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Who Should Win The Heisman Trophy?

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I was on the Ndamukong Suh bandwagon long before Suh embarrassed Texas' offensive line and treated Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy as though he stole Jamal Malik's autographed photo of Amitabh Bachchan. If conventional wisdom were damned, Suh would leave New York this weekend with the Heisman Trophy as the nation's most outstanding college footballer.

That's not to suggest that at least two other finalists - Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart and Alabama tailback Mark Ingram - are markedly less deserving. At this stage there are no sound arguments supporting McCoy or Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, whose appearance as a three-time finalist is based on excessive and repulsive media fawning and comes at the expense of the more deserving C.J. Spiller, the sensational multipurpose back from Clemson. I had grown weary with the assumption that Ingram should claim the bounty as the best player representing the nation's best team (no where is that definition explicitly linked to the Heisman Trophy) and tired of the parroted take that since Ingram faced tougher defenses in the SEC, Gerhart's candidacy should be voided (despite the fact that the Pac-10 was superior in 2009).

It is true that Ingram did not pad his stats against the lightweights on the Crimson Tide schedule, so raw statistical metrics don't quite measure the effectiveness of the three tailbacks likely to receive the largest number of votes (Ingram, Gerhart, Spiller). Since so much has been made of the fact Ingram faced superior competition while attempting to become the first Alabama player to win the Heisman, let's take a look at how the five legitimate finalists (sorry, Tebow) stacked up against the top teams their respective programs challenged this season:

INGRAM
Top 3 Teams (based on final BCS standings): 5 Florida; 11 Virginia Tech; 12 LSU
Top 3 Defenses (stats available here): 4 Florida; 14 Virginia Tech; 15 South Carolina

Ingram averaged 135.7 yards/game and 5.4 yards/carry against the Gators, Hokies and Tigers, and upped those numbers to 169.7 yards/game and 6.5 yards/carry against the best defenses Alabama faced. Additionally, he had seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown against the Gators, Hokies and Gamecocks, pushing his touchdown total to six in those three contests. I was surprised by those numbers, for they reflected just how effective Ingram was against stout competition. I dismissed his candidacy initially, but these stats changed my mind.

GERHART
Top 3 Teams: 7 Oregon; 18 Oregon State; 20 Arizona
Top 3 Defenses: 12 Arizona State; 21 Arizona; 32 Oregon

The touchdown totals are what stand out: Gerhart scored seven times against the Ducks, Wildcats and Beavers while averaging 148.7 yards/game and 5.2 yards/carry. His yards/carry (5.1) and touchdowns (six) declined slightly against the top defenses faced by the Cardinal, but he averaged 159.0 yards/game against the Sun Devils, Wildcats and Ducks. Exceptional numbers for sure, but not as impressive as the totals Ingram produced against superior foes.

SPILLER
Top 3 Teams: 4 TCU; 9 Georgia Tech (twice); 15 Miami, Fla.
Top 3 Defenses: 1 TCU; 15 South Carolina; 23 Boston College

How was this guy not invited to New York? Spiller averaged 26 touches and 268 all-purpose yards against the Horned Frogs, Ramblin' Wreck and Hurricanes while scoring eight touchdowns. He was far less effective when substituting Tech and The U for South Carolina and BC, but averaging 23 touches and 198 yards while scoring three touchdowns is more than sufficient for inclusion as a finalist. I realize that Tebow's tears can cure diseases, but c'mon.

MCCOY
Top 3 Teams: 19 Oklahoma State; 22 Nebraska; Texas Tech
Top 3 Defenses: 7 Oklahoma; 9 Nebraska; 33 Oklahoma State

There is absolutely no statistical evidence to support McCoy winning the Heisman. I have no quarrel with his being a finalist - the kid has won an FBS-record 45 games as a starter - for he has far exceeded expectations as the heir to Vince Young. Pat him on the back, tell him job well done, and wish him luck against Alabama and in the NFL. However, do not hand him the Heisman. It's enough of a travesty that Tebow will be sitting next to McCoy on Saturday night.

It's seriously insulting that Texas didn't even play three teams that finished in the top 25 in the final BCS standings. That McCoy posted a 113.89 pass efficiency rating against the Cowboys, Cornhuskers and Red Raiders (the highest-ranked team outside the BCS standings on the Horns' schedule) is proof positive that he wasn't very good in the biggest games. That rating would rank 100th nationally if extrapolated over an entire season. Poor, huh? Well, not as bad as McCoy's numbers against the Sooners, Huskers and Cowboys, against whom he passed for 482 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for 47 yards and one score on 42 attempts. His pass efficiency against those three? 100.09. Not very efficient at all, folks.

SUH
Top 3 Teams: 2 Texas; 11 Virginia Tech; Texas Tech
Top 3 Offenses: 7 Texas Tech; 20 Texas; 22 Florida Atlantic

Who knew the Owls were so potent on offense? Suh can only hope that his final impression was lasting enough for him to swipe the hardware as the first true defensive player to win the Heisman. He racked up 24 tackles, 10 TFLs, six quarterback hurries, five sacks, four pass breakups and a partridge in a pear tree against the Horns, Hokes and Raiders. His totals against the Owls were almost identical to those at Virginia Tech, so his overall numbers as essentially the same. Apples and oranges when comparing offensive and defensive players, but truth be told Suh was the most outstanding college football player in the nation this year.

My ballot (if I had one): 1. Suh; 2. Ingram; 3. Gerhart; 4. Spiller; 5. McCoy.

And now I'll wait patiently for Chuck P to devise a 2010 Heisman campaign for Sam McGuffie.

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1 Comment

No love for Tebow, MK? This site is an official partner of CBSSports-- you need to get on board with the party line, where every 3 yard rush by Tebow is momentous enough to bring smiles to the faces of children and tears to the eyes of men.

Good analysis, I can't really argue with your ballot. Elite talent at an offensive skill position is always going to trump an elite DT, but by Heisman standards this group of RBs is a little bland, so I'm good with Suh at #1.

At Ease: You know what really rankles me about the Tebow love fest? Revisionist historians continue to claim that he led Florida to two BCS titles when he was merely the backup to Chris Leak in 2006. Tebow attempted 33 passes in 14 games and rushed for an average of 33.5 yards/game as a freshman, but since he added a Heisman in '07 and a BCS title in '08, what the heck, let's just scrub Leak out of the pages of history and give Tebow credit for that '06 crown. I am terribly vexed. - MK

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