Instant Analysis - Heisman
Mark Ingram Wins It
Alright, Mark. You won the Heisman. Now go and earn it.
The way the Heisman vote shook out showed a few things. 1) The East
Coast bias that West Coast types cry and whine about might have actually
been an issue. 2) No one knew what to do with Ndamukong Suh (my No. 1
pick on the ballot), 3) 203 voters who chose Colt McCoy first had
something better to do than watch the Oklahoma or Nebraska games, the
two biggest of the year for the Longhorns, 4) 43 voters are in love with
Tim Tebow no matter what actually happened on the field this season, and
5) Mark Ingram won the Heisman, but it's not like anyone outside of
Alabama is jumping for joy over this.
Ingram had a nice season. Not a phenomenal season, not really a
Heisman-caliber season, but a nice season. Since Tebow and Florida stunk
it up in the SEC Championship, McCoy was awful in the Big 12
Championship, and no one East of the Mississippi saw Toby Gerhart
outside of the Notre Dame game, Ingram became the default winner. The
Someone-Had-To-Win winner. But he still has a bowl game to play.
Sam Bradford won the 2008 Heisman, but Tim Tebow turned out to be the
season's most outstanding player. Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman, but
Vince Young turned out to be the season's most outstanding player. In
2000, Chris Weinke won the Heisman, but Josh Heupel would've won it
after the bowl games. This year, Ingram might have won the Heisman, but
if he doesn't rock against Texas, and if Alabama doesn't win the BCS
Championship, it's going to be another year when the voters wished they
could've changed their minds after the fact.
But Ingram can change all of that and he can end the Heisman debate once
and for all by coming up with a Heisman-caliber performance against the
Longhorns. Considering Texas will be in a bad mood and with everyone
focused on stopping the guy who took their quarterback's Heisman, that
would be a strong feat (although Bush ripped up the Longhorns in the
2006 Rose Bowl).
Ingram really might be the real deal, superstar type of legend who does
the Heisman proud. We might all look back and realize that this was the
start of something big, not the climax. But one thing is clear, we all
need to see more. He's a good guy and someone to root for, but he has to
show that he really is an elite player worthy of this honor and not just
a very good player on the best team in college football.
It's become trendy to pick apart the Heisman Trophy and diminish its importance within the college football landscape. Watching the emotion showed by Mark Ingram on Saturday night made much of that chatter appear silly.
Like all individual awards, the Heisman has imperfections, but it still matters and likely always will. Deal with it. Ingram let you know that with his reaction to eking out the award in the tightest vote ever. A rock in every other venue of his life, he couldn't contain his joy over joining one of the greatest fraternities in all of sports. That refreshing type of display from a kid who's generally quite reserved and introverted told you everything you need to know about the Heisman's impact on a young man's life, today and for the rest of his life.
I took a few things out of this year's race, which had a some different cast members, yet was every bit as intriguing as anticipated before the season began. First, it's obvious that class no longer matters. Didn't underclassmen used to face a glass ceiling? Well, a sophomore has now taken home the trophy in each of the last three years, and it's only a matter of time before the first freshman sits for his portrait. Second, Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh could wind up being a pioneer in this discussion. Sure, he's a unique player who doesn't come around every year, but the fact that he finished fourth and gobbled up a bunch of first place votes was telling. As voters continue to evolve, it seems that they might be less fixated on just championing quarterbacks and running backs. If so, add that to Suh's long list of impacts on the game in 2009.
1) The tears from Mark Ingram and his family, plus the power of the realization that the Alabama Crimson Tide finally have their first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, made this year's ceremony a memorable one in New York. The moment was as beautiful as one could ever hope for, the emotions commensurate with this unique and prestigious award. In terms of the human experience, Saturday night's events reminded sports fans – not just college football diehards – why we love and care about the games people play. Sports injected a considerable dose of beauty into the life of Mark Ingram, and the world inhabited by a rightfully proud Alabama football family.
2) Since this award confers such pronounced prestige on its recipients, can we make a reasonable attempt to ensure that the Heisman Trophy is awarded fairly? Mark Ingram won in the three regions (Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast) that did not have a Heisman candidate – such a reality doesn't just SUGGEST that the voting system's longstanding problems are as bad as they've ever been; it nakedly INDICATES as much.
Let's be brutally honest: The bias in favor of players on teams playing in the national title game is very much alive and well, sad to say. Colt McCoy beat out Ndamukong Suh for third place, and won 42 more first-place votes. Ingram's superiority in non-Heisman regions says that mass-media influence (i.e., the dynamics of a popularity contest) held sway in this race.
The bias in favor of offensive players? Very much intact as well. Many projections during the week had Suh – Nebraska's defensive stud – in second or a close third, with a substantial portion of first-place votes, but the final balloting left the herculean Husker in fourth place.
The bias in favor of players who play – and play well - on the last weekend of the season is also flourishing as much as ever. If Ingram's final game had been the Auburn nightmare on Nov. 27, would he be standing in front of a Heisman pulpit as the newest member of an elite fraternity? Be honest.
The people in charge of the voting system for this award need to do a few things: A) Prohibit ballots from being turned in before all games (except for Army-Navy, of course) have been played. The logic of such a policy is obvious. B) Require voters to pass a college football literacy test, or some modest but reasonable measure of wide-ranging knowledge about the just-concluded season. Voters – since they're asked to name the top three players – should give three reasons why the winner should be the winner, and why the runners-up didn't quite deserve to hold the hardware. C) If the Heisman system won't pare down the number of voters, it must at least weed out voters who, in various ways and for various reasons, reveal that they simply haven't watched an appreciably large and diverse amount of games over the course of the season, from a multiplicity of conferences in a wide range of time slots.
Ndamukong Suh was the most outstanding player of the 2009 college football regular season, but a number of longstanding biases and wayward Heisman elements meant that the dynamic defender never had all that much of a chance. You can love what this moment means for Mark Ingram… and Joe Namath… and Bart Starr… and Johnny Musso… and Jay Barker… and Gene Stallings… and Lee Roy Jordan… and Tony Nathan… and Dwight Stephenson… and John Hannah, and dozens of other Alabama football legends, while still hating the process that produced another unsatisfying and highly dubious Heisman Trophy result.