I know what some of you are thinking: J.T., you don’t get a Heisman vote. And you’re right, I don’t, but since everybody and their mother is casting their hypothetical Heisman vote, why not throw mine in too? (And the first person to comment with that what if everybody jumped off a bridge question is getting smacked.)
As most of you may know, the Heisman Trophy will be awarded for the 75th time Saturday night, and the five-man race for this year’s outstanding player in college football includes last-year’s runner up, a former winner, a dark horse on an average team, the best player on the country’s best team, and the first defensive finalist in over a decade.
Even though the top three finalists are usually the ones most discussed in the end, I will break down my final ranking of the five and break down why each player finished where they did. Here goes:
5) Tim Tebow, QB, Florida: I could talk about the National Championships, the wins, and the intangibles that apparently make him more than human. (Isn’t it funny how intangibles never matter until they’re used to inflate a player’s value?) And yes, while he will go down in history as one of the best players in NCAA history, the truth is he was not the best player in the nation this season. While a QB rating of 155.59, 2,413 passing yards, 18 passing TDs and 13 rushing TDs and leading one of the best teams in the country to a 12-1 record all attractive, the one game that took him out of the “outstanding” discussion and deposited him amongst the really, really good was the loss to Alabama.
He was at the centerpiece of the biggest game of the season to date with the perfect opportunity to set the stage for a third straight national title game and the ultimate college football swan song, but he just couldn’t rise to the challenge when his team needed to. Now bear in mind, he did complete 20 of 35 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, and his defense did allow 490 yards of total offense and 32 points, but when he was supposed to carry his team on his back, he just couldn’t get out of the blocks. So down the drain went the Gators’ title hopes and Tebow’s chance to stand next to Archie Griffin as the second player to win two Heisman trophies.
4) Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: There are a bunch of voters that are hell-bent on making sure that this year’s winner isn’t a quarterback, and I’m not one to blame them for it (in fact, it’s been a belief of mine over the past several years that the Heisman had developed into an award that was only meant for QBs, Reggie Bush being the lone exception in this decade), but if there’s a guy who is going to buck the trend, Ingram isn’t him.
Yeah, he rushed for 1,500-plus yards with a 6.2 per carry average and 15 TDs, and he paced the Crimson Tide’s offense on the way to an undefeated regular season record and the National Championship game, but was he truly the most outstanding player in the country over the course of the season? Arkansas and Auburn may beg to differ.
Granted, he scored two touchdowns in the win over Arkansas on September 26, but he also gained only 50 yards on 17 carries, hardly a dominating or outstanding performance. And in the Iron Bowl against Auburn, the biggest game of the season for the Tide at the time, he gained only 51 total yards on 19 touches before he left with a hip pointer. Maybe he was hurt before he came out, maybe he wasn’t, but at the end of the day, he didn’t have as strong a track record of dominance as he probably should have. On top of that, he didn’t even win the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s best running back; Stanford’s Toby Gerhart did.
3) Ndamukong Suh, DL, Nebraska: OK, be honest, was anybody else trying to think of a way to make a headline that says “Run Around Suh”? (That song was before my time and a lot of the folks who read this, but whatever, call me lame and cheesy if you want.) Anyway, this force of nature became the late entry in the Heisman race, and it seemed like at the 11th hour, every other ESPN personality just started shouting his name like they were appealing to the governor for a stay of execution.
That isn’t to say Suh isn’t deserving of the honor: he had 82 total tackles, 23 for losses, 12 sacks, and 24 quarterback hurries — and he led his team in all of those categories. A nose guard! On top of that, he broke up 10 passes (second on the team), intercepted a pass and blocked three kicks. A freakin’ nose guard did all that! That should make him a lock, right? Wrong.
The Cornhuskers finished their season at 9-4, the last loss being his 12-tackle, 4.5-sack terrorizing of Texas in the Big 12 Championship game. In that game, yes, he played at his highest level on one of the biggest stages, and was definitely the game’s most outstanding performer. But what about those other three losses? Let’s look at them:
- September 19 (16-15, Virginia Tech): eight tackles, one for a loss, .5 sacks
- October 17 (31-10, Texas Tech): four tackles, two tackles for losses
- October 24 (9-7, Iowa State): eight tackles, one for a loss, one sack
- Total: 20 tackles, four for losses, 1.5 sacks
Yeah, I know he’s a nose guard, and I know he faced double teams for most of the season, and while he may have been one of the best players in the nation this season, he wasn’t the most outstanding. Two of those four losses were good games, but not dominating, and the third was less than stellar. Just like Ingram, if the award is going to go to a non-quarterback, he’s not dominating enough to be the guy.
2) Colt McCoy, QB, Texas: The sad part is if this prediction were to hold up, he would be the only quarterback in NCAA history to win the Walter Camp Award and finish second in the Heisman voting in back-to-back seasons, and it’s not because he didn’t deserve the Heisman. He completed 70.5% of his passes this season for 3,512 yards and 27 TDs (but also threw 12 interceptions, possibly the sole statistic knock against him), and also ran for 348 yards and three scores. Let’s not forget, he’s also the NCAA career leader in completion percentage.
Remember when he took over the win over Texas A&M on Thanksgiving? He ran for 175 yards, passed for 304 and was responsible for five of the Longhorns’ seven touchdowns. He helped guide Texas’ offense throughout the season, and in the critical times his team needed someone to step up, he carried the Longhorns on his back… except for the 16-13 win over Oklahoma on October 17, and the conference title game win over Nebraska.
In the Oklahoma game, he threw a 4th quarter interception that could’ve helped the Sooners win if the Texas defense hadn’t intercepted the ball back and saved the game. In the Nebraska game, he helped drive the Longhorns down the field for the game-winning score, but in the closing seconds he almost failed to stop the clock before it ran out, and it took an official’s review to establish that (which some argue was incorrect and will probably be argued from here on out if Texas wins the National Championship).
McCoy was outstanding for the majority of the season and helped put his team in position to win for the majority of the season, but also almost hurt his team’s chances in the process. You can’t be THE outstanding player in the country with blemishes like that on your track record. He probably should’ve won last year, God bless him, but he shouldn’t this year, especially not as a make-up vote. After all, this isn’t the NBA MVP voting, which is almost always a year behind (but that’s a subject for another blog post).
1) Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford: There’s good, and then there’s dominant. While the previous four were good, Gerhart was dominant, and dominant consistently. He was the nation’s leading rusher and in 12 games this season, he rushed for 100-plus yards 10 times, 200-plus yards twice, and rushed for less than 100 only twice: September 12 against Wake Forest (17 rushes, 82 yards) and October 10 against Oregon State (20 rushes for 96 yards), not to mention the Wake Forest game was the only one where he didn’t score at least once. In nine games he scored at least twice, and in five he scored at least three times.
Not convinced? Fine. Let’s look at how he performed during games against top-tier competition. Look no further than that two-game stretch when the Cardinal faced #8 Oregon and #11 USC. In those two games combined, he rushed for 401 yards on 67 carries and six touchdowns. In three games versus Top 25 teams, he rushed for at least 100 yards and scored at least one touchdown in each of them, and Stanford won, although they weren’t even ranked. Even more, in his last six games, he rushed for at least 100 yards and scored at least one touchdown.
What about his performances in games his teams lost? Great question. In those four games, the game against Wake Forest was the only game that he didn’t rush for 100 yards or find the end zone during the entire season. In the other three, he did his part (96 yards, 2 TDs against Oregon State; 123 yards, 2 TDs against Arizona State, 136 yards, 4 TDs against Cal).
What does all of this mean? It means that in his team’s most important games against their toughest competition, he raised his game and helped his team beat an opponent they otherwise probably shouldn’t have, not to mention the fact that as the season wore on, he got better. He has been the most consistent individual performer in the nation throughout the season, has been the most consistently dominant against elite competition, and has ultimately been the difference between an 8-4 Stanford team and one that without him, might not have even been bowl-eligible.
Gerhart is the player that has truly been the most outstanding throughout the entire season. He has meant the most to his team, and he has performed at a high level the most consistently all season long.
Hopefully the final voting reflects the same. Otherwise, the criteria should be seriously re-examined.