Alabama football: Ingram focused on improving, not on repeating as Heisman

sports@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 1, 2010 

A year ago, he was a sophomore with a famous name and potential.

Now Mark Ingram is being called the second best weapon in the Alabama backfield behind Trent Richardson.

Somewhere in between, the junior won the school’s first Heisman Trophy while carrying a healthy load of the Crimson Tide’s offense to national championship No. 13.

Add it all up, and Ingram faces a unique challenge in 2010. He’s the third straight sophomore to leave New York in December with a bulky 25-pound stiff arming statue, but will he be the first to make a successful return to Times Square a year later?

“Of course, that would be great,” Ingram said at SEC media days. “It’s not my main focus. My main focus right now is to better myself as a player each and every day, become the best player I can be for my football team, make the best out of what I can do, put myself in the best position where I can make a lot of plays so I can help our team win games.”

Oddsmakers present no clear cut front runner for the 2010 race, and if 2009 taught us anything, it’s Las Vegas’ occasional swing and miss. Ingram was nowhere on the board last August, but he’s considered a favorite by top gambling sites such as sportsbook.com and sportsbetting.com while bodog.com has him the second choice behind Ohio State quarterback Terrell Pryor.

Of the 14 Heisman winners who had eligibility remaining, only six returned the following season. Ingram didn’t have the option of turning pro since the NFL doesn’t allow early entrants younger than juniors.

There are many reasons for the six previous failures. When contacted by phone, a spokesperson for the Heisman Trophy Trust chose not to comment or speculate on any reasons, but the evidence exists.

The cautionary tales vary from early-season injury to downgrades in the supporting cast. None of the six who attempted a repeat became the “Caddyshack 2” of college football, except maybe 2008 winner Sam Bradford. He was the only one who didn’t make it back to New York as a finalist the following year, but a major shoulder injury in the season opener is to blame, not a depletion of talent.

Oklahoma’s Billy Sims took the first shot at equaling Archie Griffin’s feat and he came closer to pulling it off than anyone. His second-place finish to USC’s Charles White in 1979 came after increasing his production statistically by 134 rushing yards. But his 1,896 was bettered by White’s 2,050 and the trophy went to another USC running back.

Ty Detmer saw his passing yardage slip by more than 1,100 yards in his bid to reclaim the prize in 1991 when Desmond Howard won the trophy by the third-highest margin before leaving Michigan a year early for the NFL. Detmer, whose BYU team lost its first three games of his senior season after losing significant talent from the previous season, finished third in the voting.

Ingram isn’t expected to suffer from anything similar to that since three offensive linemen return, but the loss of veteran blockers Mike Johnson and Drew Davis can’t be fully discounted.

The most recent three returning Heisman winners who stayed healthy all finished third in the balloting.

The 2003 winner, Jason White, saw teammate Adrian Peterson balance out the Oklahoma offense in 2004, taking some of the burden off the fifth-year senior, but also taking away some of his statistical prowess. Peterson ended up second in the voting with 997 points to White’s 957 while USC quarterback Matt Leinert soared past both with 1,325 points.

A year later, his running back teammate didn’t just knock his stats down. Reggie Bush took the Heisman away with his breakout 2005 season, but the school’s copy of the award was recently returned because of Bush’s involvement in the scandal that led to NCAA sanctions handed down in June.

Tim Tebow is the only former winner who fell short on two chances to win a second Heisman. In 2008, he was third in the voting by just 151 points behind Bradford who won with 1,726. He fell even further as a senior when he was a distant fifth behind Ingram.

Besides the upstart candidates from around the nation, Ingram will face a situation somewhat similar to the those encountered by White and Leinert. His running back mate Richardson generated considerable buzz with his 751-yard freshman season that was reminiscent of Ingram’s 2008 rookie campaign that netted 728 yards as a second-option to Glen Coffee.

When Coffee left early for the NFL, Ingram got the promotion that Richardson won’t ease into this fall.

Before painting Richardson as the reason why Ingram won’t win another Heisman, consider the role he played in last year’s. Having a backup who did more than babysit the running game when Ingram needed a breather can’t be ignored.

“We compete every single day,” Ingram said. “(Richardson) makes me better. I make him better. It’s just nothing but an advantage to our team just to have a 1-2 punch like that. Because when I’m in there, I’m fresh, he comes in, he’s fresh, we’re both making plays, both being explosive. It’s nothing but an advantage to our team.”

“He pushes me, I push him. We both get better by it.”

By December, will Richardson be another Adrian Peterson or Reggie Bush? Possibly.

Will Terrell Pryor, Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker play the role of White and Howard? Perhaps.

Just can’t forget about the preseason wildcard. Just ask Ingram.

All he has to do is avoid all those obstacles, including the one Bradford encountered.

Succeed and Archie Griffin’s exclusive club gains a member.

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