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November 17, 2009
Column: 22 favorable factors
TUSCALOOSA _ It's time to forget the term "hype."
With two regular-season games remaining, along with the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against Florida in Atlanta, the word no longer applies to University of Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram in regards to the Heisman Trophy.
He's way beyond that.
More appropriate would be something like "frontrunner" or "finalist" because the weeks have dwindled down to just three, after which voters will select and announce the 75th winner Dec. 12.
You can forget that only one running back has won the award this decade and the last SEC running back to do so was Bo Jackson in 1985. At this point, Ingram probably couldn't be in a better spot.
Here are 22 reasons why, starting with something obvious.
1. Rushing yards: Ingram has 1,297 on 194 carries for an average of 6.7 per carry and 129.7 per game. At this current pace, Ingram will have 1,686 rushing yards when ballots are collected for the Heisman after the SEC Championship Game, which would have already shattered the UA single-season mark of 1,471 by Bobby Humphrey in 1986.
2. Place in history: Factor in the bowl game and Ingram is on pace for 1,816 rushing yards, which would be the third-best season in SEC history behind Georgia's Herschel Walker (1,891) and Arkansas' Darren McFadden (1,830).
3. Best against best, part I: Contrary to popular belief, Ingram's best quarter isn't the fourth, it's the second. He has 51 carries in the second quarter for 410 yards, for an 8.04 average per carry. In the fourth quarter he has 52 carries for 364 yards, and 7.0 average. Although many consider the fourth-quarter touchdown drive against South Carolina, when he took every snap out of the wildcat formation before taking a handoff for the final yards, his signature accomplishment, Ingram's best quarter all season came earlier in that game when he had 105 rushing yards on six carries in the second quarter.
4. Yards after contact: This is the statistic that really sets Ingram apart, 812 total yards after the initial hit. That's 53.4 percent of his total yards (1,522). Three times he's had 100 yards after contact, against South Carolina (167), Virginia Tech (115) and LSU (107).
5. Scoring: Ingram's 13 touchdowns (10 rushing, three receiving), lead the SEC and his 7.8 points per game are second only to Kentucky's Randall Cobb (8.0, nine games).
6. He can catch: For quite a while Ingram topped the No. 2 Crimson Tide in receptions. He's currently tied with sophomore wide receiver Marquis Maze for second with 25 (225 yards).
7. He blocks: It's a point of pride with Ingram. "What makes him special is that he'll rip a 70-yard run, and that's not the play he's thinking about," junior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "The play he's thinking about is when he maybe went a little too far on a block, something that a lot of running backs would say 'Forget about it, it's a block. That's my quarterback's job to get rid of the ball.'"
8. Best against the best, part II: Ingram has exactly 1,000 rushing yards (150 attempts) in seven SEC games, averaging 142.9 yards with seven touchdowns.
9. His focus: If being in the spotlight has been any sort of a distraction, no one's letting on. "Mark's done great," McElroy said. "Mark is such a great teammate, he doesn't focus on that stuff all that much. If he does, he doesn't bring that to our attention by any means."
10. Lack of turnovers: Ingram's lost one fumble his entire career (against Tennessee), in 327 rushing attempts, 369 touches. His only other fumble was recovered last year at LSU.
11. Little if any padding of numbers: Ingram missed most of the second half against Florida International due to the flu, and barely played in the second half during the 53-7 blowout of North Texas. He took only two handoffs in the fourth quarter against Arkansas and sat after Alabama had a 35-7 lead, and had one fourth-quarter carry at Mississippi State (and went 70 yards for the touchdown).
12. Best against the best, part III: Against Top 25 teams (No. 7 Virginia Tech, No. 9 LSU, No. 20 Ole Miss and No. 22 South Carolina), Ingram averaged 189.3 rushing yards, 210.3 overall.
13. Steady play: It's not like Ingram suddenly came on strong the second half of the season. "Mark's played well for us all year," Saban said. "I can't look back and say he was doing something poorly in the beginning of the year."
14. Be a complete player: "The thing that we always try to emphasize with running backs is be a complete player," Saban continued. "You have a responsibility and obligation to do something when you don't have the ball and that's the part of your game that we want you to do well, because all of those other guys are blocking for you when you've got it, so what are you going to do when you don't have it and that's something he has done a pretty good job of all year as well."
15. The competition: No. 1 Florida's Tim Tebow and No 3 Texas' Colt McCoy haven't put up the kind of numbers expected, although keep winning. Houston quarterback Case Keenum has passed for 4,194 yards with 31 touchdowns and six interceptions, yet just lost for the second time to a Conference USA opponent. Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ran, caught and threw for a touchdown last week against North Carolina State and is the ACC's career leader in all-purpose yards, but has just 836 rushing yards.
16. Best against the best, part IV: Undefeated Alabama has faced five defenses still ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense despite what Ingram did against them -- 811 rushing yards, 162.2 average.
17. Tough to stop: Sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower may have put in best just before the season opener: "What I do is jump on his back. I can't bend my knees enough to get low enough to him. He's too strong to try and bulldozer him. So I just try and jump on his back during practice hold him up until I get some help over there."
18. Not just a power runner: Ingram's career-long 70-yard touchdown against Mississippi State might have turned some heads. He's second in the nation with 41 carries of 10 yards or more yards and has nine receptions of 10 yards or more for a total of 50. Consequently, nearly every fourth time he touches the ball Ingram gets at least the equivalent of a first down (22.8 percent). He also has 26 runs of 15 yards or more and 15 carries of 20 yards or more.
19. The supporting cast: Despite three new starters the offensive line had gelled amazingly well, sophomore Julio Jones is beginning to look like an elite receiver again, other players are stepping up and true freshman Trent Richardson has been a terrific backup.
20. Best against best, part V: In Alabama's four games not played at Bryant-Denny Stadium (vs. Virginia Tech, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State), Ingram has 611 rushing yards on 95 carries for a 6.42 average per carry, 152.8 per game, and six touchdowns.
21. Alabama has never won the Heisman: Granted, you're probably sick of hearing that, but it'll register with non-regional voters who will find that almost impossible to believe. Hey, it worked for Rio de Janeiro in the recent Olympics voting despite its monumental crime and violence problems.
22. His attitude: Despite being repeatedly asked about the Heisman, Ingram's answers are low-key and almost always the same. "Just keep getting better," Ingram said after Saturday's game. "Keep focusing on the task ahead. Don't look too far ahead, don't look too far behind. Just keep winning games, keep performing, keep working hard and everything else will take care of itself."