2009 Heisman Finalists Breakdown

Posted Dec 8, 2009

The five finalists for the 2009 Heisman Trophy have been announced, and while a few deserving names were left out, there's big-time star power, two great running backs, and a pure defensive player with a real, live shot at pulling out the win. Pete Fiutak breaks down and analyzes the five and predicts the winner.

2009 Heisman Finalists

Breaking down the Big Five

  By Pete Fiutak

At the beginning of the season, this was supposed to be one of the greatest Heisman races ever with Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and Colt McCoy expected to lead a three-man dogfight for the big prize. Bradford hurt his shoulder, Tebow was mediocre, and McCoy failed to have a Heisman moment in a year with no one stepping up and becoming the signature player who had to be voted for. While the race might not be among the heavyweights, it could turn out to be one of the tightest votes ever.

With the votes in, McCoy and Tebow were given a plane ticket to New York as two of the finalists, along with Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, and Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh in what should be a nail-biter that could go any way ... at least among the three non-quarterbacks. McCoy and Tebow likely received enough third place votes to warrant bringing their star-power to the show, but a huge stink  would be raised if either one of them won; they simply weren't as good this year as the other three finalists.

So who's going to win it? Here's the breakdown of the five finalists with a best guess on how the pecking order will go, but first, the five players who did get a spot among the finalists, but could've.

The Top Five Heisman Options Who Missed Out

1. C.J. Spiller, RB Clemson

He finished fourth in America in all-purpose yards and was dynamic in carrying Clemson to the ACC title game. He finished the season with 233 yards and four touchdown against Georgia Tech, but no one saw the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech because the world was riveted to Nebraska's battle with Texas.

2. Case Keenum, QB Houston
The numbers are staggering. 5,449 yards, 43 touchdowns, nine interceptions,71% completions, four 500-yard games, three 400-yard games, and in every game but one, a win over SMU, over 300. But his candidacy lost steam after Houston lost to UTEP, UCF, and in the Conference USA championship to East Carolina. However, in the three losses, Keenum threw for 536 yards and five scores against the Miners, 377 yards and three scores against the Knights, and 527 yards and five touchdowns against the Pirates.

3. Dion Lewis, RB Pitt
The superstar true freshman ran for 1,640 yards and 16 touchdowns, and caught 24 passes for 190 yards and a score. He ran for 100 yards or more in nine games and in each of the last seven games, highlighted by a performance in what turned out to be the Big East championship with 194 yards and three scores in the heartbreaking loss to Cincinnati.

4. Golden Tate, WR Notre Dame
No receiver in the top 75 in catches averaged more yards per catch, and no one was more thrilling. Tate caught 93 passes for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns, scoring at least once in each of the last eight games, finishing off with a bang making ten grabs for 201 yards and three scores.

5. Jimmy Clausen, QB Notre Dame
He finished the season ranked second in passing efficiency with 28 touchdown passes and four interceptions. (Boise State's Kellen Moore finished first in efficiency and threw 39 touchdown passes and three picks.)

The Finalists, Ranked By Where They're Expected To Finish

5. Tim Tebow, QB Florida
Tebow doesn't deserve to be here, likely receiving most of his votes from those too impatient to submit their ballots until after the final weekend of the season. He finished 84th in the nation in passing, but he was eighth in passing efficiency, and 31st in total offense. Make no mistake about it, he had a good year by most standards, but the 18 touchdown passes, five interceptions, 859 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, were a bit underwhelming by his own ridiculously high standards, considering he threw for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns with six interceptions, and ran for 895 yards and 23 scores, in his Heisman-winning season of 2007.

He deserved the Heisman more last year, when he lost to Bradford (and would've won it had the voting been done after the bowls), with 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions before the BCS Championship, to go along with 12 touchdown runs while leading the Gators to the SEC championship. And there's the biggest problem. The X factor in Tebow's candidacy is the nebulous leadership aspect. It has become a go-to cliché, but yes, he really did will his team to an SEC title and a national championship last season highlighted by a brilliant performance against Alabama. This year, he failed to get the Gators past Alabama and will be off to the Sugar Bowl, and that ended the campaign. To be fair, he had to fight through a concussion and the loss of WR Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin to the NFL, but in the end, the screaming and yelling and the "Let's Go" aren't going to be enough to get him a second Heisman.

4. Colt McCoy, QB Texas
If only he had done something more memorable in the Big 12 Championship than lazily throw the ball out of bounds with barely a flicker of a second still left on the clock, he'd be the winner. He's a great guy, he could've won it last year and no one would've blinked, and he's now the all-time winningest quarterback in FCS history, but the stats don't even come close to his previous campaigns.

That's not quite fair; the statistics might not be as strong, but unlike the previous three years he got his Longhorns a Big 12 title and to the national championship. If he goes lights-out in Pasadena and leads the team to a win over Alabama, he might suffer the same fate as Vince Young in 2005 and Tim Tebow last year and be the one who would've won the Heisman had the voting been done after the bowls. Also, to be fair, he was asked to change his game this year.

Unlike the previous three seasons when he had to carry the running game at times, especially last season when he ran for 573 yards and ten touchdowns, and threw for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions before the Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State, he was asked to run less to try to stay healthy in a national title run. Mission accomplished, but the stats took a hit. 175 of his 348 rushing yards came against Texas A&M, and he threw 27 touchdown passes with 12 interceptions with three coming against Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship. He only threw for 127 yards in the win over Oklahoma, 184 against the Huskers, and 171 against Oklahoma State. Most likely, he received most of his votes from those who submitted their ballots after the Texas A&M game.

3. Toby Gerhart, RB Stanford
Gerhart carried the Cardinal to a special season with wins over USC and Notre Dame on the way to the Sun Bowl. Not only did he come through in the biggest games, he was steady and consistent on the way to leading the nation with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. However, he's second in the nation behind Fresno State's Ryan Mathews in yards per game and averaged a good, but not great, 5.58 yards per carry. He ran a whopping 311 times to get the huge yard total, while no one else got over the 300 mark. In other words, for good and bad when it comes to the Heisman race, his biggest attribute was being a workhorse.

In the two games he didn't get 100 yards (Wake Forest and Oregon State), the Cardinal lot, while the three lowest carry totals of the season came in three losses. Even so, he was fantastic and stepped his game up big-time over the second half of the year. With everyone focusing on stopping him, he managed to rush for 223 yards and three scores against Oregon, 178 yards and three touchdowns against USC, 136 yards and four touchdowns against Cal, and 205 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame in the last four weeks. He also threw a touchdown pass against the Irish.

But he suffers from the Stanford season ending early. While the four other Heisman finalists got one final game that everyone paid attention to, for good and bad, the Notre Dame game had to stay fresh in the voters' minds. He'll likely get plenty of No. 1 votes, but not enough twos and threes to win the Heisman.

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska
The race was over. Mark Ingram had the Heisman signed, sealed, and delivered at around 7:30 EST last Saturday night. Suh might have changed that roughly three hours later. The uninitiated to Suh's greatness got a taste of the best defensive lineman in college football over the last two years in his virtuoso performance.

This is a 6-4, 302-pound defensive tackle who returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season. led the team in tackles, which is unheard of for a defensive tackle, and had finally grown into the promise and potential that went untapped during his first two seasons. This was, again, a defensive tackle who made 12 tackles in a win over Kansas last season with 2.5 sacks and was steadily dominant throughout. Inexplicably, he chose to come back for his senior season when he would've been a sure-thing top-five draft pick. And now he's deep in the hunt for the Heisman.

He has already won the Nagurski, is a lock to win the Outland, the Lombardi, and every other defensive award he's able to win after wowing America with a 12 tackle, 4.5 sack, seven tackle for loss game against Texas that had everyone figuring out how to spell his first name. While the Big 12 Championship showed what most already knew, that he's the No. 1 pro prospect in college football, he had come up with strong game after strong game all season long with 82 tackles, leading the team for the second year in a row, with 12 sacks, ten defended passes, 23 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback hurries, and three blocked kicks. In a year when no offensive player was head and shoulders above the rest, there will be a major contingent of voters who will be looking to make a statement, while also voting for a defensive player worthy of the honor of being called the "most outstanding college football player in the United States for 2009."

1. Mark Ingram, RB Alabama
He's 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game, is 31st in all-purpose yards, struggled in one of the biggest games of the season rushing for just 30 yards on 16 carries in the near-miss that everyone saw against Auburn on Thanksgiving weekend. And then came the SEC Championship.

Was he going to play? That was the biggest question mark going into the showdown against Florida after Ingram suffered a hip injury against Auburn. All he did was gash the Gators and their defense that was No. 1 in the nation in yards allowed, No. 1 in points allowed, No. 1 against the pass, and No. 8 against the run for 113 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries, and caught two passes for 76 more yards. But coming up big in big games wasn't new to Ingram.

150 yards and a touchdown against Virginia Tech. 172 yards and a score against Kentucky. 246 against South Carolina and 144 against LSU. Ingram wasn't always needed, he got minimal work against FIU and North Texas, but when the team needed him the most, and when the passing game was sputtering and struggling during a Greg McElroy crisis of confidence, he delivered and carried the offense to the SEC Championship game undefeated.

The big knock against his candidacy for the Heisman is that his team just might be too good. After all, Trent Richardson averaged 7.3 yards per carry against Florida and Roy Upchurch averaged 8.1, and each one has been effective all year when given a shot. But because Alabama dominated Florida and is now considered the No. 1 team in the nation by far, and because he was so tremendous against the Gators, and because he had moved into a front-runner's spot before the Auburn game, regaining it by halftime in Atlanta, the sophomore should end up being the Alabama's first Heisman winner.