At age 75, the Heisman Trophy is still considered as if not the most, then one of the most prestigious honors in all of sport. This year was a year when no specific candidate stood out and separated himself from the rest of the group. In the closest Heisman vote ever, the SEC reiterated its dominance in college football as the conference's best back, Mark Ingram of Alabama, became the third straight sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.
But did the voters get it right?
Yes. There was no clear cut favorite for the Heisman Trophy this year, but if there was a slight front-runner at all, it was Ingram. Ingram, Toby Gerhart of Stanford, and Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska all put up solid campaigns for the highest honor.
Did I know Mark Ingram was going to win the Heisman? Yes. Am I happy he won it? Yes. Six of the last seven Heisman winners have gone on to play for the national championship. The only one that went on to win: Matt Leinart in 2004 in USC's 55-19 stomping over Oklahoma (love it when Oklahoma gets embarrassed on the biggest stages). On January 7, Ingram will lead Alabama to Pasadena to play Texas for the national title. Only time will tell if he can avoid feeling the effects of the 'Heisman Hangover.'
Of the five finalists, it were Gerhart and Suh who have had the most dominating performances consistently all year, while Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow were named finalists mainly based on name recognition. Many voters felt sorry for McCoy, the all-time winningest player, because he was snubbed for the award last year and his team was snubbed for a national title last year, and Tebow, who had the worst statistical year of his career, got the votes because of who he is and that he won the award previously in 2007.
The numbers for McCoy looked like this: 3,512 passing yards, 70.5% completion percentage, 30 total touchdowns, but 12 interceptions.
For Tebow, his numbers don't add up to Heisman Finalist: a career low 2,413 passing yards, 18 touchdown passes, 5 interceptions, 13 rushing touchdowns and 65.2% completion percentage. Tebow's 182 completions was the lowest of his career and he only attempted 279 passes. Mark Ingram had 279 touches and Tebow can only throw that ball that many times? Tebow was only a finalist because of who he is, a Heisman Trophy winner in 2007, a finalist in 2008, and now becoming the only player ever to be a three-time Heisman finalist, though his 3rd trip to New York was undeserving.
McCoy and Tebow were the only quarterbacks in New York when the Heisman has for so many years been a quarterback dominated award. McCoy won the Davey O'Brien Award for the nation's best quarterback and the Maxwell Award for the nation's most outstanding overall player (only once this decade has the Maxwell and Heisman gone to the same player), so it's credible that he represented the elite QB's, but Tebow was not among the best in 2009. Tebow's presence as a finalist was an insult to the quarterbacks who posted stellar seasons compared to Tebow.
Two guys that should be there in favor of Tebow are Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame (3,722 yards, 68%, 28 TD, 4 INT) and Kellen Moore of Boise State (3,325 yards, 64.8%, 39 TD, 3 INT) and arguably also Case Keenum of Houston (5,449 yards, 71%, 43 TD, 9 INT).
Another guy who should have been a finalist is CJ Spiller of Clemson. Spiller rushed for 1,145 yards (5.7 per carry), and 11 touchdowns, but also had four receiving touchdowns on 445 yards receiving. Spiller, the most dynamic and explosive player in the country, this year set the NCAA record for most kick returns for a touchdown in a career with seven as he gained 33.7 yards per return and also took a punt return to the house. Spiller is the only player in NCAA history to score a touchdown five different ways in a season as he scored touchdowns rushing, receiving, passing, and both kick and punt returns.
Since the Heisman voting has gone to all electronic over the internet this year and there are no mail-in ballots, most voters kept their ballots until the final weekend. On the final weekend, CJ Spiller playing in the ACC Championship Game on ESPN, ran for 233 yards on just 20 carries. It was a monumental Heisman performance on national TV, but no one saw it. That's what the Heisman is about today, national exposure.
Unfortunately for Spiller, at the same time of his game broadcast on ESPN, on ABC was the national broadcast of the Texas-Nebraska Big 12 Championship Game and all eyes were on that one. The whole world saw Colt McCoy get thrown around by Ndamukong Suh as Suh recorded a school record 12 tackles, 7 for loss, and 4.5 sacks and twice brought down McCoy with one arm, slinging him to the ground. It was a nightmare performance for McCoy, one that cost him any shot at the Heisman, and a performance that skyrocketed Suh's Heisman stock. This is what he had been doing all year, but without TV time, no one saw the great Nebraska defensive lineman, as the most dominant player in the country on a weekly basis.
Suh is the first linemen to lead his team in tackles two years in a row. This year he recorded 82 tackles and 12 sacks. Many times, teams double-teamed and triple-teamed Suh which opened up chances for Suh's partner in the middle, sophomore Jared Crick to make big plays.
But as they say, the Heisman Trophy (which features Eddie Ward with a stiff-arm pose) has a ball in its hand for a reason. There is a clear offensive bias to the award, but a lineman especially rarely has the ball in his hands. A lineman has never won the Heisman and the last defensive player to do so was Charles Woodson in 1997, but Woodson did other things as well like kick returns and playing offense part-time.
So this brings me back to this year's winner and runner-up. Again, in the closet Heisman vote ever, Toby Gerhart trailed Ingram by only 28 points. The previous closet margin had been 84 in 1985 way before my time.
The problem with the Heisman is that it is awarded to the "best player on the best team." A lot of people will agree with this. Mark Ingram is the key to No. 1 Alabama's run-oriented offense. Ingram's 113 yard performance against Florida in the SEC Championship Game on national TV got a lot of media craze. Well, Gerhart plays in the Pac-10, and they don't have a championship game, so he sat at home the final weekend. Gerhart's last hoorah for a live national audience came against Notre Dame when he rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns and also had an 18 yard touchdown pass. Any one of Gerhart's 4 touchdowns was the difference between a win or a loss as Stanford got by Notre Dame with a 7-point victory 45-38.
Gerhart's biggest games came on the biggest stages and that's what Heisman winners do: rise up to the occasion. Gehart was only held under 100 yards rushing in two games, and Ingram, in five games. Gerhart had three 200 yard games while Ingram had one. Gerhart ran for over 120 yards in each of his last six games and Gerhart was the reason why Stanford beat a top ten team in consecutive weeks with a 51-42 upset over Oregon and a 55-21 dominating upset over USC. Against Oregon, Gerhart ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns and against USC, 178 yards and three touchdowns. But granted, Oregon does not play defense and USC's defense is not what it used to be, but even against the only team in the Pac-10 that plays defense, Arizona, Gerhart racked up 123 yards and two touchdowns. Gerhart's final numbers were a nation's best 1,736 rushing yards and a nation's best 26 touchdowns.
Mark Ingram, however, plays in the SEC against the best defenses in the country and what he did every week was impressive. Against SEC defenses, Ingram posted 1,542 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns and he became the only SEC player to rush for 1,500 yards and catch 30 passes in the same season. Ingram faced five Top 25 teams and averaged 165 yards against them, not to mention Ingram averaged 154 yards against six of the nation's top defenses and it all started on opening night with 150 yards against then-No. 7 Virginia Tech.
Throughout the season Ingram was shut down by teams like Arkansas and we all saw his subpar performance in Alabama's final regular season game against Auburn when Ingram rushed for 30 yards on 16 carries and limped off the field with a hip injury. His replacement, true freshman Trent Richardson, came in and moved the chains for Alabama. Ingram averaged 6.2 yards per carry this season, but Richardson averaged 7.1. Ingram lacks some explosiveness and elite speed in his game, while Richardson clearly possesses all of that.
To give you the gist of it, Ingram is not even the best back on the roster. That was what lost my Heisman pick for Ingram, but on the biggest stage, Ingram came on and willed his team to victory against Florida, much like Tebow had done in the past that won him a Heisman Trophy. No one can question Ingram's heart and determination and even though he didn't break off any big runs, he methodically wore down that Gators' defense to put himself right back on the top of many people's Heisman lists and the forgettable game against Auburn, was just that, forgotten.
So at the end of the day, should Ingram have won the Heisman Trophy? Yes. Should someone else have won the Heisman Trophy? Yes. That's how close this year's Heisman race really was.
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