What could have been: a Heisman winner at IU.

This post is sponsored by EA Sports. As you have read on other SB Nation sites and everywhere else, EA Sports NCAA Football 13 was released today, and one of this version's features is the ability to import any Heisman Trophy winner onto the college team of your choice. That feature leads into this post: if I could add any Heisman Trophy winner to IU's team, which would I choose?

The assignment doesn't specify, and different sites are taking different approaches, but I am assuming that the Heisman winner would play for IU's team in the season in which he won the Heisman. In other words, I wouldn't, say, add 2002 winner Carson Palmer to the 1987 Hoosiers in the hope that a strong-armed quarterback would have gotten IU into the Rose Bowl. No, the way I am playing it, the 1960 winner would go to the 1960 Hoosiers, the 1990 winner would go to the 1990 Hoosiers, etc.

It was very tempting to stick with Heisman winners from my living memory, guys I could picture having an impact on IU's team. But IU's football struggles have been generations in the making, so why dance around the margins? As most IU fans know, IU has never had a Heisman winner. Anthony Thompson, who finished a close second to Andre Ware in 1989, has come the closest. Seven Heisman Trophy winners have played college football in Indiana (all at Notre Dame), and 1944 winner Les Horvath of Ohio State was born in Indiana, but only one Heisman Trophy winner played high school football in Indiana: the 1940 winner, Tom Harmon of Michigan.

Harmon was born in Rensselaer, but spent most of his formative years in Gary. Harmon was a multi-sport star at Gary Mann, an all-state football player, a fine basketball player, and a state champion in track. I have no idea exactly how Harmon's recruitment played out, whether he gave IU, Purdue, or Notre Dame a look, but Harmon ended up at Michigan, and he excelled, dominating the Big Ten during his three year career and winning the Heisman in 1940. Following his college career, Harmon served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II, surviving one crash caused by a storm and another caused by Japanese fire over China. After the War, he briefly turned to pro football before becoming a broadcaster. His son, Mark Harmon, the actor, was a quarterback at UCLA. In short, Harmon was a great athlete, a great football player, a hero in the true sense of the term, and he had a successful post-athletic career and life. And he was from Indiana, so it isn't entirely crazy to imagine that he could have ended up in Bloomington.

Of course, the reason Harmon didn't end up in Bloomington was, probably, the same reason so many promising Indiana high schoolers haven't ended up there. IU simply wasn't a strong program at the time. Harmon enrolled at Michigan in 1937. At that time, IU coach Bo McMillin had been in Bloomington for three seasons, and had shown some promise. McMillin led IU to a 4-3-1 record in 1935 and a 5-3 record in 1936. Those were IU's first winning seasons since 1920. McMillin, of course, despite some ups and downs early in his career, succeeded as no IU football coach has before or since. McMillin remains the last IU coach with a winning career record at IU, and in 1945, he led IU to its only undefeated season and its only outright Big Ten title.

In other words, at the time that Harmon would have played at IU, he would have been playing for IU's greatest coach. It's hard to know if any single player could have had a meaningful impact on IU's football history, but if anyone could have, Harmon could have. As I said, given IU's less-than-stellar football history, it makes little sense to dabble in the modern era. Send the time machine back to the 1930s and see what 2012 looks like. It seems possible that the combination of Harmon, one of college football's all-time greats, and a fantastic coach such as McMillin could have been enough to alter IU's football history.

This post was sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 13. Check out the video for the game below.

EA SPORTS NCAA Football 13 TV: "Son" (via EASPORTS)


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