Ingram turns the Tide, barely winning Heisman in closest vote ever

NEW YORK — Alabama running back Mark Ingram stepped back from the microphone in the Nokia Theatre auditorium for a second to compose himself. Tearing up and taking deep breaths, he received encouragement from the former Heisman Trophy winners lined up on the stage behind him.

In the closest race in the history of the 75-year Heisman, he’d just become one of them.

Texas senior quarterback Colt McCoy, despite being the winningest quarterback in major college football and a finalist for the second straight year, finished third and will forever be left on the outside looking-in.

Ingram is the third straight sophomore to win the award for the nation’s most outstanding player. He’s the first Heisman winner in Alabama’s storied history that stretches back beyond the houndstooth hat-wearing Bear Bryant.

“I saw my mom crying, and it kind of made me break down, too,” Ingram said of his heartfelt acceptance speech. “It’s a real special moment for me that I’ll carry for the rest of my life.”

McCoy, after finishing runner-up to Sam Bradford in 2008, finished 159 points behind Ingram. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart finished just 28 points behind Ingram, easily the tightest race ever.

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh placed fourth, and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow — the 2007 Heisman winner — was fifth.

This year, McCoy gets one heck of a consolation prize — a chance to play in the BCS championship game and to outdo Ingram and Alabama on Jan. 7 in the Rose Bowl.

“This is not going to disappoint me,” said McCoy afterward, composed but far from cracking jokes as he did after the 2008 ceremony. “I’m looking forward to the national championship.”

McCoy can once again draw direction by looking back at what Vince Young did. The Texas quarterback finished second to USC’s Reggie Bush in 2005. But Young and the Longhorns beat Bush’s Trojans for the national title.

Ingram will become the eighth Heisman winner to play for the national title in the same season. Only one — USC’s Matt Leinart — won both.

“That doesn’t faze me,” Ingram said. “Some people when they have success let it get to their head, but, me, when I get back to practice, the national championship game is my main focus.”

Tebow predicted that McCoy will use his Heisman finish as motivation in the championship game.

“I’m going home to prepare the best I can go be the best I can,” McCoy said.

It was only little more than a week ago that McCoy was still considered a strong favorite for the Heisman. He’d played consistently well for undefeated Texas, and then provided Heisman-like play during UT’s win over Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.

But then he and the Longhorns struggled to beat Nebraska in the Big 12 title game — coming down to a crucial last second — and it appeared to hurt his candidacy.

McCoy received the third-most votes for a third-place finisher and was the fourth-closest third-place finisher to the winner in point margin.

McCoy didn’t win any of the six voting sections and finished behind Suh in the Southwest.

“The most important thing for a quarterback is to win,” McCoy said. “Winning a national championship would be sweet. It’s something that we’ve worked for the entire time that I’ve been at school. I’m excited to get back home and start preparing.”

Elusive double

Alabama tailback Mark Ingram will be the eighth Heisman winner this decade to play for the national championship in the same season. Here’s how the previous seven fared:

Year . . . Heisman winner . ….Bowl game

2000 – Chris Weinke (Florida State)….Lost to Oklahoma, 13-2

2001 – Eric Crouch (Nebraska)………..Lost to Miami, 37-14

2003 – Jason White (Oklahoma)……..Lost to LSU, 21-14

2004 – Matt Leinart (USC)…………..Beat Oklahoma, 55-19

2005 – Reggie Bush (USC)…………..Lost to Texas, 41-38

2006 – Troy Smith (Ohio State)…….Lost to Florida, 41-14(*)

2008 – Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)……Lost to Florida, 24-14(*)

(*)BCS title game

Kate Hairopoulos/The Dallas Morning News (MCT)