Suh earns top spot in final Heisman Watch after dominating Texas
Suh could become the first defensive player to win since Charles Woodson
Mark Ingram edges Toby Gerhart for No. 2 after his big game against Florida
Gerhart isn't a victim of not playing Saturday, but of great games by others
The 2009 season began with the potential to be a historic Heisman year. For the first time, two players -- Tim Tebow (2007 winner) and Sam Bradford (2008) -- entered the same season with a chance to win a second Heisman. And for the first time since 1946, the top three vote-getters from the previous season -- Bradford, Tebow and Colt McCoy -- all returned.
But injury and inconsistency quickly derailed history, clearing the way for new faces, few of whom lasted long. (Remember Jacory Harris?) The popular joke much of the year was, "Does anyone want to win the Heisman?"
As the season progressed, the true candidates emerged. Since Oct. 12, just two players have appeared on The Watch every week: Alabama running back Mark Ingram and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. In the last four weeks, only four players have appeared weekly in the rankings: Ingram, Suh, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart and Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate. Only one other player held a prominent place on this list the second half of the season: Clemson running back C.J. Spiller.
And so with the season complete, those five emerged as the final candidates. But Heisman voters can only acknowledge three players on their ballots; after watching hundreds of hours of games this season, this is how The Watch sees it:
1. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, DT, Sr.
Last week: 12 tackles, 10 solo; seven tackles for loss; four-and-a-half sacks; two quarterback hurries in a 13-12 loss to No. 3 Texas
Season: 82 tackles, 50 solo; 23 tackles for loss; 12 sacks; one interception; 10 passes broken up; 24 quarterback hurries; one forced fumble; three blocked kicks
Heisman-o-meter: Many only hopped on the Suh bandwagon after watching his dominating Big 12 title-game performance, but the Nebraska tackle was special all season. He played well in big games (Virginia Tech, Missouri and Texas to name just three), and that's mainly why he earned the No. 1 spot on this ballot.
Just how extraordinary was Suh? He quantified greatness at a position where greatness is hard to quantify. Defensive tackles are asked to do things that don't show up on the stat sheet, such as occupy blockers, but he did more than that. On a defense with several playmakers, he led the Huskers in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, blocked kicks and quarterback hurries. He also finished second on the team in passes broken up and 76th nationally, amazing considering 100 of the top 102 players in that category were defensive backs or linebackers.
And of course, he capped his season with a dominant assault on Texas. The performance, Suh's best this season, almost earned the 14-point underdog Huskers the Big 12 title.
The questions is, was that domination enough to earn him the win? The guess here, based on some interesting results from the Citizen Watch Heisman balloting, is that the winner will be Gerhart. But, Suh's efforts against the Longhorns before a nationally televised audience gives him as good a chance as any to become the first defensive player to win the Heisman since Charles Woodson.
2. Mark Ingram, Alabama, RB, Soph.
Last week: 28 rushes, 113 yards, three TDs; two receptions, 76 yards in a 32-13 victory over No. 1 Florida
Season: 249 rushes, 1,542 yards, 15 TDS; 30 receptions, 322 yards, three TDs; 0-of-1 passing
Heisman-o-meter: Ingram or Gerhart? Gerhart or Ingram? For The Watch, this equates to the "tastes great-less filling" debate; there's no right or wrong answer.
Both came out of Week 1 running hard and never stopped. Both played best in the most important games. Ingram, in fact, averaged 165 rushing yards and scored seven touchdowns in five games against ranked opponents.
Many Ingram haters like to note that he ranks just 12th in the nation in rushing (118.6 yards per game), but that stat misleads because he twice came out in the second quarter with the Tide up big.
In the end, the Alabama back earns the ever-so-slight nod for the No. 2 spot because of his 189 yards of total offense and three touchdowns against No. 1 Florida. But even as I write this, I'm still not sure he belongs here over Gerhart.
3. Toby Gerhart, Stanford, RB, Sr.
Last week: Idle
Season: 311 rushes, 1,736 yards, 26 TDs; 10 catches, 149 yards; 1-of-1 passing, 18 yards, one TD
Heisman-o-meter: The Watch has not forgotten about Gerhart. In fact, the opposite is true; this choice recognizes his terrific year. The bulldozing back only led the world in touchdowns and rushing yards this season and was the engine behind the Cardinal's improved year. He met the two criteria The Watch values the most: seasonlong excellence and performance in big games. His "worst" outing was an 82-yard day in a loss to Wake Forest. And just last week, he ranked No. 1 on this list and stood poised to earn this vote.
But that lead was a narrow one, and this weekend's performances by Suh and Ingram against two of the best teams in the country cannot be ignored. Don't get me wrong: Gerhart isn't a victim of not playing on Saturday; he's a victim of Suh and Ingram playing well against great teams.
Gerhart stands as good a chance as any to win, so I understand anyone who thinks he deserves the award. He, at the very least, should finish high enough to merit an invitation to New York this week, and, who knows, maybe he can shock the world and win the whole thing.
Thank you all for reading The Watch this year, and we'll see you in 2010.
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