The Heisman Trophy race is not over for Stanford’s Toby Gerhart, even though he won’t play any more games before the Dec. 7 voting deadline.
After a weekend that could not have worked out better for his Heisman chances, Gerhart must wait it out, hoping for two things to happen:
1. The pollsters must see fit to give Stanford a decent national rankings.
2. Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow cannot knock the Heisman voters’ socks off with their performances in their conference championship games next Saturday.
If those two things happen, Gerhart stands a pretty good chance of winning the thing.
The weekend started out well for Gehart when Ingram, the Heisman front-runner, had a very un-Heisman performence on Thursday in a game that demanded one, gaining just 30 yards against Auburn.
McCoy probably put himself in the Heisman driver’s seat with his big game in the win over Texas A&M later on Thursday, but Gerhart gained ground with his showing against Notre Dame on Saturday and should be neck-and-neck with McCoy at the moment.
The Notre Dame game could not have worked out better for Gerhart. It wasn’t just that he racked up 205 rushing yards in his final-impression performance. And it wasn’t just that he did it before a large national TV audience against Notre Dame. And it wasn’t just that he had two memorable runs in the late-game drive that provided Stanford with the victory, blasting over Notre Dame tacklers in inspired plays that will be repeated on Sports Center and will stick in voters’ minds. And it wasn’t just that he threw a touchdown pass on the first pass attempt in his college career. No, it was not any one of those things; it was all of those things.
If Gerhart were to write a script on how to maximize his Heisman Trophy chances, this would have been it.
The only problem is history. Heisman Trophy winners have to play for national-title contenders, or at least that’s been the case in recent years. Nine of the last 10 Heisman Trophy winners played on teams that were ranked in the top five when the voting took place, and all 10 were in the top 10.
Only two of the past 19 Heisman winners played on teams that were not in the top five — Tebow for No. 9 Florida in 2007, and Ricky Williams for No. 20 Texas in 1998.
At the moment, Stanford is unranked, and only five of the 78 Heisman Trophy winners played for unranked teams. And it’s really only two, because Steve Spurrier’s 1966 Florida team, Terry Baker’s 1961 Oregon State squad and Ernie Davis 1961 Syracuse team all would have been ranked if the Assocated Press had not ranked just 10 teams in those seasons. Those three teams all received enough votes to place in the top 20.
So we are left with Steve Owens, who won it in 1968 even though Oklahoma was 6-4 and unranked, and Paul Hornung, whose Notre Dame team was 2-8 when he inexplicably won in 1956.
It suggests the Cardinal needs to make a move when the pollsters cast their ballots Sunday. The Cardinal would have been 26th in this week’s AP poll and 28th in the coaches poll, so it’s a good bet the Cardinal will be ranked when Sunday’s rankings are released. But how high will it climb? If it gets into the top 20, Gerhart’s chances improve significantly.
The question is, how much does a close home win over a 6-5 Notre Dame team count with voters. The way Stanford won, with Gerhart carrying the team on his back, may score some points for the Cardinal in some voters’ minds.
No matter where Stanford is ranked this week and next, Gerhart figures to get invited to New York for the December 12 announcement of the Heisman winner. Considering Stanford is just 8-4 and won’t be ranked in the top 10, that is a major accomplishment.
If it comes down to little things Heisman voters might consider, Gerhart has some advantages. Voters will like the fact that he attends Stanford with all its high acadmic standards, and that he is taking 21 class units this fall, more than most Stanford students. Stanford’s surprising success will help too. Finally, Gerhart’s image as a throw-back player, the kind who bowls over tacklers rather than juking around them or racing past them, will strike a chord with voters, most of whom are older and would like to think football was better back in the day.
Closing comment: It’s difficult to articulate how weak it was of Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis not to speak to the media after the loss to Stanford. His players spoke to the media, but not Charlie, whose leadership skills have to be questioned now. We in this corner thought Weis deserved to be kept around as Notre Dame’s coach — until he pulled this stunt.