With the announcement of the Heisman finalists, the debate on who should receive this year's stiff-armed statue has begun in earnest. Should it be Toby Gerhart, the stud Stanford tailback who led the nation in rushing and scoring? Or how about Mark Ingram, the Crimson Tide's 1500 yard rusher who keyed the nation's #1 team to an undefeated season in the national title game?
I'm not going to bother bringing Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy into the conversation, as it seems that losses in their respective conference title games have seemingly knocked them out of position to win it. In reality, Tebow's decreased stats this season and McCoy's poor performance against better pass defenses is what set them back more than any one game.
Which brings me to Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska's All-Everything defensive tackle. First off, for those of you who don't read my work, I'm going to admit I'm biased. I'm a Nebraska fan, and so anything I say can be taken with a grain of salt.
After the Missouri game, when Suh's name first began to pop up in Heisman conversation, I wrote that for him to have a realistic chance from the defensive tackle position, not only would he have to continue to put up monster statistical games, but his team would have to win in order to keep him on the national radar.
If Nebraska has a banner season, there's an inevitable flood of media love touting their return to prominence. With that would have been coverage of Suh, the cornerstone of a defense that just two years ago ranked 112th in the country but now is #2 in scoring defense.
Months later, Nebraska sits at 9-4, a victim of an offense so putrid that if it were the offspring of skunks, even the parent skunks would have disowned them because of their stench.
The thing about 9-4 teams is that, well, there's a lot of them. They tend to get swept under the rug later in the season as the media inevitably turns it's attention to the BCS hoopla.
A look at Nebraska's four losses this season:
Virginia Tech, 16-15
Texas Tech, 31-10
Iowa State, 9-7
What do you notice about those losses? Well, other than that eyesore against Iowa State?
Three of Nebraska's losses are by two points or less.
In the Virginia Tech game, the Husker offense managed to go from first-and-goal to punting the ball on a possession that included two penalties and a dropped touchdown pass and an 11-for-30 performance by Zac Lee that included two interceptions.
The loss to Texas Tech, while more one-sided, wasn't because of defensive shortcomings. The Huskers held the Red Raiders to 259 total yards, the lowest total in Mike Leach's tenure since his first game. Also, one of the Tech scores came on a bad Nebraska pass that was returned for a touchdown.
Against Iowa State, Nebraska's offense put up a performance for the ages. The Dark Ages. In a game that should have been a four-score margin of victory, the Huskers managed to turn the ball over eight times. Yeah, eight. Like, the number 8. Oh, and four of those turnovers came inside the Iowa State five yard-line.
Finally, in the Big 12 championship game, the Huskers managed a paltry 106 yards for the entire game, wasting a Hurculean by Suh and the defense and costing Nebraska the Big 12 championship.
The point of this whole rant is this: Heisman winners come in three forms.
One is the stat monster, a person who, despite perhaps being on an 8-4 team, puts up numbers that are so far above and beyond anyone else's that it catapults them to victory. An example would be Tim Tebow in 2007, when the Florida quarterback took home the trophy on the strength of having over 50 total touchdowns despite the Gators going 8-4 before the presentation.
This is where Gerhart comes in. First off, he's racked up over 1700 yards rushing and has 26 rushing touchdowns. Sure, Stanford is 8-4, but they've won some games in dramatic fashion, most of it while riding Gerhart's (extremely) broad shoulders.
The other Heisman winner is someone who puts up stats that aren't mind-boggling yet still are noteworthy, but fall in the best-player-on-the-best-team argument. Think Chris Weinke in 1999 or Troy Smith in 2006. Not that either of those players didn't deserve the award, because they both had great years. But would they have won if their teams weren't leading the national title conversation? That's tough to say.
Mark Ingram fits this mold, though I think comparing him to Smith or Weinke isn't fair to him, because Ingram is, at least in my opinion, a much better player than those two were. Also, he had a great performance against that stout Gator defense in the SEC title game.
The third is the guy who puts up ridiculous numbers AND plays on the best team, a'la one Reggie Bush in 2005. Sure, Vince Young put up quite a fight that year, but when a guy puts up 9 yards a carry and makes ankles break and jaws drop on a weekly basis, it's tough to top.
And so we come back to Suh. If Nebraska wins those three close games and is sitting at 13-1 with a Big 12 title, he rides the wave of Nebraska-is-back stories to a potential Heisman win, which would be the first legitimate win for a defensive player in history of the award.
Yes, I know Charles Woodson won in 1997, but let's be honest: if he wasn't taking snaps as a receiver and punt returner, the media doesn't let him leave New York with the trophy.
However, because Suh's offense plays with the precision of a drunken (and perhaps mentally challenged) surgeon, Suh stands little chance of winning. The media, convinced that everyone should be happy that a defensive tackle is invited at all, will award the trophy to either Gerhart or Ingram. Either of them are deserving choices.
But dammit, so is Suh. I challenge any Heisman voter to watch every defensive series from the Virginia Tech, Missouri, Kansas State, and Texas games and come away thinking anything but this:
The nation's Most Outstanding Player (which is what they are supposed to be voting for) doesn't reside on the offensive side of the ball. It's just a shame that Nebraska's offense couldn't help them realize that.