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Post Heisman returns to the SEC, but will it remain?

Wednesday December 16, 2009

Congratulations to Mark Ingram. He’s as good a choice as anyone this year, and his reaction to winning the Heisman was a great and genuine moment.

Ingram is barely home from New York, and he already faces the question faced by any underclassman winner: can he do it again? It would be a tough order, and history won’t be on his side. The previous two Heisman winners won as underclassmen and neither was able to repeat. In the case of Bradford, injury cut short any repeat talk before it could get started. In the case of Tebow, the phenomenon of Tebow fatigue and declining stats since that 2007 season kept him from repeating. Tebow still managed to become a rare 3-time finalist, and Ingram can still match that feat.

I don’t expect there to be nearly as much “Ingram fatigue” as there was Tebow fatigue. As star football players go, Ingram’s still relatively anonymous. He’s not the outspoken leader that Tebow is/was. With such teammates as Cody, McLain, and Julio Jones, it’s possible that Ingram isn’t even the biggest name on his own team. That will change almost immediately. The Ingram media blitz is underway, and he’ll be the centerpiece of the championship game coverage as well as every preseason publication next year. I still think it won’t be as obnoxious or overbearing as what we saw out of Gainesville, but that was as much the media’s creation as anything, and Ingram will only have so much control over his own image going forward.

If someone other than Ingram is going to win the 2010 Heisman, he’s likely going to have to come from relative obscurity (much as Ingram did). 2009 was unusual with established stars like Tebow, McCoy, and Bradford all returning, but that won’t be the case next year. Of the top 10 from this year’s results, only three – Ingram, Boise’s Kellen Moore, and Houston’s Case Keenum – might be back next year. That number might dwindle further as Keenum explores his draft options.

You’re sure to hear some specific names come up next year. There are the stars from traditional powers: Pryor for sure will at least be in the preseason discussion and given every chance to win it. Even young players like Barkley and Forcier could come into play if their teams have strong seasons. Then there are exciting players from the next tier of programs: Dion Lewis at Pitt is bound to draw some attention. Kellen Moore could launch his candidacy with a BCS bowl win this year. Ryan Williams at Virginia Tech and LaMichael James at Oregon were phenomenal freshmen. The Pac-10 will have several high-profile quarterbacks (Luck, Masoli, Barkley, and even Locker). Finally there are the gaudy stat guys. Keenum would be the head of this class if he returns. Ryan Mathews at Fresno put up over 1,600 yards rushing despite missing a game. Ryan Mallett had a strong season for Arkansas and could put up big numbers in Petrino’s offense, but turnover on the staff and general questions about the quality of Arkansas could hurt his Heisman chances.

But, yeah. There don’t seem to be many sure-fire candidates – as it stands now – to challenge Ingram. That’s the story of Ingram’s improbable season though. If someone other than the Big 3 quarterbacks was going to win the Heisman this year, hardly anyone mentioned that it could be the sophomore tailback from Alabama. Coming into 2009 Reggie Bush was the only non-quarterback to win the award this decade. Ingram himself was barely on the Heisman radar at midseason. A lot of players had some very good seasons, but the lack of a real focal point (think Tebow in 2007 or Bush in 2005) opened up the race to a group of nontraditional candidates like Gerhart, Suh, and of course the first Heisman winner from Alabama. As stark as the Heisman landscape might look entering 2010, we know there will be several players who emerge.

Ingram’s biggest obstacle to repeating might be sharing a locker room with him. Even playing behind a Heisman winner true freshman Trent Richardson managed 642 yards and 5.1 YPC. I’m not suggesting that Richardson will beat out Ingram next year, but they will split time. It’s a fact of life as a tailback. Will Ingram get enough carries to put up Heisman-type numbers, and can he match his 6+ YPC number again? The presence of another capable back isn’t necessarily a death sentence for Heisman hopes though – Ingram won it this year despite Richardson’s impressive freshman season, and Reggie Bush managed just fine alongside another NFL-quality back.

What does Ingram have to do to repeat? At the bare minimum, he’ll need to:

  • Stay healthy. Ingram played through some pain late in the season, but anything more serious could have cost him valuable exposure and stats in a tight race. It was only two years ago that Dennis Dixon had his legitimate Heisman chances stopped cold by injury.
  • Put up far better numbers. Ingram’s 2009 stats were enough for him to win a close vote this year, but they were the fewest rushing yards by any Heisman-winning back since 1975. He can’t hope to repeat if his stats drop or even stay constant – the bar has been set. The challenge will be getting his numbers while playing alongside Richardson and a maturing passing game that features McElroy, Jones, and Maze.
  • Feature on a winning team. Bama still figures to be strong, but just dropping a game or two along the way could derail a Heisman candidate. Alabama will play Penn State and Florida in addition to the usual SEC slate in 2010.

One Response to 'Heisman returns to the SEC, but will it remain?'

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  • I can almost guarantee a no repeat Heisman next year. There will be no Upchurch or Grant, but Richardson will get his carries and Lacy will be there too. If our replacements in the O line work out and somebody steps up for Peek, our O could be devastating. On D, replacing Cody, Arenas, possibly Jackson and dear God I hope not, McClain, is going to be more difficult. We have the nucleus to field a better team than this one. However, the schedule and the question of will it have the motivation and purpose of this team, to pull it through the games it coulda, shoulda lost? That’s the 64,000 dollar question! RTR