Mark Ingram is one step closer to taking a seat above any other individual whoever played football at Alabama.
As expected, the Crimson Tide sophomore running back was among the five finalists for the Heisman Trophy announced Monday evening. The award will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday in New York.
Ingram has the best shot of any Alabama player invited to New York since David Palmer finished a distant third to Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1993. Quarterback Jay Barker was fifth the following season.
No Alabama player came closer to winning college football’s most-coveted individual honor than Palmer — and that void has been a source of pride for those who embrace the team concept over individual accolades.
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“It is a great honor to be invited to New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy,” Ingram said in a news release. “I’m looking forward to the experience and appreciate the opportunity to represent our team at the Heisman ceremony. It is a dream come true to be considered for the Heisman Trophy, but none of this would be possible without my coaches and teammates. The offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers and our quarterback have done an unbelievable job all season and our coaches have put us in a position to win each and every week.”
For Ingram to join the elite society, he will have to beat out two big-name quarterbacks, another running back who came out of nowhere and a defensive lineman who came farther than that.
Florida’s Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman winner who lost to Ingram and the Tide in Saturday’s SEC championship game, joins Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who will face off with Alabama in the Jan. 7 Bowl Championship Series national title game. McCoy was the runner-up in 2008 behind Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford.
The dark horse who snuck up on the field by leading the nation in rushing yards is Stanford running back Toby Gerhart. His 1,736 yards pushed him into the group of finalists despite playing for a team not contending for a BCS championship late in the season. Add Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh to that and other lists of uncommon finalists.
The Cornhusker defensive lineman would be the only pure defensive player to win the award, joining Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson (1997), who also returned kicks in his winning season. Suh has 82 tackles including 19.5 for loss and 12 sacks.
Ingram, though, leads the projection at HeismanPundit.com that surveys 13 voters. And if the small sampling of voters on the site that claims to be the most accurate on the Web is accurate, this year’s vote will be one of the closest in memory.
Ingram, who rushed for a school-record 1,542 yards this season, earned four of the 13 first-place votes and totaled 46 votes to second-place Gerhart’s 43 that included two first-place votes. McCoy and Suh tied for third with 36 points, although the Husker got four first-place votes to the Longhorn’s one. Tebow was tied for sixth, then C.J. Spiller with seven points, behind Boise State’s Keller Moore, who got 11.
Just when voters submitted their ballots may determine the winner. McCoy appeared to be the front-runner coming into Saturday’s games because he threw for 304 yards and ran for 175 more on Thanksgiving night in a shootout win over Texas A&M. Ingram then stumbled the following day, when he ran for a season-low 30 yards at Auburn.
Those performances flip-flopped in the conference championship games as McCoy threw three interceptions and was sacked nine times (4.5 by Suh) in the Big 12 title game. Earlier in the day, Ingram rolled up 189 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns against Florida in the SEC Championship.
Gerhart was idle Saturday after a 205-yard, 3-touchdown game against Notre Dame on Nov. 28.
Ballots were mailed Nov. 18 but were not due until 4 p.m. Monday.