NCAA FB

Why Nebraska's Suh should clutch the Heisman

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Though it's likely no surprise to readers of this column, Ndamukong Suh — the first college-aged kid readers have accused me of having a "man crush" on — is my pick for the 2009 Heisman Trophy. The Nebraska senior defensive tackle, the first Heisman finalist out of Nebraska since 2001 winner Eric Crouch, was not only the most dominant defensive player in all of college football this season, but the most dominant player overall. "He may be the best guy that I've ever seen on the defensive side of the ball," Baylor Coach Art Briles told the New York Times last week.
Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer, a player Suh edged out for the Nagurski Award this year, said of the Nebraska star: "The fact that he can do all of that while being double-teamed or triple-teamed, it's unbelievable. He's the best player in the country by far." Fellow Heisman finalist Colt McCoy wouldn't argue. Suh gave McCoy and his Longhorns the scare of their BCS lives last Saturday night, and may have damaged the UT quarterback's Heisman dreams. Speaking with reporters at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria for an awards dinner Tuesday night, McCoy noted, "He's well deserving of coming up here, especially off the game he had against us. He had a high motor the whole game. He wanted to win and it really showed. He's a tremendous football player." Don't be surprised if McCoy spends Saturday night's Heisman presentation underneath a chair or hiding in a storage closet. With Suh in the building, it'd be McCoy's natural instinct to do just that. In last Saturday's Big 12 Championship Game, Suh sacked the NCAA's career win leader 4 ½ times. McCoy had never been sacked that many times by another team during his four-year career, let alone by one player. And though that game might have served as a national coming out party for Suh to some — syndicated sports talk radio host Mike Francesca did us all a favor by not trying to pronounce his name, and just referring to him instead as "the kid from Nebraska" all week — such dominance was nothing new to those who have followed Suh's college career. After an injury sidelined him his freshman year, Suh redshirted, only to return for a disappointing 5-7 Huskers campaign in 2007. The Portland, Ore. native thought about transferring, but decided to stay in Lincoln when coach Bo Pelini was hired to replace Bill Callahan as Nebraska's head coach. That's when Suh came into his own. Under Pelini and his brother Carl, Suh mastered the art of defensive tackle and began his surge to become the best three-technique DT the college game has seen in quite some time. He was a revelation last season with 76 tackles, becoming the first Nebraska lineman to lead the team in tackles since 1973. He also had 19 tackles for loss, two interception returns for scores, and 7.5 sacks. After flirting with the idea of the NFL Draft, he came back to Nebraska for his senior year with expectations of an All-American campaign. He blew those expectations out of the water. The crazy part is that Suh's Big 12 championship game effort was probably his third-best game of the season. In a 16-15 loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Sept. 19, Suh had eight tackles, a sack, and broke up four passes. Yes, he broke up four passes from the defensive tackle position. It was the Ndamukong Suh Show; 21 other players just happened to be on the field. In the end, Tyrod Taylor stole the headlines following the game with his stirring, last-minute passes, but it was Suh who stole the imagination of college football fans across the country. Two weeks later, Suh was a one-man wrecking ball in a nationally televised, Thursday night win over Missouri in the rain. In that 27-12 victory, Suh had six tackles, forced a fumble while sacking Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and made the individual play of the year — intercepting a bullet pass at the line on scrimmage in the fourth quarter. On Missouri's next possession, Suh chased Gabbert down, forcing him to toss a game-sealing pick. Of course, if you ask Suh, he might say the Halloween Baylor game — one in which he was double and triple-teamed on just about every play from scrimmage, allowing teammate Jared Crick to register five sacks — was his best outing of the year. Hell, pick any of Nebraska's games. Suh was incredible in all of them. He is the first defensive tackle to be invited to the Heisman award ceremony since Warren Sapp of Miami in 1994. He's every bit the college player Sapp was and more. I spoke with Chris Huston, publisher of the popular HeismanPundit.com site, and he says Suh should receive the most Heisman votes of any defensive player since Michigan's Charles Woodson won the award in 1997. "He'll probably get the most first-place votes by a purely defensive player (Woodson not being one) since Hugh Green in 1980," Huston said. When I mention recent collegiate defensive stars Chris Long and Glenn Dorsey — two players who received a sprinkling of votes in 2007 — Huston adds: "Suh is way better than either of those guys. Dorsey, for all his hype, didn't produce any stats. Long never had seven tackles for loss in a conference title game. Suh's dynamism is what sets him apart." Kirk Bohls, the college football columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, gave Suh his first-place vote, despite an expected hometown bias to McCoy. In explaining his decision to his readers, Bohls wrote on Wednesday: "Suh, in this honest opinion, is the most outstanding player in college football. He may be the best defensive player I've ever seen. And I've seen a bunch, like Tommy Nobis and the Selmon brothers and Mike Singletary and Casey Hampton and Johnnie Johnson and Jerry Gray. He's certainly among them."

Handicapping the Heisman

There is plenty of debate as to which of the New York invitees is most deserving of taking home the trophy. We rank the finalists, and provide odds for each..
In any other year, I might resist giving Suh the nod. But in 2009? A year where seemingly every Heisman candidate did everything in his power to give the award away when the spotlight was on? Why shouldn't we reward the one guy who was consistently the best player on the field every week, all season long? If you want to penalize Suh for Nebraska's four losses, fine. But if that's your reasoning, you can't give the award to Toby Gerhart, of four-loss Stanford, either. Want to say McCoy or Tim Tebow had better four-year careers? That's OK, too. But then let's call the Heisman what it is — a lifetime achievement award — not the award for the season's top performer. The Heisman was Tebow's or McCoy's to grab hold of last Saturday. They both had their shots. Instead, both seniors played like they were allergic to the thing. Alabama's Mark Ingram has been fantastic, but I'd say linebacker Rolando McClain was actually the more valuable Crimson Tide player this season. Hey, call it a man crush, call it what you will. Suh's my guy.

All-Americans, then and now

Before the season, I put together my preseason All-American squad and hoped for the best. In hindsight, I did fairly well. Here's my pre-season All-American squad up against the squad I'd choose today.
Then: Schrager's preseason All-Americans
Offense:
QB: Tim Tebow, Florida
RB: Jahvid Best, California
RB: Noel Devine, West Virginia
WR: Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas
TE: Dennis Pitta, BYU
OL: Sam Young, Notre Dame
OL: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
OL: Trent Williams, Oklahoma
OL: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OL: Sergio Render, Virginia Tech

Defense:
DL: George Selvie, South Florida
DL: Marvin Austin, North Carolina
DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
DL: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
LB: Rolando McLain, Alabama
LB: Brandon Spikes, Florida
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
DB: Eric Berry, Tennessee
DB: Taylor Mays, USC
DB: Ahmad Black, Florida
DB: Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech

Now: Schrager's postseason All-Americans
Offense:
QB: Colt McCoy, Texas
RB: Mark Ingram, Alabama
RB: Toby Gerhart, Stanford
WR: Golden Tate, Notre Dame
WR: Jordan Shipley, Texas
TE: Dennis Pitta, BYU
OL: Chris Hall, Texas
OL: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
OL: Trent Williams, Oklahoma
OL: Mike Iupati, Idaho
OL: Mike Johnson, Alabama

Defense:
DL: Jerry Hughes, TCU
DL: Terrence Cody, Alabama
DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
DL: Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech
LB: Rolando McLain, Alabama
LB: Daryl Washington, TCU
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
DB: Eric Berry, Tennessee
DB: Joe Haden, Florida
DB: DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson
DB: Earl Thomas, Texas

Pick of the week

A victory over Navy on Saturday puts Army in the EagleBank Bowl and gives the Knights their bowl bid since 1996. The EagleBank Bowl announced Sunday night that it had reached an agreement with Temple to play in the bowl on Dec. 29, and that if Army (5-6) loses to Navy, UCLA (6-6) would play Temple (9-3) instead. Win and in! "All of our seniors came here with the mantra that we were going to turn Army football around, make it a winning program again," senior Victor Ugenyi told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week. "After we beat Navy and after we win this bowl game, we haven't done it completely, but we've turned it in the right direction." Tough not to get behind these guys. Gimme Rich Ellerson's Knights in a classic. The Pick: Army 27, Navy 24.
Tagged: LSU, Texas, Iowa, Oregon, Baylor, Virginia, Nebraska, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Alabama

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