Andrew Luck

Heisman Watch: Is Toby Gerhart really the favorite?

Toby Gerhart HeismanDuring the second quarter of the UW-Cal game, my buddy Mike pulled out his trusty iPhone and showed us the demolition going on in the Georgia Dome: Alabma was steamrolling Florida, and Mark Ingram had over 100 yards rushing and 3 scores.

“That’s it, Ingram’s got the Heisman,” I said. And I believed it.

Then I got home, and things changed. Search results on Toby Gerhart are off the charts on BASG, meaning people are really interested in what I had to say about Stanford’s win over USC or they really love the picture we have of Gerhart (probably a little bit of both, but much more of the latter). Lou Holtz was trying in vain to convince Mark May (who seems like one of the most humorless individuals on the planet) that Gerhart should win the Stiff-Arm-Statue. And several sites started predicting what seemed impossible just a few weeks ago:

A white running back from Stanford would win the most famous trophy in North America other than the Stanley Cup. A freakish occurrence as improbable as a white rapper becoming the biggest music star in the world for two full years…

Wait, could Gerhart really win this thing? As another ESPN college football talking head would say, “Not so fast.”

There are five finalists making the trip to the Downtown Athletic Club, but two of them are simply window-dressing guys who are in effect their for lifetime achievement awards: Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy, who wins the distinction of being 2010’s “Guy who I hope to God the Niners don’t draft,” an award garnered last year by Mark Sanchez (whose inability to slide feet-first is a mental block comparable to Mackey Sasser, Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch being unable to make 60-foot throws to the pitcher/first baseman).

So we’re left with Gerhart, Ingram and Ndamukong Suh (whose first name I just tried to type from memory and misspelled in three separate places, even after staring at it on the CBSSports.com page for five solid seconds). Let’s break it down, BASG style (which, of course, could mean about 1,000 different things depending on my mood):

Mark Ingram HeismanMark Ingram, Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0): 249 att, 1,542 yds (6.2 avg), 15 rush TD, 30 rec, 322 yds (10.2 avg.), 3 rec TD.

Toby Gerhart, Stanford Cardinal (8-4): 311 att, 1,736 yds (5.6 avg), 26 rush TD, 10 rec, 149 yds (14.9 avg.), 0 rec TD.

Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4): 50 solo tackles, 32 assists (82 total), 12 sacks, 1 INT, 23 TFL.

If I had to rank the best players I saw this year, I’d have it this way:

1. Gerhart

2. Suh

3. Ingram

But this is about who’s going to win, not my opinions based on a limited sample size. And the more one looks at the stats, the more it looks like Ingram’s award to lose.

We can pretty much take Suh out of the equation. He’s the college football hipster pick du jour right now, and declaring Suh the Heisman favorite is the kind of thing “experts” say to prove they watch more football than anyone else (sort of like Andrew Baggarly giving a 10th place vote to Jeremy Affeldt for the NL MVP). Suh will finish 3rd, and it won’t be as close as people have been saying over the past week.

It’s a two man race, and Ingram has two incredible advantages: he plays for the No. 1 team in the country, and he’s been on TV more than Jay Leno. But Gerhart was by far the best running back in college football this year, right? Probably, but that’s not how politicized processes like the Heisman Trophy Award go.

It’s not difficult to argue that Gerhart should take home the statue. Thing is, every point you can give to Gerhart, there’s a counterpoint for Ingram:

Toby Gerhart Stanford Heisman1. Gerhart’s stats were unreal, way better than Ingram’s.

Gerhart’s stats are amazing, but not that much better than Ingram’s. Ingram not only had a better average per carry, he also has almost the same amount of all-purpose yards (1,864 to Gerhart’s 1,885), albeit in one less game. Gerhart did have 8 more touchdowns than Ingram, but the voters are probably going to point to the fact that Ingram played in the SEC (strong defensive reputation) while Gerhart played in the Pac-10 and was involved in a ton of offensive shootouts.

2. Ingram wasn’t as valuable as Gerhart, who was Stanford’s entire offense.

Not sure how everyone got the idea that Stanford was pretty much Gerhart and nothing else. Andrew Luck was flinging the ball all over the place all year to Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu, when the freshman QB wasn’t running for 418 yards himself (now Luck, there’s a quarterback who the Niners should target…now). Stanford out-rushed opponents by 70 yards per game, thanks to the best o-line in the Pac-10. Ingram played with a gawd-awful quarterback and was leaned on heavily to grind out games when the Tide’s outstanding defense wasn’t on the field. Put a gun to my head and I’ll tell you Gerhart was more valuable, but to expect the rest of the nation to agree with a west coast sports blogger is a tad unrealistic.

Mark Ingram Heisman 20093. Ingram did most of his damage against those crap opponents every SEC team schedules when they aren’t playing each other.

Ingram had his best games against Va. Tech, Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU, Miss St. and Florida. Not sure Stanford played against one defense as good as any in that group.

4. Ingram had a few stinkers thrown in there, while Gerhart never took a game off.

Actually, this one’s true. Ingram did score 2 TD’s against Arkansas, but only rushed for 50 yds on 17 carries. And his performance against Auburn (16 car/30 yds; 3 rec/21 yds) nearly cost ‘Bama a chance at the title game, and could have ruined his Heisman chances had he not gone off against Florida a week later in the most important NCAA game this season. Gerhart was held scoreless and under 100 all-purpose yards in the same game only once all season — when he rushed for 82 yards with 12 yards receiving against Wake Forest in the Cardinal’s second game — and seemed to get better with every game.

And the Winner is…

Ask anyone in the Pacific Time Zone which college football player they’ll remember from 2009, and we’d all say Gerhart. Dude’s a beast. In November alone he rushed for 742 yards and 13 TD in 4 games. He’s like Touchdown Tommy Vardell on steroids (if it’s still OK to make that kind of comparison in this day and age).

Unfortunately, everything in college football points to the all-mighty SEC. Ingram was the best player on the best team, he’s been the main favorite for the award ever since Tebow got concussed, and he’s going to ride that blowout of Florida to a Heisman Trophy.

Man, I hope I’m wrong.

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