It’s time for the final Heisman Watch of the 2009 college football season. This post will attempt to figure out the current state of the race and try to project the outcome of the vote. This is certainly as challenging a Heisman race as I have covered in my six seasons of running this site.
So let’s get started.
I begin with the strong belief that the top eight finalists in the Heisman vote will be (in no particular order):
The ninth and 10th will likely be two out of Golden Tate, Jeremiah Masoli, Jacquizz Rodgers or Jimmy Clausen.
Keep in mind there are 925 Heisman selectors, comprised of 145 voters in each of the six regions, plus 55 former winners. These are the people who will decide the winner.
The task now is to eliminate those who can’t win, while figuring out how those who can and will win and why.
With the season complete, there are only three players from the aforementioned list who can win the Heisman:
Let’s look at each player and his pluses and minuses heading into Heisman week:
Toby Gerhart, Senior, Running Back, Stanford (8-4)
5.6 yards per carry
145 rushing yards per game
26 rushing touchdowns
1 touchdown pass
149 receiving yards
Gerhart remains the strongest candidate out West and with the splintering of the votes throughout the regions, he has an outside shot of pulling this one out. He will do best among those who want to choose a standout running back for the Heisman, among those who don’t care about picking a player from a title-contending team and among those who hearken back to the days when big, bruising, blue-collar backs were the order of the day (think Steve Owens and John Cappalletti). Being a senior helps, but playing for a non-traditional Heisman power such as Stanford hurts. His statistics compare favorably with several past Heisman-winning running backs and, of course, his total touchdown figure would be among the tops in Heisman history. He will do worst among those who prefer quarterbacks for the Heisman, among those who see Stanford’s 8-4 record as an issue and among those who don’t watch (or care to watch) much Pac-10 football. It also doesn’t help that he did not play this past weekend while his Heisman competition did.
Gerhart’s best shot of winning is if he captures the West region by a large margin, finishes a strong second in the Midwest and Northeast and then squeezes in a third-place finish in the Southwest.
He has a chance to do well in the Midwest due to his manhandling of Notre Dame. He could conceivably garner support in the Northeast due to his status as a star player for an elite academic institution (lots of former Ivy Leaguers in that region). He might take third in the Southwest if voters from that region move to strategically keep players like Ingram or Tebow off their ballots.
Predicted Strongest Region: Far West
Predicted Weakest Region: South
Predicted finish among the 55 Former Heisman winners: Second
Predicted Finish: Wait for it…
Mark Ingram, Sophomore, Running Back, Alabama (13-0)
1,542 rushing yards
6.2 yards per carry
119 rushing yards per game
15 rushing touchdowns
3 receiving touchdowns
The Alabama sophomore running back came through with a big game against No. 1 Florida, rushing for 113 yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns. He also added 76 yards on two catches, including a 65-yard catch and run that helped break the game open. The question is: Was it enough to catch McCoy?
By virtue of the Tide’s win over the Gators, Ingram is now the top candidate in the South and he should carry that region comfortably. He will also fare well in the Midwest, as he hails from Flint, Mich. Voters in the Northeast probably remember the days when his dad played for the New York Giants, so he could get some solid support there, too. He will do best among those who want to pick a running back for the Heisman, among those who see him as the catalyst for the Tide’s No. 1 ranking and among those who most appreciate big performances against top-flight competition. Playing for the No. 1 team is a boon to his candidacy, as is the fact that Alabama has never won a Heisman. His main drawbacks are his sophomore status and his resulting lack of name recognition, plus his not-out-of-this-world stat sheet. As it stands, his 1,542 rushing yards would be the fewest by a Heisman-winning running back at the time of the ceremony since Archie Griffin had just 1,357 in 1975.
Ingram will win the South, though Tim Tebow will eat into his lead somewhat and prevent him from dominating the way Gerhart will in the West. He should finish no worse than second in the Midwest and no worse than second in the Mid-Atlantic (C.J. Spiller’s support here is a wildcard). His performance in the Northeast could determine his Heisman fate, as he will do poorly in both the West and Southwest.
Predicted Strongest Region: South
Predicted Weakest Region: Southwest
Predicted Finish Among the 55 Former Heisman Winners: Fourth
Predicted Finish: Wait for it…
Colt McCoy, Senior, Quarterback, Texas (13-0)
330 of 468 attempts
70.5% completion percentage
3,512 passing yards
270 passing yards per game
27 touchdown passes
147.46 efficiency rating
348 rushing yards
3 rushing touchdowns
Without a doubt, McCoy slipped up in the Big 12 title game, as he threw three interceptions and totaled just 184 passing yards (with no passing TDs). However, he was able to avert complete disaster thanks to Texas pulling it out in the end. Nevertheless, he’ll head to the Heisman ceremony in a weakened state.
McCoy’s strengths are: (1) He is a senior quarterback for a traditional power playing in the national title game, (2) He has excellent name recognition due to his runner up Heisman finish a year ago and (3) He is the only quarterback with a real shot at winning the Heisman.
While his numbers aren’t as impressive as they were last year, they are within the bounds of past Heisman-winning seasons (though his 27 touchdown passes would be the fewest by a Heisman-winning quarterback since Vinnie Testaverde’s 26 in 1986). He will do best among voters who want to choose a quarterback for the Heisman, among those who see him as the main reason Texas is undefeated and in the title game and among those who thought he should’ve won the Heisman last season. He will do worst among those who want to pick a running back for the Heisman.
McCoy will win the Southwest, though Ndamukong Suh and Case Keenum will also pick up support there. He will do well in the Midwest (which he won last year, his second-strongest region) and in the Northeast (where his name recognition will pay off). He is likely to do better in the West than Ingram will. His worst region will be the South, where he may not crack the top three, and the Mid-Atlantic.
Predicted Strongest Region: Southwest
Predicted Weakest Region: South
Predicted Finish Among the 55 Former Heisman Winners: 1st
Predicted Finish: Wait for it…
So what am I waiting for?
Well, first we need to sort out a few issues. Namely, the players in the race who could act as spoilers.
Ndamukong Suh–There is a definite surge toward Suh following his amazing performance against Texas in the Big 12 title game. He is certainly a darling among the hard-core college football media right now. Suh isn’t going to win the Heisman, but I think he has a chance to finish as high as fourth or fifth, which would be the highest finish by a defensive tackle since Steve Emtman took fourth in 1991.
Suh’s impact on the race could be profound. He is likely to pick up significant first-place votes in the Southwest, thus taking away from McCoy’s total there. But he will hurt Ingram in the Southwest, too, as the ‘Bama running back will be hard pressed making it onto many ballots due to Suh giving that region’s voters another option (along with McCoy and Keenum). Furthermore, Suh is likely to do well in parts of the Midwest, as he hails from a farm state bordering the region. His presence could knock both McCoy and Ingram down a few pegs there.
That all said, Suh should get no more than token/scattered support outside the Southwest and Midwest.
C.J. Spiller–Spiller finished his season strong and should do well in his home region, the Mid-Atlantic. A weak Spiller candidacy might’ve yield the region to Ingram, who no doubt impressed area voters with his performance against ACC power Virginia Tech back in September. But now that Spiller has done so well, he should finish no worse than second in the Mid-Atlantic and could conceivably win it. That means fewer votes for Ingram and McCoy. Furthermore, his status as a Florida native and somewhat Southern candidate (Clemson is in South Carolina), will also take away from Ingram in parts of the South. It will also serve to crowd out McCoy as a third-place option in the South. Lastly, as an ACC player, his reach extends to the Northeast (Boston College) media, so his name recognition in that part of the country could cause him to pick up some random–but vital–votes in that region.
I foresee a sixth-place finish for Spiller, but he could have a say in who ends up winning.
Tim Tebow–He’s been knocked out of Heisman contention, but he’s still a major wild card in this race. He’ll obviously get a ton of votes in the South (hurting Ingram) and do fairly well in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast (hurting McCoy). I see him finishing fourth or fifth in this race, but he could still potentially affect the ultimate outcome.
This is going to be a very close Heisman race among the top three vote-getters. The aforementioned spoiler factor is what throws a wrench into the equation. Any one of the three could win, depending on how the regions vote. In the end, the Heismandments make it clear which player has the advantage–even if ever-so-slight–and that’s why my pick to win the 2009 Heisman Trophy is:
I think that if Texas had lost to Nebraska, McCoy would’ve missed out on the Heisman. But his team won and that’s why he’ll probably hang on and eke this one out despite throwing three picks against the Huskers. I think Heisman voters like Ingram, but they aren’t overwhelmed by either him or McCoy so they will give the benefit of the doubt to the senior they’ve known for a while. If I had to put a number on each player based on my confidence of the outcome, I’d put McCoy at 60%, Ingram at 30% and Gerhart at 10% to win. I think there will definitely be quite a bit of suspense next Saturday, which should make for an interesting ceremony.
I see the final order of the voting going like this:
1. Colt McCoy
2. Mark Ingram
3. Toby Gerhart
4. Tim Tebow
5. Ndamukong Suh
6. C.J. Spiller
7. Kellen Moore
8. Case Keenum
9. Golden Tate
10. Jeremiah Masoli
Keep in mind that this is not necessarily how I prefer the race to go, it is just how I think it will go. Stay tuned as I’ll have the final HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll tomorrow, plus I will break down how I think the regions will shake down and also reveal my own personal Heisman vote and why I voted the way I did.