No Heisman Trophy winner was ever a unanimous selection, so it stands to reason that the award is contentious. Likewise, it stands to reason that the most closely contested Heisman vote ever — 2009 — is arguably the most contentious.
I can’t go so far as to write Mark Ingram is the least deserving Heisman winner of all-time — he’s not even the least worthy of the BCS era — but Heisman voters whiffed badly not giving the award to either Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy or Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
A good rule of thumb with the Heisman is when no candidate put together an eye-popping resume, the best offensive player on the best team is the default winner. Ingram fit the description of best offensive player on the best team in 2009 (sort of. More on that in a bit).
The problem with Mark Ingram winning through that criteria in 2009 is that there were candidates who had next-level seasons. In fact, of the five finalists, Ingram’s portfolio was arguably the least impressive. It was certainly only second-best among running back finalists for that year’s Heisman.
|Carries||Rush Yards||Rush TD||Rec.||Rec. Yards||Rec. TD|
Now, season-long statistics on their own don’t tell the entire story. I contend despite breaking the 2,000-yard mark in 2013, Andre Williams was not Heisman-finalist worthy because a lot of those yards were empty calories packed on against bad teams.
In the case of Gerhart vs. Ingram, however, they only scratch the surface of just how much better the Stanford running back was in 2009.
Moreover, Gerhart was a much more vital part to his team’s success. And yet, team affiliation may have ultimately determined that Heisman vote. Gerhart had 10 multiple-touchdown games — nine prior to the Heisman vote. Of those nine, he scored three or more five times.
Ingram had four multiple-touchdown games before the Heisman vote, one of which was the SEC championship — an extra opportunity Gerhart didn’t have. That SEC title game was the necessary palate cleanser Ingram’s candidacy needed after an 18-carry, 30-yard debacle in the Iron Bowl just one week prior.
And, before anyone points to SEC defenses in the disparity of multiple-touchdown games, consider that if you take away the Florida game, his other three were against Chattanooga, Mississippi State and Kentucky.
Similarly, Gerhart broke the century mark 10 times prior to the Heisman vote. In two of the games he failed to eclipse 100 yards, Gerhart still scored two touchdowns, and both games were early in the season. Ingram had four games in which he failed to reach 100 yards, one of which was the aforementioned Iron Bowl.
The only metric in which Ingram was better was receiving, and the difference is hardly enough to negate Gerhart’s superior rushing production — especially when considering that 76 of Ingram’s receiving yards came in the extra game.
Actually, that’s not entirely true: Ingram did have Gerhart beat in one other metric: wins.
Ingram’s team had just as much to do with his Heisman win as Ingram himself, but the irony is that before 2009, Alabama had zero Heisman Trophy winners in its illustrious. None.
Those into conspiracy theories might entertain the idea that Ingram was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, devoted to an entire program. After all, the Crimson Tide had been given the short end of the Heisman stick on a few occasions — though, more accurately, the program’s previous Heisman contenders were victims of bad luck.
Derrick Thomas finishing 10th in 1988, for example, is a crime. But even if he’d received a more fitting share of the vote after what is still the greatest individual season from a linebacker ever, Thomas did so while the single best, individual season *ever* in college football was afoot.
Further irony: While Mark Ingram’s Heisman can arguably be chalked up to his being the best offensive player on the best team of 2009, he may not have even been the best player at his position on his own team. Others were more than willing to argue that Trent Richardson — who put up superior stats in 2011 and failed to win the Heisman — was the better Alabama running back when both were in Tuscaloosa.
Ultimately, the closest Heisman vote ever broke down along regional borders. Ingram carried much of the East, while almost all of Gerhart’s support came from the Far West — blame the Pac-10’s horrible TV exposure in that era.
But it wasn’t the South that did Gerhart in, despite that vote being the greatest disparity between the two running backs (78 points). No, Gerhart’s lousy fourth-place finish in the Southwest, where voters polled overwhelmingly for their region’s finalists, Suh and McCoy, over either Ingram or Gerhart.
Yet another bit of irony, don’t ya think?