SEC championship supplies grand stage for Heisman
Who needs Heisman Trophy campaigns? Florida’s Tim Tebow and Alabama’s Mark Ingram have a potentially much more effective outlet to demonstrate their Heisman worthiness than highlight-packed DVDs, life-sized posters or glossy bios.
A No. 1 versus No. 2 showcase that is practically must-see TV for on-the-fence Heisman voters and college football fanatics. If one of these players has a huge Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday and sends his team on to play for the national title, it could be like a three-hour – OK, maybe four – commercial any political candidate would envy.
“This is a very big stage,” said Ivan Maisel, a Heisman voter who covers college football for ESPN and is considering Ingram and Tebow for his ballot. “And I think for both of these guys, and moreso for Ingram, it could be to their advantage.”
This big stage could be the biggest edge Tebow, the top-ranked Gators’ larger-than-life quarterback, and No. 2 Crimson Tide tailback Ingram have over other contenders.
Colt McCoy and No. 3 Texas face 21st-ranked Nebraska for the Big 12 championship. C.J. Spiller leads No. 25 Clemson against No. 12 Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, while Stanford’s Toby Gerhart will have to settle for a huge game against limping Notre Dame as his end-of-season Heisman showcase.
Then there’s the SEC’s two candidates, both of whom have downplayed the personal significance of their game this week. It’s hard to ignore for everyone, though.
Tebow said the Heisman, which he won in 2007, is “kind of totally out of my mind frame.”
“It’s something that I’m not thinking about or worried about because our goal is to win the SEC championship and that’s our focus,” he said. “Winning a Heisman Trophy would be special and was special, and it does mean a lot. But not compared to winning an SEC title. They’re two different things in my eyes, and the SEC is really my focus.”
Ingram seconds that.
“It’s a team sport,” he said. “I’ve never seen a football game where one person has just done everything to win the game. I’m sure if he wants to win, his team is going to have to help him out and they’re going to have a major contribution to what they do. And if we’re going to win, my teammates are going to have a major contribution as well.”
That’s what happened last week in a 26-21 victory over Auburn, when Ingram was swarmed by defenders just about every time he touched the ball. He managed just 16 carries, 30 yards and one hip pointer. Auburn came in with the nation’s 88th-best run defense; Florida is eighth.
It was a rare performance for a back averaging nearly 129 yards a game against SEC defenses.
“He was the clear leader, and it’s fascinating to me how the last few years the Heisman race can turn in the space of one weekend, much moreso than it ever used to,” said Maisel, who added that Ingram and Gerhart had played more consistently than McCoy or Tebow.
“The performance last week, I’m sure people are talking that it hurt me,” Ingram said. “But to me, all I care about is helping this team win. That’s all that matters ultimately.”
He did have an impact on the game. With Auburn focusing so much on stopping the run, quarterback Greg McElroy passed for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
Tebow, meanwhile, comes into the game on a high note. He passed for 221 yards and ran for 90 more against Florida State while accounting for five touchdowns. He has also broken the SEC career records for most total offensive yards and rushing touchdowns.
Tebow has led the Gators to 22 straight wins, while Ingram’s Tide have won 24 consecutive regular-season games.
Tebow might just need a repeat of last season’s SEC championship performance to boost his Heisman hopes. He led the Gators to two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 31-20 victory.
“Having a quarterback that’s been there and guided that team down for two fourth-quarter scores, that’s a plus,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “But when the foot hits the ball on Saturday, that’s all kind of out the window. You’ve got to play.”
Still, Tebow’s ability to fire up the Gators has left an impression on Alabama players.
“I saw him a couple of times when the defense was going on the field, going and saying something to them, and then they go and get a three-and-out or a big sack,” Tide linebacker Rolando McClain said. “He’s just a great leader.”
Meyer said Tebow has been throwing the ball much better late in the season. He has had a pass efficiency rating of at least 166 in five of the last six games. For context, his season rating of 160.7 is good enough for fifth nationally.
“I think protection’s better, too,” Meyer said. “It’s all tied together. Whenever you throw a ball, you’ve got several different components. It all starts with protection, then you’ve got timing between the quarterback and receivers. It’s just better and everybody’s healthy.”
Like Ingram, Tebow faces a huge challenge against a Tide team that leads the nation in pass defense efficiency. Alabama has racked up 19 interceptions and allowed only eight touchdown passes.
It should be hard for either to put up huge numbers.
Tebow has already lined up one vote, if only of confidence.
“That’s our leader, that’s our quarterback,” Gators defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “He should win the Heisman. He’s the best player in college football.”
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