I’ve sometimes gone against the grain in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
This year, I’ve found myself in the grain. But that’s OK.
From listening to and reading various commentators and columnists, my sense is that there’s a strong movement to award the trophy, emblematic of the best player in college football, to someone other than a quarterback on one of the best teams. There seems to be wide-ranging sentiment for a change. It’s a Darren McFadden year without Darren McFadden.
I’m getting vibes that the Heisman will be awarded tonight to one of two running backs, Toby Gerhart of Stanford or Mark Ingram of Alabama. And several folks who turned in their ballots early may want their votes back. Many observers now opine that the player who is really the best — who will be the best pro and is the envy of every coach and may be the top player in college football — is Nebraska lineman Ndamukong Suh. But he probably surged upon the national scene too late to win.
However, there seems to be a mood in a lot of places to give it to a defensive player if the credentials are awesome enough and Suh has those. I know that sentiment. My first-place vote one year went to Mike Singletary, and I’ve never regretted that vote. I think history has justified it.
But this year, as last year, I voted for Colt McCoy of Texas. I thought he deserved it last year and what he accomplished this year, while statistically not as impressive, still kept him at the top of my list.
He got my vote because I’m not sure Texas was an eight-victory team, much less a 13-win team, without McCoy. He was the ignition and fuel to the Longhorns offense. He naturally led the Longhorns in passing and has completed more than 70 percent for his career.
He is also the Longhorns’ leading rusher by a large amount. Hardly any team in modern college football runs a multiple attack and wins 10-plus games with the quarterback being the key to the rushing attack.
I was also impressed with the bottom line. Colt McCoy won — the winningest quarterback in college football history (44 victories). He found a way to win in spectacular fashion (in a shootout with Texas A&M) and when he was erratic (against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game) in which he flirted with the clock and a “Les Miles moment.”
Possibly, the convincer for me came on a near disastrous moment against Oklahoma. McCoy was intercepted near the goal line on a miscue that wasn’t his fault. A receiver ran the wrong route. He delivered the ball right where it supposed to be and was picked off. The first thing McCoy did was take care of the immediate problem and make an impressive tackle (cut the defensive back’s legs from him and he fell like a tree) that saved a game-changing touchdown. McCoy then got up, walked to his young, inexperienced receiver, patted him on the head, and as coach Mack Brown later described it, calmly told him, “Next time, be a little flatter and go underneath on that.”
To me, the most outstanding player in college football certainly accumulates statistics, but he also makes plays he’s not expected to make and exhibits grace and leadership under pressure. In that one play, McCoy exhibited all that.
We are allowed three votes.
My second-place vote went to Gerhart. Gerhart, the Doak Walker winner, has done spectacular things for a four-loss team and one that was out of the spotlight. Still, he led the nation with 26 touchdowns and averaged 144.7 yards per game — and averaged 200.3 per game against ranked opponents.
Put him behind Alabama’s offensive line (in my opinion the best unit in college football) and you’d really see some numbers. Put Gerhart on a traditional power (Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, USC, Alabama, etc.) and I think he wins convincingly this year.
My third-place vote went to Ingram, who came out of nowhere to be a catalyst for Alabama’s season. Like Gerhart, he moved into serious contention without much preseason hype or a concerted marketing campaign. He earned his status. And those 82 yards after contact against a good Florida defense really impressed me.
Suh was right in the mix for the top three. He’s the type of defensive lineman who is on every coach’s dream list. His problem is he played in the terribly anemic Big 12 North, and we didn’t know how dominant he could be until we saw him against Texas. And we still don’t because we’re not sure how good Texas really is.
Wonder if some voters gave him the nod because they wanted to say they voted for a boy named Suh? Although if you saw him play, Suh is no boy. He’s a real man.
Tim Tebow? He’s the most iconic player to come along in college football in a long time. He’s a great leader, a fantastic role model, a great representative for college athletics.
But Tebow has benefitted in the past from being the darling and “chosen one” of many influential media. In my opinion, his performance this year did not rise to the level of either McCoy, Gerhart, Ingram or Suh. In a couple of SEC games (including against Alabama), he was not the best quarterback on the field.
In the showdown with Alabama, when his team had a chance to get back in the game, Tebow had a receiver wide open in the end zone and all he had to do was put a little touch and loft on the ball. Instead, he tried to force it past and defender and was intercepted, ending Florida’s chance to win the game, the SEC title and the national title. It was the type of play a very experienced senior quarterback and the best player in colllege has to make when his team has to have it in a game it has to win.
Bottom line, while I admire a lot about Tebow, from my perspective, his overall performance was not Heisman worthy this season.
But my favorite player in college football this year is wide receiver Jordan Shipley of Texas, who was always in my top eight for a Heisman vote. Shipley not only catches, but returns punts, kickoffs and holds on placements. In fact, not many people realize how much he saved Texas with the effortless way he put down the perfect hold on the field goal that defeated Nebraska. Watch Shipley play and you realize how skillfully and almost effortlessly he does a lot of little things to help a team win.
A good friend in Austin, a pastor, tells me that Shipley has every bit of the character and spiritual compass as Tebow; he just does it more quietly and with less fanfare.
Now, I have admitted, as an Arkansan, I have voted for a Texas quarterback two years in a row and a Longhorn receiver is my favorite player this year.
Maybe that is going against the grain.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)