better, plain and simple. Kelly for whatever reason doesn’t always play the better man.

    1. Kelly seems to have trust issues with the younger players. Been that way for a while with him. As far as Heisman trophies go I think its pretty safe to say that Oklahoma and Ohio State will break the tie they have with ND and probably reach 10 before ND gets #8

    2. Just want to be clear that the knock was on Kelly, not the author. My point was the author has this mindset because of Brian Kelly, haha!

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