Now for the 14th–and penultimate–HP Heisman Watch of the 2009 season.
With one week of games remaining, we finally have clarity in this race. One player is now the overwhelming favorite to capture this year’s Heisman Trophy, though he’s been the leader in this watch for 12 of the past 13 weeks.
1. Colt McCoy, Texas–HP’s preseason favorite is thisclose to capturing the Heisman going away. Putting together a Heisman-winning season takes a lot of talent, grit, fortitude, timing…and some luck. It just so happens that McCoy had his best game of the season on Thanksgiving night, just a week after ballots had gone out to voters. So, many voters who were paying extra-close attention to things for the first time saw him pass for 304 yards and rush for 173 while totaling five touchdowns in a rather entertaining, but crucial win over Texas A&M.
Whereas McCoy struggled early in the season, he is now on a roll and his numbers after 12 games read:
3,328 passing yards
72% completion percentage
27 touchdown passes
368 rushing yards
2 rushing touchdowns
He has one more game to go to add to these totals. His numbers are definitely Heisman-worthy, meaning that they are in the same realm as the numbers of previous winners and also quite good in the context of the current race. While his slow start to the season opened up the trophy to other candidates, he was always in a strong position to catch fire with the Heisman electorate so long as he produced in the end. After all, as the returning Heisman runner up and a quarterback for a traditional power challenging for the national title, he was as well-known and compelling as any candidate in the field when the campaign started. By producing a Heisman-worthy season statistically, he has given voters who were predisposed to him in the first place the proper cover to mark him at the top of their ballots.
There are some who will say that McCoy has produced these numbers against inferior competition. They will cite the Texas strength of schedule and the relative decline of the Big 12 as proof. However, this will not be an issue when it comes to the Heisman. Why? Because voters already know McCoy is a great player. That was made clear in 2008, when he had a dominant season against a very tough schedule. The 2009 season wasn’t about McCoy proving himself to be a great player, but rather about whether he could maintain his level of play while leading Texas to the national title game–something he couldn’t do in 2008. He is one win away from accomplishing that feat and voters will reward him accordingly.
So what could stop McCoy from winning the Heisman at this point? I think nothing less than a disastrous performance in a loss to Nebraska in the Big 12 Title game would bring that about. If Texas beats the Cornhuskers, his level of play in that game will determine his margin of victory in the Heisman vote.
2. Mark Ingram, Alabama–Just a week ago, Ingram looked like he could win the Heisman if he finished the season strong. But a 16-carry, 30-yard performance against Auburn when many Heisman voters were watching him closely for the first time was about the worst thing–next to a ’Bama loss–that could’ve happened to his candidacy.
Ingram has 1,429 rushing yards (a 6.5 average) and 12 touchdowns on the season, plus another 28 receptions and three touchdowns through the air. He was dinged up against Auburn and his status for the Florida game is uncertain. I think it will take a Willis Reed-like performance against the Gators coupled with a McCoy disaster against Nebraska for Ingram to win the Heisman.
Equally bad for Ingram’s candidacy are the late surges by Toby Gerhart and Tim Tebow. Gerhart’s rushing numbers on the year are markedly superior to Ingram’s, while Tebow also plays for an undefeated SEC team. Both players therefore serve to erode a bit of the rationale for Ingram’s candidacy. For instance, a voter inclined to support a running back might be attracted to Gerhart based on his superior stats, while another voter might think Tebow is the most deserving SEC player on an undefeated team. Now, if Alabama beats Florida, then the Tebow issue is moot as far as Ingram goes, but he will still need to prove he is the top running back in the race. That means a monster game against Florida. Given his health issues and the stoutness of the Gator defense, this seems to be a highly unlikely proposition.
3. Toby Gerhart, Stanford–It is necessary to insert Gerhart on this Heisman Watch primarily because of the following scenario:
What if McCoy plays poorly and Nebraska beats Texas while Alabama beats Florida without any significant help from Ingram? Who wins the Heisman?
I think in that scenario, we’d see a severely fractured race and possibly Gerhart eking it out.
Gerhart is fresh off a huge game against Notre Dame–something that always helps when it comes to the Heisman. He rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass to help Stanford beat the Irish. On the year, he leads the nation with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. Of the four serious candidates for the trophy, he has produced the best season statistically.
As it stands, Gerhart is practically a lock to win the West Region. But in the end-of-season cataclysm I just depicted, I think he would also do well in the Midwest (thanks to his game against Notre Dame) and in the Northeast due to his alluring status as a blue-collar running back from an elite academic school (the kind of combination that propelled Cornell’s Ed Marinaro to a second-place Heisman finish in 1971).
What about Tebow? What if McCoy does poorly in a loss and the Gators beat Alabama behind the 2007 Heisman winner? Obviously, this would push Tebow up in the race, but I don’t think he’ll have enough gas in the tank to top the rest of the field. Ingram would still eat into his support in various regions, while others would see McCoy and Gerhart as still being superior statistically. Meanwhile, players like C.J. Spiller, Kellen Moore, Ndamukong Suh and Case Keenum would grab some extra votes here and there. And then there are those who just don’t think Tebow deserves a second Heisman, no matter how great a player he is. In this scenario, Gerhart or McCoy still might eke it out.
If the vote were held today
1. Colt McCoy
2. Toby Gerhart
3. Tim Tebow
4. Mark Ingram
5. C. J. Spiller
6. Kellen Moore
7. Case Keenum
8. Golden Tate
9. Ndamukong Suh
10. Jacquizz Rodgers