A historic Heisman Trophy vote made Mark Ingram the winner of the most famous bronze statue in sports by the narrowest margin in its 75-year history. It also highlighted some of the problems and quirks — both new and old — in choosing college football’s top player.
The Big Story
The story of Ingram becoming Alabama’s first Heisman winner, along with the fact that the tailback’s father of the same name — a former NFL player — is currently serving jail time, obscured a fascinating vote that produced several notable results.
Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart finished only 28 points behind Ingram. The previous tightest vote came in 1985 when Auburn’s Bo Jackson won with a 45-point margin over Iowa quarterback Chuck Long.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy’s third-place finish was one of the strongest ever. McCoy received 1,145 points and was 159 points behind Ingram. McCoy’s point total was third-most for a third-place finisher and only three players to finish third were closer to the winner than McCoy.
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished fourth, but received more points (815) than any fourth-place finisher before.
Suh’s finish — even more than Ingram’s victory — clearly shows the influence championship weekend has on the Heisman.
The ballots went out in mid-November to 870 media members and 55 Heisman winners. Voters can submit their ballots with two weeks left in the season. It’s a tradition that goes back years and one that should probably be changed now that so many teams play past Thanksgiving and into December.
Plus, the voting is now done exclusively online so there’s no worries about a ballot being delayed by snail mail.
But the early bird voters are few. The accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche LLP does the counting and it reported 11 ballots returned before Thanksgiving.
At that point, McCoy was the leader, with a comfortable margin over Ingram. Gerhart and Tebow were neck-and-neck and Suh had not received a vote.
Thanksgiving weekend, McCoy was brilliant against Texas A&M. Ingram had his worst game of the season against Auburn. Tebow had a big day against Florida State. Gerhart ran — and passed — all over Notre Dame. Suh had five tackles and a sack against Colorado.
Eighty-nine ballots were received after that weekend and McCoy racked up the most points. Gerhart was second, followed by Tebow and Ingram. Suh received a few votes.
It’s safe to say that Suh would not have been a finalist had he not played one of the best games any player at any position played this season against Texas in the Big 12 championship.
And clearly McCoy’s spotty performance against the Cornhuskers cost him the Heisman.
Ingram took advantage of McCoy’s slip when he played well and led the Crimson Tide to a victory against Tebow and Florida in the SEC championship.
So did voters put too much emphasis on championship weekend?
Maybe, though Gerhart’s showing helps the argument against. Clearly voters did not forget about the 235-pound battering ram of a running back.
Gerhart probably needed both Ingram and McCoy to play poorly in their final games to win the Heisman.
A case for the defense
Only one defensive player, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, has ever won the Heisman and his candidacy was bolstered by making some big plays as a receiver and kick returner.
Will a player who only makes significant contributions on defense, such as Suh, ever win a Heisman Trophy?
It will probably happen at some point, but the process is tilted so heavily toward offensive players and it will take a sort of perfect storm for it to ever happen.
The preseason hype isn’t as important as it used be in the Heisman race because so many games are on television. More than ever, Heisman contenders emerge during the season — as Ingram and Gerhart did.
However, for a defensive player to win he’ll have to come into the season with name recognition and his school pushing him for the Heisman because he won’t have the flashy stats and highlights to come from nowhere.
Then he’ll have to play great for a high-profile team that contends for a national title.
But defensive players getting shortchanged for quarterbacks and running backs isn’t just a Heisman issue. It’s a football issue.
The AP has been handing out an NFL MVP award since 1961. Two defensive players (Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor) have won the award.
Some of the drama is being taken out of the Heisman Trophy by Web sites and news organizations that conduct straw polls and track votes made public throughout the season.
It’s understandably frustrating for the people at the Heisman Trust, which requests voters keep their ballots secret but have no way to enforce that.
While stiffarmtrophy.com and heismanpundit.com — both projected Ingram as the winner — might make the presentation ceremony anticlimactic, they help fuel season-long interest in the Heisman by quantifying the race for the trophy.
Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press.
Ralph D. Russo/The Associated Press