12-14-09: 2009 Heisman Award

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to a new week. And it really is a new week for me. Today I begin back on my Monday through Friday schedule, and I couldn't be happier about it. As though I needed more to be happy about during the holiday season (Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish readers out there), I finally get back to working what I like to call “almost a grown-up's schedule”.

I won't belabor the point too much, because I've discussed it often enough that regular readers are, I'm sure, quite sick of it. Suffice to say, I'm happy to be back full-time with Michele Tafoya, Mike Max, and whomever they hire to replace Don Shelby. (No, I don't have any clue who that'll be. And I doubt any of us will know before 2010.)

I'm going to start this week by peeking back at Saturday night. No, not the Army/Navy game from Saturday afternoon. I'll have plenty to say about that on Wednesday (especially about Nike sticking their big swooshy nose into it and violating Navy's uniforms). Today it's time to talk Heisman.

Well, actually, had I been on the ball, I'd have started talking Heisman last week, so I could assemble a Sports Take ballot for you all. Unfortunately, I dropped the ball on that, so you'll have to take my word that my picks were made prior to the actual announcement.

And if that's not good enough for some of you, I have witnesses!

So let's talk some trophy...

”Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910), American author and humorist

If you substitute the words “Heisman Award” for “world”, you'll get a saying that's very applicable to certain people in Texas and northern California after Saturday night's announcement.

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For those of you who didn't catch the news, Alabama running back Mark Ingram is your 2009 Heisman Award winner.

Had I published a Sports Take ballot for you to peruse prior to the announcement, it would've looked like this:

1.Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

2.Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford

3.Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think voters can rank up to 5 players for the Heisman Trophy, but I think it gets murky after three, so I'll leave it at that.

To have those three players at the top of the heap after 15 weeks of college football is especially interesting, since none of the three would have made the top three of any pre-season Heisman projections. Ingram might have come close, but Gerhart and Suh wouldn't have been close.

Most pundits, myself included, assumed that the 2009 Heisman winner would be one of the three quarterbacks who were the finalists in 2008: Tim Tebow of Florida, Colt McCoy of Texas or the winner of the 2008 Heisman, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma.

Bradford got hurt in the Sooners' opener against BYU. And though he made a game attempt at a comeback, he got hurt again later in the season and shut it down rather than risk ending his NFL career before it even began.

Tebow and McCoy both made it to New York for the 2009 ceremony, but neither were considered true threats to win the award. McCoy ended up finishing third in the balloting, Tebow a distant 5th. In fact, Tebow finished so far back, that I honestly wonder if he wasn't invited as a “finalist” merely as a courtesy to a former winner.

That, naturally, show the fallacy of any kind of pre-season rankings at all. Be they Heisman votes, or Top 25's. Over a 12-game regular season and, for some teams, a conference championship game, so much can and usually does happen, that making any kind of pre-season pick is pure guess work.

But I've digressed. I should explain my rankings.

Mark Ingram rushed for 1542 yards and 15 touchdowns. He added another 322 yards receiving as well as 3 touchdowns through the air. Toby Gerhart rushed for 1736 yard and 26 touchdowns, adding 149 more yards via the pass, but no more touchdowns.

Even in aggregate, Gerhart's numbers are better, so why on earth did I vote Ingram first?

Because he didn't lose.

I know right now that there are several people screaming, “But football is a team game! How can you hold an individual player responsible for the failures of people around him?!”

That's certainly a fair point. But when it comes down to picking the best player in college football, I believe winning means something. I think that when you're a true Heisman winner, you help elevate your team in such a manner that they win games they probably shouldn't.

Look at the Alabama/Tennessee game. Ingram was the entirety of Alabama's offense in that game. Sure, Terrance Cody blocked two field goals that would've won the game for the Vols, but if it wasn't for Ingram, those blocks wouldn't have mattered.

Gerhart's team went 8-4. That's not a bad season, especially when you throw in two huge wins over USC and Oregon. But four losses aren't insignificant either. To me, an Heisman winner has to have more impact than that.

Obviously I think Gerhart's deserving of consideration. I voted him second. But Ingram's stats were similar enough, that his status as “the best player on the best team” was enough to push him to the top of my ballot.

That brings me to Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh (pronounced: en-DAH-muh-KAHN SOO - it took me a while too, but keep practicing, you'll get the hang of it). ESPN's Pat Forde said on Friday that he had voted Suh first on his ballot. And 160 voters agreed with him. Suh's performance in the Big 12 Championship game was nothing short of dominant. And I think that earned him a great deal of last-minute attention.

Unfortunately, defensive players don't often win the Heisman. I don't think that's because they're not as deserving as offensive players. It's just that it's far more difficult to quantify a defensive players impact over the course of a season. It's easy to count up yards passing, rushing and receiving. It's simple to compare touchdown totals. But how to do you compare those numbers to the value of sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles and interceptions? It's not easy.

That being said, when a guy's as clearly dominating as Suh was, he earns consideration. And like I said, when he has a game as good as Suh did in the Big 12 Championship, he becomes the late-season dark-horse to win the trophy.

But again, there's the matter of four losses. Granted, three of those four losses were by two points or less. And that speaks volumes about the quality of Nebraska's defense. But to me? Heisman winners don't lose four games. I'm sure you can go back through the list of winners and find some guys who have. But I was too young to fake-vote for those winners. Now that I've declared the right to assemble a fake ballot, I get to set my own priorities. And winning is high on the list.

The actual balloting turned out like this:

1.Ingram, RB, Alabama: 1304 points

2.Gerhart, RB, Stanford: 1276 points

3.McCoy, QB, Texas: 1145 points

4.Suh, DT, Nebraska: 815 points

5.Tebow, QB, Florida: 390 points

The 28 points separating Ingram and Gerhart made this race the closest in Heisman history. And looking deeper, only 5 first place votes separated the two backs. Ingram collected 227. Gerhart received 222. So clearly the voters saw the two as closely as I did.

I can't say that my criteria of being part of winning club tipped the scales, but it's not an unreasonable possibility.

It was one of those seasons where there really wasn't an obvious winner. And it wasn't even much like last year when you could've flipped a coin between three guys. Instead it was a mish-mash of a lot of above-average (if not necessarily excellent) players. When you get that situation, and one of the guys is on an undefeated squad who's set to play for the National Title? I think that will probably give him the nod more times than not.

All of the five finalists had outstanding seasons, and certainly deserved the honor of being considered for the most famous individual athletic award in all of sports.

Congratulations to Mark Ingram, your 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.

That's going to do it for today. I'll be back on Wednesday to wrap up my 2009 College Football Picks (thank God), and to perhaps preview Bowl Mania II? Tune in then to find out.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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