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October 21, 2009

Column: Heisman hopes probably wishful thinking

There's been an unofficial website created to promote his chances, CBS and ESPN are suddenly both touting him as the frontrunner and University of Alabama students can't help but strike the pose around campus.

Welcome to the Heisman Trophy hype Mark Ingram, who became a serious candidate after his 246-yard rushing performance against South Carolina on Saturday. Overall, he has 905 rushing yards on 135 carries (6.7 average), 11 touchdowns, is tied for the team lead in receptions with 19 for 186 yards, and has yet to lose a fumble during his collegiate career.

Thanks to Alabama's high-profile schedule, voters are beginning to take note his rare combination of power and speed, both in person and on television. Ingram leads the nation with 30 carries of 10 yards or more and has gained 580 yards after contact this season, 53.4 percent of his total yards. Twice his yards after contact have exceeded 100 yards with 115 against Virginia Tech and 167 against the Gamecocks.

But can the sophomore running back really win?

Probably not, and that's not a knock on Ingram at all, just the way things are in regards to the award. It's also why university officials are not planning a major campaign and the low-key Ingram has shown no problems about being the flavor of the week.

"It's an honor to be considered as one of the top candidates for that award, but I'm not too worried about it," Ingram said. "I'm just worried about winning and helping this team get better every day, helping us win."

Since 2000, all Heisman winners have been quarterbacks except one: Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Carson Palmer, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford.

When Bush won he beat out quarterbacks Vince Young, Leinart and Brady Quinn. He accumulated 1,658 rushing yards on 187 carries and scored 15 touchdowns in the regular season. That's an average of 8.9 yards per carry and he led the nation in all-purpose yards at 217.9. The game that put Bush over the top was Fresno State on Nov. 19, when he set a Pac-10 record with 513 all-purpose yards including 294 yards rushing.

Since 1995, only two other running backs have won the award. In 1998, Ricky Williams became the NCAA career-rushing leader with 6,279 yards and set 19 other national records. The following year, Ron Dayne had 1,834 rushing yards as a senior to break Williams' record with 6,925 yards.

Now consider someone who didn't win, two-time runner-up Darren McFadden.

In 2006, he ran for a school-record 1,647 yards, scored 14 touchdowns and threw for three more after Arkansas unveiled the Wildcat, err, Wild Hog formation.

McFadden began the subsequent season with five consecutive games with 120 or more yards, including his 195-yard performance in a 41-38 loss in Tuscaloosa, but then had 41 yards against Auburn, "only" 110 at Ole Miss and 61 in a blowout win against Florida International.

The 323 rushing yards to set the SEC single-game rushing record against South Carolina in his final game in Fayetteville put him back in the spotlight, as did the 206 yards and three touchdowns against LSU, yet by then voters were already enamored with someone else, Tebow. It didn't matter that McFadden finished with 1,829 rushing yards, or that his 5,259 career rushing yards through his junior year were second in SEC history to Herschel Walker.

The last SEC running back to win the Heisman was Bo Jackson in 1985.

So even though the preseason favorites of Bradford, Colt McCoy and Tebow haven't enjoyed the same kind of statistical success (or health) as last year during their1-2-3 finish, Alabama would have to keep winning and Ingram would probably need to double his numbers to have a legitimate shot.

That figures to be difficult because upcoming opponents Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State all rank in the top half of the SEC in rushing defense, rivalry games like Alabama-Auburn rarely result in big numbers, and he'd probably have to best Tebow somehow in a potential Alabama-Florida showdown in the Atlanta.

Additionally, the Tide uses three running backs, with freshman Trent Richardson and senior Roy Upchurch also in the mix, and Coach Nick Saban isn't going to try and load Ingram's numbers. He's never had a player finish in the top 10 for the Hesiman.

"We're sort of a day-in-age it's always about a guy who gets a lot of publicity, a lot of PR, it may not be about a guy who's selfless as he is," senior tight end Colin Peek said about Ingram. "That's the type of kid he is. He comes to work every day. He grinds out every day. He finishes all the runs in practice.

"He's a great person to be around. He's a leader type of guy. When things get tough, he wants the ball. At the same time he's willing to give carries away as long as it means the betterment of our team. When he gets out there he just wants to put his best foot forward."

Take it a step further, if Alabama was going to give out a most valuable player award for the first seven games, it would probably go to junior linebacker Rolando McClain. He too has been mentioned for Heisman consideration, but the odds are stacked against him even more.

"I highly doubt it," junior quarterback Greg McElroy said about the possibility a defensive player winning this year. "These past couple of years it's all been a quarterback race, or maybe a Reggie Bush return-type guy maybe, but it's probably not very realistic."


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