- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

The same contingent that anointed Andre Ware and Gino Torretta now has blown the most obvious Heisman Trophy call in at least two decades.

Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram won the closest Heisman race in the 75-year history of the award Saturday night, edging Stanford’s Toby Gerhart to become the first player in Alabama’s storied history to claim the stiff-arming statue. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy finished third, followed by Nebraska senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who earned more points (815) than any fourth-place finisher in history.

Perhaps that final clause is reason to upgrade the voting committee to mere simpleton status; at least some members of the panel demonstrated a remedial grasp of the game. Then again, the fact that Suh finished behind the guy he single-handedly dispatched from contention last week rates as pure comedy.

Why don’t the trophy’s presenters officially redesignate the Heisman as the award given annually to the best back on the nation’s best team, because that’s what it has become. The last 12 have been given to quarterbacks or running backs, and seven of the last nine have played on teams bound for the national title game.

Ingram has rushed for 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns, helping lead the Crimson Tide (13-0) to the SEC crown and a spot in the national championship game against Texas. Those statistics didn’t place him among the nation’s top 10 in yards a game; in fact, he wasn’t even the most productive back in his own division (Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon averaged 126.5 yards a game). But unlike Gerhart, who had superior numbers but played for a four-loss team, Ingram was the featured offensive player on one of the nation’s featured teams.

That “offensive player” distinction is important because Alabama has three defensive players who probably are more valuable: linebacker Rolando McClain, defensive back/return specialist Javier Arenas and defensive tackle Terrence Cody. And “featured” is important because Alabama insiders will tell you Ingram probably isn’t the best back on the Alabama roster. That would be true freshman Trent Richardson, last season’s top prep tailback who could supplant Ingram in the Alabama backfield next season.

So Ingram might be among the top five players on his own team. The notion that he is the best college football player in the nation, however, is absurd. Anybody who watched Suh play a single quarter this season can have no doubt as to the identity of that player. If NFL general managers voted for the Heisman, Suh would have been a unanimous winner. Just wait until the NFL Draft.

Said Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples: “Heisman voters are asked to choose the ‘Most Outstanding Player in the United States,’ but they usually only consider quarterbacks, running backs and receivers who also return kicks. If the competition is correctly thrown open to every player, there is no question Suh was the nation’s most outstanding player this season.”

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap of Suh’s season:

In spite of constant double-teaming, Nebraska’s 6-foot-4, 300-pound “King ‘Kong” led all BCS-conference lineman in tackles (82) and solo tackles (50).

He became the first defensive lineman in the two-platoon era of football to lead his team in tackles in consecutive seasons.

Aside from those staggering tackle totals, Suh also recorded 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, an NCAA-leading 10 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, 24 quarterback hurries, three blocked field goals, one interception and one forced fumble. Compare those numbers with the statistics of Cody, a superb player who undoubtedly will be voted the other first-team AP All-American at defensive tackle. He had 25 tackles, six tackles for loss, two knockdowns, three quarterback hurries and two blocked kicks.

Suh will graduate Saturday a semester early with honors in engineering. Perhaps that’s not germane to his Heisman campaign, but it’s another reason to marvel at Big Suh.

On the field, Suh wasn’t just really good this season like Ingram and Gerhart; he was beyond exceptional. In fact, Suh just completed arguably the most remarkable defensive season in NCAA history, a season that earned him a sweep of the Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik and Outland trophies and gave Heisman voters the perfect opportunity to award the lump of bronze to a pure defensive player (sorry, Charles Woodson doesn’t count). And the Heisman voters blew it… again.

Talents like Suh come around approximately every other decade. Maybe the Heisman panel will figure that out by the time the next Suh arrives to grace the college game.

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