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?