Could Ingram Be The First Heisman Winner to Fade into Obscurity While Still in School?

We’re knee-deep in a new Heisman age, with the last three winners coming from the sophomore class.

From the current vantage point, it appears the first two–Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford–stand a bit apart (categorically) from the most recent winner, Mark Ingram of Alabama.

Here’s why: Both Tebow and Bradford won the Heisman relatively comfortably while putting up earth-shattering statistics from the quarterback position.  Ingram, however, took home the trophy in the closest race in Heisman history while producing very good, though not ground-breaking, numbers as a running back.  Neither Tebow nor Bradford shared significant playing time with their backups, as Ingram did with true freshman Trent Richardson (145 carries, 751 yards, 8 TDS).  The result was that at no time during their Heisman-winning seasons was an observer able to credibly suppose that their backups might at least be comparable in talent, as was the case when watching Ingram and Richardson perform.  Obviously, this comparison was possible due to the different natures of the quarterback and running back positions.  Star signal callers rarely come out of a game when it matters, while even the best running backs need a breather once in a while.  As a result, we were able to see a top recruit like Richardson acquit himself quite well in several games.

We are all familiar with past Heisman winners who have flopped or fallen off the map post-college on their way to becoming the butt of jokes.  But Ingram’s situation raises the possibility that he could be the first Heisman winner to dramatically decline in productivity and status while still in school.  Not because of anything he will have done wrong, but because the guy emerging behind him is really talented and might be given a fair shot at being just as productive (if not more so).

Obviously, this is not a fait accompli.  A lot could happen in the next two years.  Ingram could keep improving and build upon his outstanding sophomore season with two more excellent efforts and go down as one of the more prolific backs of the last two decades.  Heck, maybe he’ll win two Heismans. 

But no other returning Heisman winner–much less one with two years remaining in his career–has ever had his primacy challenged to the degree that Ingram has by Richardson.   Increasingly, it looks like the two are operating as a tandem, with neither holding the upper hand in the carry department. 

If Ingram finishes his career in a steady-though-not-spectacular fashion due to the emergence of Richardson, we might have a hard time remembering that he won the Heisman in the first place.  Especially if Richardson wins the Heisman in his own right.

It’s not a bad problem for Alabama to have.  If Ingram keeps getting better and rises to the challenge, then he could be a factor in Heisman races to come.  But if Richardson fulfills his promise, he’ll also be smack-dab in that same conversation.  Or, both could end up being major stars and Heisman candidates, churning out thousands of yards between them, a la LenDale White and Reggie Bush at USC.  Again, not a bad problem for the Tide.

So I think the answer to the question of this post’s title is:  Not probable, but certainly an interesting possibility. 

Will Trent Richardson spoil Mark Ingram’s Heisman image?

About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, 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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4 Responses to Could Ingram Be The First Heisman Winner to Fade into Obscurity While Still in School?

  1. Glen April 20, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    I’ll get the comment ball rolling as a dyed-in-the-wool Tide fan.

    First, I’ll just say that HP has a fair and interesting point. I don’t recall any other returning Heisman winner who was subject to getting pushed by his backup. Ingram definitely has somebody in his rear-view mirror.

    That said, though, I will make a few comments on the Ingram-Richardson competition:

    (1) It was easy to see last year that Richardson is both faster and stronger than Ingram.

    (2) HOWEVER – it’s not all about strength and speed. Ingram was a significantly better runner than Richardson last year, overall. He’s nearly as fast as Richardson and nearly as strong as Richardson. Last year he much more than made up for it with his ability to find holes and his change of direction.

    (3) After the 2007 season, Saban hired running back coach Burton Burns, who had successfully coached C.J. Spiller and James Davis through their transition from high school to college.

    In 2008, Alabama was led by running back Glen Coffee, who went to the 49ers in the 2nd round. Coffee was MUCH better in ’08 than he had been in ’07, and the improvement was in his ability to hit the holes.

    in 2009, Alabama was led by running back Mark Ingram, who was MUCH better in ’09 than he had been in ’08, and the improvement was in his ability to hit the holes.

    In 2010, Trent Richardson will have had a year to work with Burton Burns. Just saying.

    (4) HOWEVER, at the end of the day, Ingram’s change of direction is elite. He’s got that little jump-step change of direction that made Emmitt Smith the NFL star he was. I’m not sure Richardson will ever catch up to him as an overall back, because it’s hard to over-emphasize how important change of direction is for a back at the highest level.

  2. AUman76 April 25, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Ingram was shut down by the worst Auburn defense I’ve ever seen yet wins the Heisman? Hell, even Kentucky ran the ball down our throats with a half assed backup QB. How Ingram won the trophie is a mystery to me and many others. Bammer has had many RB’s far better than MI. Da old man in the hat ran out a slew of backs better than this kid. Yeah…he was on a media favorite but to think he is in the same elite class as many former winners is a joke.
    My oppion is Richardson was, is and will be a much better RB at the college level and in the NFL. He’s the one back at bammer I hate to see with the pigskin. The kid is eat up with tallent. And no…. I ain’t a hatin cause Ingram is a bammer it’s cause he just isn’t what he’s cracked up to be. Richaerdson is gonna be the game breaker for the tuskaloser boys this season. He’s the one kid they have I’d like to see in Dark Navy and White. Umm Ummm um… the things we could do with him lined up in the back field outta the spread. I know all I’ll hear about is my hatin on MI but in all honesty and loyalties aside, my football instints tell me Richardson will be da man in t-town. Lil Nicky already knows this and will split carries evenly so as to always have fresh legs for both in the 4th quarter. With all the great backs at Running Back U….I should know what I’m talkin about and I do! One thing’s fer damned sure…it’s gonna be a fun and interesting year in the SEC West.
    Hey Glen….you gave a fair estimate but I just don’t think MI deserved the Heisman. Then again I’m not sure anyone stood out in ’09. Seems he won more by default that anything else. No BS about Richardson… I think y’all have a diamond that will come out more polished than last year and shine in your offense. Good luck till game #12. Hope the Iron Bowl means more than just State Braggin Rights for a change.

  3. Daniel July 17, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    Just of note. This article talks of the last 3 Heisman winners being Sophomores. Tebow and Ingram yes. Bradford was a Junior. Being that sophomore’s winning has only happened twice in history (Tebow & Ingram), at least get that right. I mean it’s not like it’s common place…..

    • Heismanpundit July 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

      Bradford was a redshirt sophomore, so he was a sophomore in terms of playing eligibility, even if he was in his third year in school.