The HP Heisman Watch

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
9 interceptions
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

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About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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21 Responses to The HP Heisman Watch

  1. Ed Newman November 30, 2009 at 7:17 am #

    I’ll agree with your statement that McCoy doesn’t have to prove he is a great player since he did so last year (as did Tebow and Bradford) so his competition level means less than it normally would. I think McCoy will win and even deserves it even though I think Tebow is the better player. Having stipulated that, I will still be disappointed when McCoy does win. Despite the Heisman worthy numbers, overall I just don’t think he was all that good this year so his win will leave me unfulfilled. I think that any of the top 4 from last year were better than the best from this year which contributes to this feeling.

  2. CAM November 30, 2009 at 8:28 am #

    As a UT fan and Austin resident I am decidedly biased toward McCoy, and yet I still don’t think he’s the best player in college football this season. Colt is good no doubt, but he was definitely not consistent. He is a leader, and that I think goes a long way.

    Gerhart has statistically had the best year and I think the award should go to him. He carried his team on his back much of the season and that is something that McCoy can’t claim in anyone’s wildest dreams. Isn’t this award about the current season’s performance?

  3. CAM November 30, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    I just looked this up…Gerhart had 311 carries this season and had zero fumbles. That is amazing, especially given the fact that every team Stanford played knew that he was the only real threat. Every defense knew he was getting the ball and he still had monster rushing numbers.

    Also consider that he broke the single season TD record in the Pac-10, a conference known for it’s prolific tailbacks (e.g., OJ, Regie Bush, etc.).

    I’m a Big XII fan, but these achievements are worth considering. All that said, I hope for UT’s sake, that Colt wins the trophy, even if it’s a win born of politics and preseason hype.

  4. Phil the Brit November 30, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    I’m on the Toby Gerhart bandwagon too. Colt McCoy has passed for only one TD more than Gerhart has rushed!

    For most of the season, this Heisman campaign has been stuck in neutral, with a strong sense that candidates McCoy and Tebow were being carried by their teams, rather than the other way round.

    Down the stretch, two men emerged who were doing the carrying: Mark Ingram and Toby Gerhart. Following the Iron Bowl and Notre Dame games, Gerhart’s case is unanswerable unless Ingram can produce a comparable performance (150 yards or better) to beat the Gators in Atlanta.

    A McCoy Heisman would be a victory for hype over performance on the field.

    PS I know this point is not new, but the trophy should not be awarded to anyone in any year until the bowl season is done. Awarding it this year in particular to either McCoy or Ingram when the two may have the chance to battle it out on the field in the BCS Championship Game is nuts.

  5. Johnny November 30, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    This is a pretty interesting stats comparison of McCoy vs. Tebow (from a Tebow homer, but stats don’t lie):

  6. Mark November 30, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    Golden Tate on the list but no Danario Alexander? I have no problem with Tate, but if Tate is included he can’t be ahead of Alexander. DA has better numbers (crushing Jeremy Maclin’s single season records) and plays for a better team. Is it just the Notre Dame exposure relative to a lower profile Mizzou team, in regards to national attention?

    Alexander leads the nation in Yards Per TD catch at 47.9 yards on 13 TDs. Number 2 is Tate at 29.9 yards.

    If you want an even more staggering comparison take a minute to look at Jordan Shipley’s and Alexander’s numbers in Big 12 play….One player has almost 1250 yards in 8 games, nearly doubling the production of the other. And only one of them is a Biletnikoff Finalist.

  7. what up November 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    I’m interested to see how McCoy does in the Nebraska game. That will decide, for me at least, whether he really deserves it. Texas hasn’t had a consistent running game all season, so Texas has only gone as far as McCoy could carry them.

    He did have a bad game against Oklahoma, but Ingram had a bad game against Arkansas/Auburn, Tebow had a bad game against Miss St. As for Gerheart, his stats are good (although a few games he didn’t break 100 yards) but I don’t know how the team losses will be factored. Then again, Tebow won it when his team had 4 losses so maybe they won’t have any impact at all.

  8. sandymex November 30, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    CAM said: “I just looked this up…Gerhart had 311 carries this season and had zero fumbles.”

    Gerhart had 5 fumbles and lost 4 this year (1-1 San Jose St, 1-1 Wash, 1-0 ASU, 1-1 Oregon and 1-1 USC). That’s still an impressive 64 touches/fumble. But not as impressive as Tebow’s 160 touches/fumble. Tebow handles the ball every snap, runs the option and rarely has a lead blocker like Gerhart does. Tebow has averaged 160 touches/fumble.

  9. wlongus November 30, 2009 at 1:23 pm #


  10. Shane November 30, 2009 at 2:32 pm #

    Tebow’s Gators had 3 losses at the time of the 2007 voting. Two of those were to the #1 and #2 teams in the final polls (LSU and Georgia) so not really the same as Gerhart’s situation.

  11. CAM November 30, 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    The ESPN site which lists Gerhart’s stats indicates he did not have any fumbles. See link

    Not sure if these stats are correct but ESPN published them. I certainly didn’t see all of Stanford’s games.

    And come on, how can you compare a QBs touch-to-fumble ratio to that of a running back? That is the kind of comparison that reflects primarily on the party making it.

  12. Floridan November 30, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    Of all the contenders, Ingram is the most questionable. An excellent running back, but he does not have many rushing TDs considering his yardage gained (among the top ten yardage running backs, only one has scored fewer times than he has).

    In any case, Tebow and Ingram will split the southeastern vote.

  13. slippy November 30, 2009 at 4:33 pm #

    Johnny, the stats do lie. When using offensive or defensive rankings, it’s a huge chicken egg situation. I guarantee if you look at the offenses that Texas’ opponents and Florida’s opponents played, that UT’s opponents would be higher ranked, hence the lower ranking defense. So where do we draw the line? Are SEC defenses really that good? Or are the offenses that bad? Or are the defenses just above average against average offenses. You see my point?

    The only time a higher team statistical ranking means anything is for teams that have played the same schedule (or very close to it).

  14. sandymex November 30, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    CAM –

    You might notice that the same stat sheets for ESPN say Tebow has no fumbles in his entire career. To find the fumbles you need to look and extended box scores at the team websites or the play-by-play on sites like ESPN.

    Option running quarterbacks have many more opportunities to fumble than running backs. Shotgun snaps, fake hand-offs, pitches, QB sacks and QB keepers. There’s a reason Georgia Tech is leading the nation in fumbles this year.

  15. CAM November 30, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    Good point Sandy. I stand corrected. I see the logic, though I don’t necessarily agree that is a valid basis of comparison/differentiation.

    Maybe total times the player has found the endzone, be it on the ground or via a pass, is perhaps a better one. Or better still, how about how each compares to his peers by position.

  16. Thomas November 30, 2009 at 7:43 pm #

    Does Case Keenum get an invitation to New York this year as a “look forward to 2010”?

  17. michael November 30, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    Gerhart not being #1 and Ingram ahead of him is horseshit.

  18. Anonymous December 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm #

    CAM is not from Austin or a UT fan. He is just saying that to make him sound more compelling. If he was he would relize that McCoy has done just about a much as Tebow for UT and yet has had a fraction of the praise. Toby has done great but the Pac 10 defenses are terrible as usual. Colt should have won it last year and had the chance to play Tebow in the national championship. I hope Florida can make it to California and Colt can show Tebow and the rest of the Gator nation who the best QB of this Generation truely is…

  19. Adam December 1, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

    Sorry that was me with the comment before. It will all be solved in the next weeks. Watch as UT takes complete control over the “Best team of the 2000’s”
    -Most Wins
    -Tied for Most BSC Championships with LSU and Florida (both of UT will be undefeated though)

  20. Anonymous December 3, 2009 at 1:40 pm #

    Why has everyone completely forgotten how the BIG12 media members completely left TEbow off their ballot to ensure a BIG12 QB won the award? The SEC voters should do the same to Colt this year. The story of college football the past few years has been the SEC dominance. The BIG12 has not been a real factor. The Heisman should be dominated by SEC players and the BIOG12 deserves payback for their bias last year. Colt is a paper tiger. HE has racked up a lot of wins in the regular season but failed to deliver when it mattered. HE lost to Texas Tech when it mattered most.

  21. Kblue December 3, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    Ingram cannot possibly be ranked ahead of Gerhart. He was hardly even on the field during the 4th quarter last week, and trails Gerhart in every statistical category. Toby Gerhart has more touchdowns in November (vs. Oregon, USC, Cal, and Notre Dame) than Ingram has all year.
    Watch Toby run over a Notre Dame corner and then carry the entire secondary on his back during the 4th quarter last week – a time when Ingram was on the sidelines after gaining 30 yards for the entire game.