For most of the 2009 season, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has been considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. Midway through the season, Alabama running back Mark Ingram burst onto the scene and has remained another serious contender. Today, in a sold-out Georgia Dome, playing in a nationally televised game, Tebow and Ingram will get one final opportunity to state their cases for why each is the best college football player in America. Call it Heisman Hopeful Saturday.
Along with Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who has led his team in the Big 12 Championship Game, Tebow and Ingram will have the national platform to showcase their talents for all the voters to see in head-to-head competition. Tebow, the senior, has a trophy at a school where there have been three Heisman winners. He is trying to become the second player to win two, joining Ohio State's Archie Griffin. Ingram, the sophomore, plays at a school with a storied history but no Heisman Trophy winners.
"I think each player has a reason where the voter would want to vote for him," CBS analyst Gary Danielson said. "I think there's a lot of voters that want to vote for Colt McCoy because of his three-year run and his excellence for three years. … I think there's a lot of people who would like a reason to vote for Mark Ingram. He's not a quarterback, and he plays for Alabama, a team that's never had a Heisman Trophy winner. I think there are a lot of voters that would like to vote for someone other than a quarterback. And then, of course the polarizing figure, Tim Tebow. There's no middle ground on him. … They all have a platform, they all play for very good teams, and they're all going to play on national television."
The SEC Championship Game pits No. 1 Florida against No. 2 Alabama, both undefeated, meaning the spotlight will undoubtedly shine on Tebow and Ingram. Both players said that's the farthest thing from their minds. On Saturday, the most important thing is the SEC championship trophy and a trip to the national championship.
"It's special, and I don't want to put that down at all because that is a very prestigious award, it means a lot, and it would mean a lot to win it," Tebow said. "But that's totally out of my mind frame. It's something I'm not even worried about or thinking about because our goal is to win the SEC championship, and that's our focus."
"It's a team sport," Ingram said. "I've never seen a football game where one person has just done everything to win the game. It's going to take a team effort, both sides of the ball. I'm sure if (Tebow) 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."
Tebow's Gator teammates realize that, too.
Ingram gained just 30 yards last week against Auburn, and the Gator defense is keenly aware that if it can achieve similar results, it can help Tebow.
"Definitely, definitely (aware)," defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "That's our leader, that's our quarterback. He should win the Heisman. He's the best player in college football."
Tebow hasn't had the big-time numbers of previous seasons. He is 162-of-244 for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns, a 160.67 passing efficiency. He has rushed for 796 yards on 193 carries.
Ingram, who is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation's best running back, has 1,429 rushing yards, 43 shy of becoming the leader on the school's single-season rushing yards list.
Ingram admits he has thought about the possibility of winning the Heisman.
"Sometimes, when you're by yourself, you sit back and think about it a little bit," he said. "But you can't let it affect you in a negative way. You've always got to remember what got you that success."
Where Tebow and Ingram stand in the Heisman voting depends on which unofficial poll you're studying. Whichever team wins today will be headed to the national championship game. Whichever player performs best likely will be headed to New York next week, where the winner will be announced Dec. 12 (8 p.m., ESPN).
Official online ballots are due by 5 p.m. Monday, which gives Tebow and Ingram all Saturday afternoon to sway voters. Even if it isn't their main focus.
"Winning a Heisman Trophy would be special, it was special, and it does mean a lot, but not compared to winning an SEC title," Tebow said. "So they are kind of different things in my eyes. And the SEC is really my focus."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.
7 games with a rushing and passing TD
796 yards rushing exceed 2008 total
7 100-yard rushing games
246 yards rushing vs. South Carolina
Saturday, December 5, 2009