Heisman Expert Discusses Ingram

'BAMA Magazine had a chance to discuss Alabama running back Mark Ingram's Heisman Trophy candidacy as well as the award with Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit,' a few days before the Crimson Tide's game against Auburn. Huston is a former assistant sports information director for the University of Southern California who established the popular website Heismanpundit.com

While at USC, Huston successfully orchestrated the winning Heisman Trophy campaigns for Trojans Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. He is recognized across the media spectrum as the foremost authority on college football's most coveted award presented annually since 1935. All ballots were to be submitted by today, Monday, December 7, at 4 PM CST.

Here are our questions and his answers on Alabama running back Mark Ingram and the Heisman Trophy. The finalists are expected to be announced Tuesday and the award will be presented in New York Saturday.

1. How much will Mark Ingram being a native of Michigan influence the voters in the Midwest?

"I think it's going to help him a lot. I think he will get some significant support from the Midwest as a result of being from Flint. I know there is a lot of movement among people in the Michigan area to try to get attention for Ingram and to vote for him. I think he is sort of a favorite son of the region so I think he'll get more support there than an SEC player would normally get. I don't know if he'll win the region but he certainly has a chance. McCoy won the region last year so he has some exposure there. I think it will be between those two for the region."

2. What is the best way to promote a player for the Heisman Trophy without offending the voters?

"Well I think there's this little kind of saying out there that you're somehow going to offend the voters by promoting your player. I think part of the problem is that a lot of SIDs (Sports Information Directors) are not very good PR (Public Relations) people. They don't have very good PR instincts.

They can get the information disseminated but they don't really know how to create an angle for a guy. All it is is making the voters aware of how well your guy's played. Give a rationale for why he should win. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't think you could ever offend anybody by putting out the accomplishments of your player.

I think it's actually something that given the hard work these players have put in that an SID is obligated to do. That doesn't mean you have to do all kinds of crazy promotional campaigns although in some cases those can help. I really think letting people know what someone's done and I think Alabama needs to step it up a little bit on Ingram's behalf because I think there are a lot of Heisman voters out there who don't know who he is. I think it's really important to know who someone is. They would not recognize him with his helmet off right now. You need to be able to let someone know who these people are that they are voting for.

3. Is the Heisman Trophy voters list (926 selectors with 145 in each of six regions in addition to the 55 former Heisman Trophy winners and one public vote) easily accessible to SID's?

"There is no list available. That is the problem. The list is private. Some people are known. You have 55 former winners so you know who those are. You could over time figure out who the rest of the guys are. There's a large swath out there that people don't really know if they are voters or not. What you have to do is saturate the media general with information about your player. Hopefully it gets to the right people.

4. What is the proper balance of information that should be sent out to encourage a candidate?

"I think a specific weekly release or a web site would be great if I was a Heisman voter and wanted to find out about Mark Ingram. It would be helpful to go to a centralized location to find out anything about him. Definitely weekly updates would be a good thing as well. I've personally received stuff from Texas but I've not received anything from Alabama so far.

The problem is people are worried that if they come up with something that they are going to fail and they are going to get blamed for promoting a guy who did not turn out to live up to their promotions but that's what you get. You go into a race and its marketing. You have to make someone feel good about a candidate. Make them aware of a candidate. Get the words Heisman Trophy candidate marketing a name on people's lips.

Someone like Mark Ingram was not a big name coming in. There are a lot of Heisman voters who don't follow the race on a weekly basis. They all know who Colt McCoy is. These next two weeks are crucial for Mark Ingram."

5. What was Mark Ingram's biggest disadvantage as a candidate in the Heisman Trophy race?

"He was an unknown commodity at least to the general college football world. The people who follow it know who he was but even if they knew who he was they didn't think twice about him. They didn't think this guy's a Heisman candidate. So he really didn't burst upon the scene until the game against South Carolina. His emergence has been the result of a lack of a clear frontrunner in the Heisman race. There is definitely a chance as quickly as they fell in love with him they can fall out of love with him. It's very important that I believe to support your player in that regard."

6. What was Mark Ingram's biggest advantage as a candidate in the Heisman Trophy race?

"The big advantages are he plays for a team vying for the national title and a traditional power. He's had big numbers with the big games on TV. Those so far have overcome his lack of name recognition and overall career resume."

7. Are you surprised that Alabama has never had a Heisman Trophy winner?

"At first glance it was surprising but when you look at the history of the school since the 1960's, it's been a school that has been dominated by the coach. It's always been the Alabama coach who has been the star of the team - Bear Bryant, Stallings and now Saban. For some reason it seems to be the head man seems to suck most of the air out of the room when it comes to publicity.

If you look at those Alabama teams under Bryant in the 1970's when they were at their peak they only had one 1,000 yard rusher (Johnny Musso) and that was in the early ‘70's. They didn't really put up the kind of numbers you needed to challenge for the Heisman especially in the 1970's when that was the era of the running backs putting up big numbers.

Yes, at first glance it was shocking but when you look at it you see why it's because there really hadn't been those mega offensive superstars from Alabama you knew over time with the Heisman. They did have Namath and Stabler back in the 1960's but even their numbers weren't particularly good as far as compared to the other guys in the race."

8. Is Alabama the only traditional power without a Heisman Trophy winner?

"Yes they really are. You're talking about a top three obviously everyone can argue it but never resolve it but your talking about a top three or four traditional power of all-time between Alabama, USC or Notre Dame in whatever order you put them. Yes they are definitely the greatest tradition never to have not have won a Heisman without a doubt."

9. Were you ever surprised by the outcome of any Heisman race?

"Even though I predicted last year that Tim Tebow would get the most first-place votes and still not win, I was still surprised it happened. By the time the ceremony comes around I usually know who is going to win. It may not be the case this year."

10. How often is the best player selected or is it impossible to know the answer to that question?

"People get caught up in the statistics and they try to split hairs over who has the most touchdowns against this competition. Once you cross a certain threshold of Heisman worthiness the statistics are out the window. Then it's all about the intangibles that appeal to the Heisman voters. You can argue that Sam Bradford wasn't the most outstanding player last year but you could also argue that he was. You're never really going to have a formula that's going to give you a sold upon conclusion that this guy is the best. But I think you could have argued that all three of those guys last year were the best – Bradford, McCoy and Tebow. You can argue that another guy who didn't finish the Heisman race was the best.

The point is you couldn't have gone wrong with any of them. They all might have had a claim to be the best so one of them had to win. I think people lose sight of that fact that the vote is for the most outstanding player in a given year and sometimes you can't come up with a perfect solution for who is the best. You can always make an argument one way or the other for one of the guys being the best.

There might be five guys who are deserving and then you have to figure out who's most deserving. People decided that Sam Bradford was the most deserving last year. It didn't mean they were saying Tebow didn't deserve anything. It's just meant that they thought of the guys who were deserving, Sam Bradford was the most deserving."

11. What is the threshold rushing statistic for running backs?

"I've tended to notice the backs have gained have at least 1700 yards in a season usually. That's my overall season including the bowls too. Looks like Ingram's going to be in the 1600 yard range when the time the Heisman vote comes around so that should be about the minimum threshold especially this given year with the depressed statistics among the contenders. It's going to be enough to challenge for the Heisman."

12. In hindsight is there a selection that stands out as really wrong?

"There is a case to be made for everybody. Everybody likes to argue about it. Everybody harps on Gino Torretta and maybe he shouldn't have won it but that doesn't mean there wasn't a case for him to win it. I've never seen a guy win it who there was no case for him to win it. Maybe he wasn't the best player but there was still a case for why in that season he performed well enough to win. I really haven't come across a situation where I've thought well he wasn't Heisman worthy.

Ironically maybe the best situation might have been Archie Griffin's second Heisman. He only had 1357 yards and four touchdowns that year but he won it as a career award. The rest of the field didn't make as good of a case as he did so he won it a second time. That for me might be the most suspect one."

13. What are the Heisman Trophy ramifications of the split vote between Mark Ingram and Tim Tebow in the South region?

"It's going to be determined how these next two games go but it's going to be very interesting because what you'll have is obviously some split votes in the South but I think Ingram will get most of the first place votes in the South. Then you have McCoy most likely or C. J. Spiller picking up a lot of those third place votes. I don't think it will hurt Ingram to much in the South because I think he's going get the normal amount of support he was going to get anyway. Where I think Ingram is going to get hurt is in the Southwest. You're going to have McCoy and then Case Keenum will get a lot of second place votes. I think Ingram will show up on a lot of third place ballots.

I look at it less as regional and more as positional. I think with more running backs in the race in more regions that could potentially hurt Ingram because there is Toby Gerhart in the West and Spiller in the Atlantic. If Florida loses to Alabama Tebow will pretty much be done as a candidate which I think will increase McCoy's top chances as a quarterback. Some people like to vote for quarterbacks and some like to vote for running backs. If there are more running backs to choose from and only one quarterback then I think a lot of that strength is going to go to the quarterback.

So if you look at it I don't think the inclusion of Tebow is going to hurt Ingram to much except he's going to lose a few first-place votes here and there in the South but I think it would be the same case if Tebow was in any other region. I don't think the split vote in the South will hurt that much but I think it will have some affect.

14. What do you like to tell people about the Heisman Trophy?

"It's definitely the most prestigious award in sports. It's the only award in sports where it goes with you the rest of your life. It's sort of like the Academy Award winner or President or Nobel Prize winner. No matter what you do the rest of your life you're going to be given that title before your name. Most people can't tell you who won the MVP of the NFL five years ago or who won the NBA MVP or who won the Cy Young in 1977 but people remember the Heisman Trophy winner. It's definitely the most prestigious award in sports and it has a cultural impact that exceeds all the other awards."

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