The Sweep: An "Outstanding" Mess
Strike a pose
Strike a pose
Sports Editor
Posted Nov 27, 2009


Watched the end of Notre Dame's 2OT loss to UConn. Nothing like schadenfreude. The Sweep's thoughts on Notre Dame and the most detailed Heisman breakdown yet follow. What's our Heisman ballot look like, what's our Heisman prediction and why do we think that it's the Heisman people's fault, not the media's, that the trophy is largely a popularity contest. Read on!

As always, we begin the Sweep with a Top 25. These are our best guess as to where all the teams will end up ranked, not power rankings that attempt to actually rank said teams on strength, as there are plenty of other sources for that.

This week, we start from scratch -- no looking at last week’s poll when we write this one 1-25, all the better to eliminate any preseason bias. Guess it’s a sign of addiction that we can generate a complete Top 25 off the top of our heads though. Guess it’s a sign of the apocalypse that our Top 10 agrees precisely with the AP’s, because the last time that broken clock got anything right in this sport was 1962.

2009 Week 13 Top 25
1. Florida
2. Alabama
3. Texas
4. TCU
5. Cincinnati
6. Boise State
7. Georgia Tech
8. Oregon
9. Pittsburgh
10. Ohio State
11. Penn State
12. Iowa
13. Oklahoma State
14. Oregon State
15. LSU
16. BYU
17. Miami
18. Cal
19. Virginia Tech
20. Ole Miss
21. Clemson
22. Utah
23. USC
24. Nebraska
25. Stanford

Questions, comments, concerns? Dannovi on this site or dannovi@gmail.com.

Running against Notre Dame

Watched the end of Notre Dame's 2OT loss to UConn. (Nothing like schadenfreude after suffering through Michigan/Ohio State in person. Though I would have LOVED to see Stanford's O line go against that Buckeye DL in the Rose Bowl.)

UConn ran for over 200 yards and it wasn't out of the spread or anything. They ran the same power play over and over and over with the pulling guard leading the way and the runner taking it off-tackle and breaking three or four tackles en route to 7, 10, 12-yard gains.

I have to imagine Gerhart's a stronger runner than UConn's and I have to imagine our OL is better at running power too. This rush D can absolutely be had, and the coaches have to be salivating as they watch tape this week. A 200-yard, three-touchdown day should go a long way to ensuring a Stanford victory – and only bolster the junior tailback’s Heisman chances. Speaking of which…

Heisman breakdown

The five names The Sweep sees mentioned most in the Heisman chase are Alabama’s Mark Ingram, Texas’ Colt McCoy, Florida’s Tim Tebow, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart and Clemson’s CJ Spiller. Right now, these are the five de facto finalists to carry home the stiff arm, and the Sweep wouldn’t be at all surprised if these are the actual finalists invited to New York for the trophy presentation. People say, rightfully, that the award is more about preseason media hype and team ranking than about actual individual accomplishment, so we at The Bootleg considered it our mission this week to use our (limited) media power to cut through that hype. Below are the facts on the Heisman and the dossier on each player so you can decide how you would rank the five players.

Award criteria

”The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.”

Part of the reason for controversy over the award, in my opinion, is that this is all the guidance voters get. The latter sentence doesn’t add much either – any star college football player will exhibit “great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work,” otherwise he wouldn’t be a star college football player. Guess we should give a slight edge to the candidate who has the brightest NFL future, as he has the greatest raw ability, and upperclassmen candidates, as they’ve shown more diligence and perseverance all else being equal.

Really though, the most important word in that two-sentence definition, the word that, if I were a voter, I’d be agonizing over when I logged on to vote (voting is exclusively online this year, for the first year ever) is “outstanding.” However, the very word “outstanding” has two slightly different definitions. Per Collins English Dictionary, outstanding can mean either “superior; excellent; distinguished” or “prominent, remarkable, or striking.” Reread those as they’re slightly different. If we’re voting for the most superior or excellent player, we’re voting for the BEST player and a guy like Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh should be among the finalists. But if we’re voting for the most prominent, remarkable or striking player, then we’re looking for the player who’s generated the most hype.

Mock drafts have Suh, Jimmy Clausen, Jake Locker and Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung as top 2010 picks, so I guess they should each be in the mix if we were going purely on the first definition of outstanding, superiority or excellence. The five players who’ve generated the most hype this year are probably the five main candidates listed below, and while they’re all darn good football players, they’re not the five best players in the country.

So before we attack the media for turning the Heisman into a popularity contest, let’s blame the Heisman trust itself for a) not giving voters clear directions whatsoever and b) in the somewhat contradictory directions they do provide, stressing prominence, striking-ness (not a word, but it should be) and remarkability as key attributes. Conclusion: the media’s not turning the Heisman into a popularity contest. The Heisman’s very instructions ask voters to take popularity into account.

So the vote is one half popularity, one half production – as the Heisman folks themselves request. You can judge the popularity portion for yourself, but as for productivity, here goes…

The candidates

Mark Ingram, sophomore tailback, Alabama (11-0)

Strengths: Alabama is No. 2 nationally and undefeated with Ingram its workhorse. He’s scored both rushing and receiving, unlike Gerhart, who has no receiving touchdowns. His 6.8 yards per carry average is impressive both by itself and in comparison to the team’s 5.4 yards per carry.
Most importantly, Ingram’s performed best in the biggest games. South Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State and LSU are the five opponents he had the biggest rushing days against, and they’re among the five best teams VT has faced this year.

Knocks: Ingram is only a sophomore, and he’d be the second-ever sophomore (No. 1 was Tebow) to win the award.
Nowhere is a good rushing attack more important than in the red zone. Passing lanes clog up and so it’s up to the tailback to will the ball across the goalline. Yet Alabama on the season has scored 37 touchdowns and kicked 25 field goals. Contrast that with Stanford, which has 45 field goals to 11 touchdowns. Why does Ingram disappear when the ball is inside the 20?
Whatever the reason, Ingram’s relative lack of red-zone productivity is one reason why he has 12 rushing touchdowns (15 total) to Gerhart’s 23. In fact, Ingram hasn’t scored more than two touchdowns in a game this season.
Like Tebow’s, Ingram’s out-of-conference schedule leaves much to the imagination. Alabama played Virginia Tech (no complaints), Florida International, North Texas and Chattanooga out-of-conference.

Toby Gerhart, senior tailback, Stanford (7-4)

Strengths: As a two-sport athlete and former high school valedictorian who is on track to graduate this spring, Gerhart embodies many of the trophy’s ideals. His 23 touchdowns and 1531 yards are the best numbers of any tailback in the field. He has been remarkably consistent, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in each of his last two seasons, and at least 4.4 yards per touch against every opponent this year. No one has stopped this guy, suffice it to say.

Knocks: While his reputation as a glorified fullback is unfair, Gerhart does lack elite top-end speed. Many of his 30-yard runs would be 60-yard touchdowns if he shaved one or two tenths of a second off his 40, such as his 29-yard pass reception on Stanford’s final drive versus Cal. Also, how much of the credit goes to Gerhart and how much goes to Stanford’s offensive line? Consider that backup tailback Stepfan Taylor averages 6.1 yards per carry, and the team average of 5.4 yards per touch is identical to Gerhart’s.
In marked contrast to Ingram, Gerhart’s enjoyed the least success in the games Stanford’s done the worst. Wake Forest was the only opponent he didn’t score a touchdown against, and the Deacons and Oregon State were the only opponents he didn’t run for at least 100 yards upon. Both those contests were close Stanford losses. Of course, part of the reason Stanford lost was that they abandoned the run in the first place, so that’s a backhanded compliment too. Unlike every other guy on this list, Gerhart won’t have a conference championship game with which to bolster his case. If he’s not a clear-cut No. 1 after this weekend, it’s hard to see how he’ll finish at the top.

Tim Tebow, senior quarterback, Florida (11-0)

Strengths: Like Gerhart, even Tebow’s most fervent rivals must admire his personal qualities. Reporters have asked about his sex life, prisoners have questioned their faith, Philipino children have lacked for a doctor to perform a circumcision, and Tebow has handled it all with poise and grace for three straight years under a white-hot media spotlight. The Gators are No. 1 nationally and undefeated despite the rest of the country targeting the defending national champions, who play in one of the nation’s toughest leagues. The Gators haven’t lost since Tebow promised to outwork everyone in the post-game press conference at Ole Miss last year, and they’ve won their share of close ones behind their senior quarterback this year.

Knocks: As Tebow has already won the trophy, a victory in December would make him college football’s second-ever three-time winner, entering him into the discussion of the greatest college football player ever. Tebow’s a darn good player, arguably the best in the country this year. But are voters willing to put him next to Archie Griffin, the only other two-time winner, and up ahead of legends like Doak Walker, Roger Staubach, Hershel Walker, Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie and Barry Sanders? Should they be?
Tebow missed 1.5 games of the season. More importantly, this season statistically has been a shadow of 2007, his Heisman winning season. In ’07, Tebow had 32 aerial touchdowns and 3,286 passing yards. This year, he has 14 passing touchdowns and 1,945 passing yards. In ’07, Tebow ran for 23 touchdowns, compared to just 11 this year. Stark dropoff.

Colt McCoy, senior quarterback, Texas (11-0)

Strengths: Texas has topped the 40-point mark in five of its last six games and seven overall this season. With a defense not as stout as Florida or Alabama’s, there’s more pressure on McCoy to keep his No. 2 Longhorns unbeaten and in the national title picture. In the first seven games, McCoy threw eight interceptions, but he’s thrown just one since. His productivity is far greater than that of Tebow, the other quarterback in the race.

Knocks: The Big XII is traditionally the highest-scoring conference in the country, which is another way of saying it’s last nationally in defense, which is another way of saying that McCoy’s productivity might be 20 or 30 percent less were he in another BCS conference. Against the one legit defense, Oklahoma’s, McCoy did face, he threw for 124 yards, a touchdown and a pick on just 53 percent accuracy and three yards per pass.
Like Tebow, this is far from his best season. Last year: 77 percent accuracy, 8.9 yards per pass, 3,859 yards, 34 passing touchdowns. Not good enough. This year: 73 percent accuracy, 3,024 passing yards, 7.7 yards per pass, 23 passing touchdowns. Good enough?

CJ Spiller, senior tailback, Clemson (8-3)

Strengths: He’s the most versatile player in the field, having scored as a receiver, a rusher, a returner and even a passer this year. His four returns for TD in 2009 are impressive.

Knocks: He’s simply not THAT productive, with his 15 total touchdowns and 894 rushing yards paling in comparison to Ingram or especially Gerhart. He’s ran for over 100 yards just three times this season, and for over 112 just once. He’s caught for over 100 yards just once this season, and for under 10 yards in five of his 11 games thus far. Clemson’s No. 2 tailback, Andre Ellington, averages 6.9 yards per carry to Spiller’s 5.2. Clemson is just 8-3, but has won five straight and will play Georgia Tech in the ACC Title Game.

I’d rank the five Gerhart, McCoy, Tebow, Ingram, Spiller. If I had to rank their respective likelihoods of winning, it’d probably be Ingram, McCoy, Tebow, Gerhart and Spiller.

One final thought though came to me as Charles Woodson pick-sixed the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, reached the end zone 13 years and a 45-minute drive from Ann Arbor -- and struck a Heisman pose. The quasi-All-Pro cornerback says he's still more famous for his college exploits and for beating out Peyton Manning for that trophy in 1997 than anything he's done in the NFL. Flawed as it may be, this trophy matters.


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