From my perspective, Archie deserved the Heisman in 1975. The vote wasn’t close and I don’t believe it was all that close when viewed in context. Let’s go back 44 years - when there was no ESPN, the Dispatch was the afternoon newspaper in Columbus, and the only televised college game was the ABC game of the week.
Tony Dorsett was a great running back - the best pro of the top four Heisman finalists in ‘75 but there are reasons why he finished fourth not second in the Heisman vote that year. He was a deserving winner in ‘76 and led his team to a national championship but was not in 1975. First, most of his scores in 1975 - seven of 12 - came in two games - against army and William and Mary, two teams that each won two games all season. Second, although he had a great game against Notre Dame late in the season, he rushed for 17 yards in the biggest game before that against Oklahoma, averaging 1.5 yards per carry. He was out of Heisman consideration after that game. Third, his team only scored 30 points twice in the season and had multiple games of 14 points or less. He gained a lot of yards but had limited impact on the outcomes of games. His team finished 8-4 losing to their rivals of West Virginia and Penn State. His play allowed Pitt to finish 20th in the country no better. Pitt’s defense saved them that season not their offense.
Ricky Bell at USC faced the same basic challenge as Archie, defenses crowding the line of scrimmage. He was a workhorse back averaging 5 yards a carry and had over 100 more carries than Archie. His yards per carry were almost half a yard less than Archie despite running behind a stronger offensive line. More importantly, His team lost four in a row down the stretch. USC was a top 5 pre-season team that barely finished with a top 20 season. Bell didn’t change the trajectory in a disappointing season for his team. There was no wow factor, and the best won arguably was against Cal.
Chuck Muncie at Cal was a revelation that season after two seasons of failing to rush for 1000 yards in any season He had an advantage over Archie and Ricky in that defenses could not crowd the line of scrimmage because of Mike White’s diversified offense. Cal was unusual in that 50% of its offensive output led by QB Joe Roth came in the air - very rare in an age of option football - the veer, the wishbone and so on. My recollection is that cal had a receiver who had almost as many touchdowns in the air as Muncie had on the ground. Muncie also still only carried his team to an 8-3 season and the #14 ranking.
the simple truth is that none of the other top four finalists were on top 10 teams. Joe Washington, archie’s primary Heisman competition going into the season at Oklahoma, didn’t even reach 1000 yards and I think Oklahoma was on probation so the games may not have been televised.
Meanwhile, Archie faced defenses ganging up to stop the run. The Bucks only completed less than 6 passes a game , so this was a sound strategy. Woody had a great ground game with Archie, Pete Johnson, Corny and Brian, so why take risks was probably his mentality. The problem was that the offensive line was a shell of what it was the year before. The top offensive linemen from OSU’s 1974 team had been drafted in the 1st round - Kurt Schumacher and Doug France - and no returning starter would go on to be drafted before the 17th round. Archie may have only averaged 5.5 yards per carry but Pete averaged a yard per carry less.
Despite these challenges, Archie extended his consecutive 100 yard game streak to 31, almost double the prior record. He broke Ed Marinaro’s NCAA career rushing record. He led the bucks to a #1 rating and an average margin of victory of 27 points per game, a big ten championship and an undefeated regular season. The Bucks at time were totally dominant, beating Wisconsin by 56 and Iowa by 49, for instance. The win at Illinois by 37 was the most lopsided win in Champaign by the bucks in the history of the rivalry. Also remember that the lopsided margins meant more carries for other players. Eight different Buckeyes had 15 or more carries that season.
Further, Archie became the prohibitive front runner for the Heisman in the first four games of the season. Not only did he rush for over 100 yards in each of these games, but it was against Michigan State, Penn State and UCLA, all top 15 schools. After he rushed for 160 against UCLA, the race for the Heisman was largely over. For Archie, there was win after win, 100 yard game after 100 yard game. Only the game in Ann Arbor was won by seven points. All others has bigger margins of victory. There was no four game collapse like bell’s Trojans, no 1.5 yards per game like Dorsett against Oklahoma, no disappointment like Washington’s season, nobody like him. He was the coast to coast winner and deservedly so.
Two final notes are in order.
First, for those of you too young to have watched OSU football before Archie. For the prior 15 years before Archie came along, Our leading rusher was usually the fullback not the halfback. Bob White, Bob Ferguson, Matt Snell, Jim Otis were all fullbacks and all led OSU in rushing. Ferguson - a favorite of my dad’s - and Otis - one of my favorites before Archie- both led the Bucks three years in a row in rushing. Archie changed that, and I can’t think of the last time we have had a fullback lead the team in rushing since Archie. He is the only buckeye to lead the team in rushing in four consecutive seasons in the Heisman era (don’t know about Chic Harley).
Second, today’s OSU fans don’t always appreciate how great a player Pete Johnson was. He was Woody’s choice to carry the ball inside the 15, and it is no accident that he scored 25 touchdowns in 1975 - more than any of the Heisman top vote getters- and 58 for his Buckeyes career. In the pros he had the multiple double digit touchdown seasons, and his 82 pro touchdowns were only 8 less than Dorsett (and higher than Muncie and Bell), in 3-4 fewer seasons than Dorsett. His accomplishments should not go unrecognized and should not diminish what a great running back Archie was, which is the touchdowns scored was not a big deal in the moment. If it was, then Pete should have won the Heisman that year.
Sorry for being long winded, but context is important.