Monday, February 15, 2010

Why I voted for Toby Gerhart for Heisman Trophy

In my 14 years as a Heisman Trophy balloter, I have never bought into the Heisman Hype.
I saw Joey Harrington’s $250,000 10-story billboard in Times Square. I’ve heard stories about life-sized posters, CDs, videos, even leafs (for Ryan Leaf) being delivered to Heisman voters. I still have the 1:24 scale DeAngelo Williams’ cast-die race car sent to me somewhere in my garage that the University of Memphis mailed to promote him for the Heisman in 2005.
But I must admit I was impressed last week when I got an email from a man my age in Tiburon, Ted Gazulis, a Terra Linda High School and Stanford University graduate. He is a season-ticket holder for the Cardinal and he felt compelled to sell Toby Gerhart all by himself.
The fact of the matter is Gerhart, Stanford’s bruising running back, already was No. 1 on my ballot and nothing or no one changed my mind. I just hope enough Heisman Trophy voters see it that way.
The Heisman Trophy is not a lifetime achievement award. Otherwise, Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy would win it this year.
The Heisman Trophy is not a player-of-the-week award. Otherwise, Mark Ingram or C.J. Spiller or Case Keenum would win it this year.
The Heisman Trophy is an outstanding player-of-the-YEAR award. That’s why I voted for Gerhart. He’s had quite a year, replacing Tiger Woods as Big Man On Campus.
You must remember that there are no designated criteria or an owner’s manual on how to vote for the Heisman Trophy. It’s all subjective. It depends on your point of view. Or what region you come from.
I have been voting on the Heisman Trophy since 1996 and I have established my own five-step criteria for selecting the top three names on my ballot:
1) Impressive overall statistics and impact on team and record.
2) How players perform in the top 3-4 biggest games on their schedule when the spotlight is the brightest.
3) Consistency.
4) Strength of schedule
5) Signature game or play or something unique that sets the player apart or makes him representative of college football.
Gerhart received my first-place vote, worth three points, because he best met the criteria in all five categories.
Statistics and impact on team? The year Gerhart set foot on The Farm -- 2006 his true freshman year --Stanford was a team ranked 115th in the country in rushing with season-ending totals of 781 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
Gerhart ended this regular-season this year with 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns and Stanford finished 12th in rushing, four spots behind Ingram and Alabama’s stable of running backs who played an extra game.
Gerhart led the nation in touchdowns, rushing yards and rushing attempts, 311. He averaged 200.3 yards a game this season against opponents who were ranked in the Top 25. He averaged 141 yards a game and scored 12 touchdowns against the top five rushing defenses in the Pac-10 Conference, all currently ranked among the top 38 rushing defenses in the nation.
Big games? Gerhart rushed for 136 yards and four TDs in the Big Game against Cal this season. With Stanford needing a win to become bowl eligible for the first time in eight years, Gerhart on Nov. 7 rushed for 223 yards and three TDs in a 51-42 win against then sixth-ranked and Rose Bowl-bound Oregon. And, in his only national network TV appearance this season, Gerhart rushed for 205 yards and three TDs against fabled Notre Dame. And I haven’t even mentioned what he did to USC.
Consistency? This is where Gerhart tops all. He didn’t have a bad game. His worst game this season was an 82-yard rushing effort against Wake Forest. That was the only game this season that Gerhart didn’t score a TD. He rushed for more than 100 yards in 10 games and for 200 or more in three of them.
Strength of schedule? According to this week’s Sagarin Ratings, which are used in the formula to compute the BCS standings, Stanford is 19th in SOS. Alabama is 20th. Florida is 27th. Texas is 44th. Much has been made of Stanford’s four losses. In three of them, the Cardinal had two-touchdown leads and couldn’t hold them. That’s not Gerhart’s fault.
Signature moment? He threw a TD pass against Notre Dame on fourth down but did you see the replay of Gerhart’s game-winning TD run against the Fighting Irish? He took the fight out of them. There was a Notre Dame safety in the end zone that clearly didn’t even bother to step up and try to tackle Gerhart at the goal line. He just let Gerhart pass by like a truck at a toll stop. Gerhart is the only college football player in the country capable of making other players “smart” while being smart himself – a 3.25 GPA as a management, science and engineering major carrying 21 units this quarter.
Gerhart is bright and funny and articulate and humble and modest, outstanding on and off the field, the ideal student-athlete in the eyes of the image-conscious NCAA. He is the total package as a player worthy of winning the Heisman Trophy.
There were two more spots to fill out on my ballot and I could have listed at least 12 names. Ingram, the Alabama running back who had a great game against Florida in the SEC championship game, jumped back on my ballot after he was a non-factor in the Crimson Tide’s come-from-behind win over Auburn the previous week. He could be considered the best player in the nation. But I’m not convinced that Ingram is even the best player on his own team (I like Julio Jones) or the best runner in his team’s backfield (I like freshman Trent Richardson).
Nick Saban, Alabama’s coach, confirmed that for me in his post-game on-field interview with CBS after the Florida game. He didn’t exactly wholeheartedly endorse Ingram for the Heisman (as Jim Harbaugh did Gerhart), noting that Ingram is “one of the best players on one of the best teams in the country.”
McCoy, Texas’ quarterback, probably had the best chance in my mind to pass Gerhart on my ballot, but he never approached the consistency this season that he did last season when he had much better statistics. McCoy started the season by throwing at least one interception in each of his first seven games then he threw three in his last game against Nebraska in the Big 12 Conference title game. He finished 18th in the nation in pass efficiency.
The two other quarterbacks that I seriously considered – Boise State’s Kellen Moore (39 TD passes, only three interceptions) and Houston’s Keenum (5,449 passing yards with 43 TDs) – had the numbers to win the Heisman or earn a trip to New York, but they didn’t have the strength of schedule. Both Boise’s and Houston’s SOS is in the 90s and I can’t get past that. Ultimately, I put McCoy’s name on my ballot over Moore because Moore didn’t compete with the week-to-week pressure and expectation that McCoy has with Texas.
Ryan Mathews of Fresno State could win the Hides Man Trophy. He may be the most overlooked player in the country. He led the nation in average rushing yards per game (151.27) and averaged 6.8 yards a carry and had he not been injured in the first half of the Nevada game on Nov. 14 and missed the next game he would have topped Gerhart in total rushing yards and 100-yard games. Mathews was every bit as talented as Dion Lewis, who got noticed because he plays for Pittsburgh.
Spiller of Clemson made a late push for the Heisman with a 233-yard, four-TD performance against Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game. But we must not forget that a week earlier he had only 18 yards on nine carries (with a long run of five yards) against in-state rival South Carolina. Besides, as far as all-purpose running backs go, I was more impressed with Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 1,377 yards and 20 TDs and caught 74 passes for 509 yards.
I am a big Tebow fan, but this season statistically was the worst of his three full seasons at Florida. He wound up 49th in pass efficiency. I like Cincinnati’s Tony Pike, but he missed playing time this season and was nearly benched in the Big East Conference title game and finished 56th in pass efficiency. Teammate Mardy Gilyard saved the Bearcats against Pitt. Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli was a big-play player in leading the Ducks to the Rose Bowl, but I had a hard time voting for a quarterback who was 70th in the nation in pass efficiency, just two spots ahead of Greg Paulus.
I am not a big fan of Notre Dame football, but quarterback Jimmy Clausen was on my Heisman radar for a long time. In the end, however, I thought teammate Golden Tate was a better Heisman Trophy candidate than Clausen.
I also thought in November that this season might be a great opportunity for a defensive player to make a case for the Heisman. Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh got plenty of attention at the end but, statistically, Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones caught my eye with his consistency and nine QB sacks.
In the final analysis, though, Gerhart was as good as any of them to be considered the most outstanding college player in America. He carried the ball more times for more yards and more touchdowns while carrying his team on his back more than any other player in the country.
It’s as simple as that. As simple as an email.


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