The Heisman: And the Winner Is…

The Heisman ceremony will take place Saturday night at 8 p.m. This year leaves some doubt as to who will walk away the winner.

While the chaos surrounding the BCS system is swirls as usual, that means one more chaotic debate is left: The Heisman Trophy race. The mystique and prestige of the award makes it a hotly contested event every year. Recently, the award has become a numbers game based on individual statistics and team success. Often times, the winner comes from a national championship participant who has benefited from the glow of the last week of the year. This year is no different. The finalists include Texas’ Colt McCoy and Alabama’s Mark Ingram. Rounding out the group is Florida’s Tim Tebow, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart, and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh. The storylines are certainly special this year. McCoy looks to join the pantheon of quarterbacks of the past four years (Tebow and Bradford). Ingram is trying to become Alabama’s first Heisman winner in the Tide’s rich history. Tebow chases history to join Archie Griffin as a two-time Heisman winner. Gerhart has to overcome less publicity coming from an 8-4 Stanford team. Suh is being hailed as the best player in college football – the Heisman’s supposed title – after a dominating season at defensive tackle. Here’s how I think the voting should go.

1. Toby Gerhart: The running back from Stanford has carried his team the entire season. He has been consistent and in most cases spectacular. Without the bullish runner in the backfield, the Cardinal would have struggled for bowl eligibility. With him, they were in the thick of Pac-10 race after beating the vaunted Trojans of USC. The Rose Bowl was a realistic possibility for a struggling program that had just gone 5-7 in 2008. This new attitude and success was because of Gerhart’s spectacular senior season. He ran for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. These numbers are far greater than Ingram’s 1,542 yards on the ground to go with 15 touchdowns. He was the workhorse back for the Cardinal carrying them to big victories and keeping them competitive in losses. He amassed 311 carries on the season with a high of 38 touches in a victory over Pac-10 champ Oregon. Everything he did was with a weaker supporting cast than any other candidate, and yet his statistics individually and in winning games are far more impressive. An 8-win season at Stanford is better than a 13-0 at Alabama, considering the college football landscape. Because of this, Toby Gerhart should join the most exclusive fraternity in sports.

2. Ndamukong Suh: Suh has captured the imagination of the sports world in recent weeks. The hulking defensive tackle has had perhaps the greatest season in history anchoring the trenches. The exclamation point on it all came on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship. Suh dominated the Longhorns all night and nearly led his team to an upset victory. He finished with 12 tackles and 4 ½ sacks of fellow candidate Colt McCoy. Check out this sack in which Suh literally throws McCoy to the ground. Those stats take on new meaning considered he did it against double teams all night. Still, one night and the fact that he’s a defensive player shouldn’t get him the Heisman. Experts are falling in love with Suh as their pick, saying he will never win in this era of offensive obsession. They may be right but that doesn’t justify their pick. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s right. Suh is a deserving candidate, who brought the missing Blackshirts of old back to Lincoln. Huskers fans everywhere are thankful for that, and that impact is far greater than a Heisman trophy.

3. Tim Tebow: Statistically, Tebow won’t wow anyone. After his incredible sophomore season, it’s hard to see past the lower numbers the past two years. Add to that the crushing defeat to Alabama and Tebow has no shot to win. He does, though, deserve the respect for his passion and carrying the entire Florida football team in a pressure-packed season. He showed courage after the concussion at Kentucky. Some questioned if Tebow would be the same physical force. The answer: Yes! Tebow came back and ran with the same fury and emotion he always had to lead the Gators to Atlanta. Without weapons like Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy (both excelling in the NFL), Tebow carried more of the load offensively. Adding to the struggles was the transition from Dan Mullen (who was extremely close to Tebow left for Mississippi State job) to Steve Addazio to offensive coordinator. The offense didn’t have the same fluidity and play-calling identity. All of this turmoil and Tebow remained the leader of this team and the face of college football. Tebow will be sorely missed in college football next season. #15 is a one of the greatest to ever play, and Saturday’s disappointment should not overshadow Tebow’s contributions to the game on and off the field.

4. Colt McCoy: McCoy may get the short end of the stick yet again despite winning the most games by a starting quarterback in college football history. His 44 victories speak for him. Replacing Vince Young, McCoy blazed his own path into Longhorn hearts. The quarterback finished his career with a 70.6 completion percentage. This is an astounding accomplishment that makes McCoy the most accurate passer in college football history! He just happens to be surrounded by other special players that slightly outdid him each year individually. As a winner, only Tebow can match up, but again this is not a team award or a lifetime achievement award. A poor performance Saturday against the Huskers that included three interceptions hurts his chances. Still, McCoy can get the biggest prize in January in Pasadena that would be a fitting end to an illustrious career.

5. Mark Ingram: Ingram runs behind the best offensive line in the country. The O-line owned the vaunted Gators defense with physical play on Saturday. The holes made for Ingram to run through were huge. His 69-yard catch was a gift off a Florida corner blitz. My point: Ingram is a great player, but his team is even greater. His success starts with his line, the defense, and even his quarterback, who proved to be a dangerous playmaker at this point in the year. The Heisman is an individual award not the team award it’s becoming. Based on this, Ingram doesn’t come close to deserving the stiff arm. The award he and the Tide have the chance to get as a team comes a little later in January. I’m sure he’ll trade the Heisman for the Crystal Ball any day. Will Heisman voters see the difference in the two trophies or will the ceremonies slip further and further into obscurity with biased voting based on team success?

Tune in Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN to see who joins the ranks of college football’s immortals.

-Ryne Gery

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