3 SEC Heisman Hopefuls Meet in Tide-Vols Showdown
By John Zenor
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)
— The odds are pretty good that Tennessee’s Eric Berry will go
one-on-one with the leading Heisman Trophy candidate for the second time this
The Volunteers dynamic defensive back, who took on
Florida’s Tim Tebow earlier this season, is bracing for another high-impact
collision — this time with No. 1 Alabama’s 212-pound tailback Mark Ingram.
“I’ll probably just take a few Advil before the game,”
Berry and Ingram will be two of three players taking the
field on Saturday who are on the Heisman watch list. They will be joined by
Crimson Tide All-America linebacker Rolando McClain.
The trio is among several names being bandied about for
the award, the others being mostly quarterbacks: Tebow, Jimmy Clausen and Colt
McCoy. The field might be wide-open enough this season for a dominant defensive
star to earn serious consideration for the Heisman, which hasn’t gone to a
defender since Michigan defensive back/return man Charles Woodson won in
Berry is the only one from Alabama or Tennessee being
actively promoted for the award, with music videos and berry4heisman.com. While
McClain and Ingram publicly downplay the hoopla, Berry embraces it.
“I feel like with the videos, it’s really helping
Tennessee get onto that radar again,” said Berry, a junior who is just 14 yards
shy of Terrell Buckley’s NCAA career record of 501 interception return yards.
“Soon we’ll be getting right back on the right track and everybody’s going to
know who Tennessee is.”
Berry has the hype and the flamboyant style. But he only
has one interception this season after picking off 12 passes his first two, and
he plays for a .500 team. Still, Tide coach Nick Saban called him “maybe the
best defensive player in our conference” and an “absolutely phenomenal football
McClain is a mobile, 258-pound inside linebacker who is
the leader of the nation’s No. 1 defense. He has a team-high 49 tackles, two
sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Does he enjoy seeing a fellow defender getting pushed for
the Heisman? “I mean, I don’t really care,” McClain said, shaking his head and
quickly ending that line of questioning.
Both might have to take a back seat to Ingram, who jumped
to the top of some pundits’ Heisman watch lists this week with a 246-yard
rushing effort against South Carolina. He also shares the team lead with 19
catches and his 30 runs of 10-plus yards leads the nation.
He’d certainly be on Berry’s list.
“Yeah, that’s hands down,” he said. “He’s one of the best
backs in this country. He’s a complete back. He runs, blocks and he can catch
out of the backfield, and he breaks a lot of tackles. You could just go back and
look at his tape, his film — that’s his resume, and I feel like his resume is
pretty darn good.
Ingram isn’t quite as dismissive of the Heisman question
as McClain. But the sophomore insisted it’s not something he’s going to get
carried away with.
“It’s an honor to be considered as one of the top
candidates for that award, but I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “I’m
really just worried about helping this team win and get better everyday as a
player. You know, if we just keep winning and I keep performing, everything else
will take care of itself.”
It worked for Woodson. He led the Wolverines to a share
of the national championship with Nebraska, collecting eight interceptions while
also playing some receiver and returning punts.
The Green Bay Packers veteran follows the Heisman chase,
because past winners have a vote. He likes Florida’s middle linebacker Brandon
Spikes — though he knows Spikes was injured last weekend (groin) — but says
“the numbers factor, that’s pretty overwhelming.”
Is it time for another defender to win the Heisman?
“I don’t see why not. But the guys, they’re just not
going to get the (publicity),” Woodson said. “I tell people all the time, I was
very fortunate to play offense and get some of that notoriety. It’s going to be
hard for a guy that only plays defense to have any numbers that’s going to rival
an offensive player. So that’s just a tough deal.”
Besides Berry and McClain, another potentially
Heisman-worthy defensive player is Nebraska tackle Ndamukung Suh, who has racked
up across-the-board stats including nine tackles for loss, three sacks, seven
pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception.
“You have to be a dominating factor in probably every
game,” said former Auburn defensive tackle Tracy Rocker, the first SEC player to
capture both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. “(Suh) is doing probably
everything possible you can do.”
The Auburn assistant had 100 tackles in 1988, but didn’t
get any Heisman votes.
Suh isn’t counting his votes.
“It’s more an offensive predicated award,” he said. “It’s
all good and gravy now, but I have to keep playing and stay focused on this team
and helping this team win. If the time comes and I’m still in the race, I’m more
than happy to have my name up there.”
Saban says stats are key, and that someone who is racking
up sacks or interceptions or returning punts and/or kicks would have a shot. But
the odds are definitely in favor of offensive players.
“There’s a lot of different awards for a lot of different
players,” he said. “I think that offensive players because of fan interest and
crowd appeal, probably … have a little bit of an advantage.”