How SI writers voted, and why

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Here's how SI's Heisman voters filled out their ballots. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh emerged as the popular choice, but the race promises to be a close one.

1. Ndamukong Suh2. Toby Gerhart 3. Mark Ingram

Suh was far and away the most dominant defensive player of not only this season, but the past several seasons, and he couldn't have ended the year with a more astounding performance. It is mind-boggling that a defensive tackle could finish with 82 tackles, not to mention 23 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and 10 pass breakups. Gerhart was also the most productive player at his position (1,736 yards, 26 TDs) but not quite as overwhelmingly. Ingram didn't have as consistent a season but came up big against some of the nation's top defenses, most notably Florida's.

1. Ndamukong Suh2. Rolando McClain 3. Toby Gerhart

Heisman voters are asked to choose the "Most Outstanding Player in the United States," but they usually only consider quarterbacks, running backs and receivers who also return kicks. If the competition is correctly thrown open to every player, there is no question Suh was the nation's most outstanding player this season. Facing double-teams on almost every play, Suh led his team in tackles (82), sacks (12) and tackles for loss (23). This is practically unheard of for a guy who lines up over the other team's center. Suh has a non-stop motor, and his speed -- he's fast, and not just for a 300-pounder -- allows him to drop into coverage and makes him more versatile than any defensive player in the country. Last Saturday against Texas, he played the defensive tackle version of Vince Young in the Rose Bowl. He almost single-handedly destroyed one of the nation's top offenses, and he nullified major college football's all-time winningest quarterback. If you don't recognize the name of the No. 2 player on my ballot, stop watching the ball and start watching the entire game. I never understood the Heisman push for Ingram, who is a fine back but isn't even the best player on his own team. That would be McClain. After the Crimson Tide beat LSU, a reporter looking for a glowing Heisman quote about Ingram approached Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy and asked, "Is there anybody in the country better than No. 22?" "What about No. 25?" McElroy fired back. Who wears No. 25? McClain.

1. Ndamukong Suh2. Toby Gerhart3. Colt McCoy

It is the most vexing "elastic clause" in sports: What is "most outstanding" supposed to mean, anyway? Because I choose not to interpret it as "leading ground gainer on the most outstanding team," Mark Ingram is not on my ballot. (I'm nagged by the suspicion that, behind Bama's line, Ingram's backup, Trent Richardson, would be putting up similar numbers.) Because I reject the CW that the winner must play for a national title contender, Ndamukong Suh is at the top of my ballot, followed by Toby Gerhart. I liked Suh before last Saturday night, when he put an exclamation point on a season that embodied "outstanding." I've got McCoy third because, despite his no-show in the Big 12 title game, he put up damn good numbers leading the Horns to the national title game. Nor does it hurt that he's won more games than any quarterback in NCAA history. Sometimes the Heisman is like the Irving Thalberg lifetime achievement award. Hey, eight years ago, I voted for Eric Crouch.

1. Ndamukong Suh 2. Mark Ingram 3. Toby Gerhart

The two factors that receive the most weight on this ballot are season-long excellence and performance in big games. In both areas, Suh fits. Though he received little Heisman love prior to his 4 1/2 sack tour de force against Texas, Suh was impossibly dominant from the opening kick of the season, particularly against Virginia Tech, Missouri, Iowa State and Texas. Ingram, who played his best in Alabama's biggest games, and Gerhart, who only led the universe in touchdowns and rushing yards, each have a strong case to be the Heisman winner and should make this race one of the closest ever.

1. Toby Gerhart 2. Mark Ingram 3. Tim Tebow

Heisman winners should make you say, "Wow," and Gerhart did that more than any other candidate. Not only do his statistics compare favorably with the other main contenders, he also compiled them in a spectacular way, running over and through would-be tacklers all season. Check the video of Gerhart flattening Notre Dame defensive back Gary Gray, or dragging three Cal tacklers for about 15 more fourth-quarter yards. They are plays that will make you say, "Wow." He took an incredible pounding all year as defenses geared up to stop him, yet he gained a remarkable amount of yardage after contact and finished the season stronger than Ingram, Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy, with dominant performances down the stretch against Oregon, USC, Cal and Notre Dame. If this were an MVP award, I would give more weight to the fact that other players helped lead their teams to better records than Stanford's 8-4, but this is for the most outstanding player, not the most valuable, and Gerhart stood out more than the other offensive finalists, who were really more solid than spectacular. As for Ndamukong Suh, he very nearly made my ballot, and I wouldn't argue with anyone who says he should have. But given the traditional parameters for the award, I felt Gerhart was No. 1.

1. Ndamukong Suh2. Toby Gerhart3. C.J. Spiller

Ndamukong Suh led the Cornhuskers in both solo (50) and total tackles (82). Folks, those are middle linebacker numbers -- defensive tackles just don't do that. He was uniformly superb throughout the season, and made his team a BCS contender even though Nebraska's offense ranked 102nd overall in Division I-A. Indeed, because of his dominance in the Big 12 title game (12 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks) the Huskers could have (and probably should have) beaten Texas despite the fact that they never scored a touchdown. Suh's ability to singlehandedly lift his team in this fashion is why he gets my vote over Toby Gerhart, the best player in college football's best conference of 2009. Finally, I remain baffled that C.J. Spiller will not be in New York. Certainly there were games where he did not put up big numbers. But consider this: In four games this season against top 15 teams, he averaged 270 all-purpose yards. His absence from this year's ceremony is a shameful snub.

1. Mark Ingram2. Ndamukong Suh3. Toby Gerhart

I was torn between Ingram and Suh, but ultimately went with the MVP of the best team in America. Yes, the pride of the Tide had one clunker of a game -- but Colt McCoy had two, and against the two best defenses, by far, he played. It also pained me to leave Kellen Moore off the ballot after the otherworldly season he had for a 13-0 team (though I suspect he'll be a major frontrunner for the trophy in 2010). Anyone who thinks that the highlight of Suh's résumé is one brilliant performance in JerryWorld is terribly mistaken -- the second coming of Reggie White has been a force all season long. But make no mistake: Ingram, who shined when his team needed him most, is a deserving winner.

1. Ndamukong Suh2. Mark Ingram3. Toby Gerhart

This year's Heisman race has been filled with dramatic swings. If you looked at my ballot from week to week, you would have thought I was making things up as I went along. Every time someone would emerge as a front runner, they would either falter or someone would overtake them. Last Saturday morning Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow were 1-2 on my ballot, but neither played like a Heisman winner in their respective championship games. Meanwhile, Suh took to the national stage and proved that he was the most dominating player in the nation. He singlehandledly changed the course of the Big 12 title game and nearly helped Nebraska pull off the biggest upset of the season. It's not like Suh came out of nowhere; he's been dominant all season. But McCoy and Tebow opened the door and, like he's done to opposing offensive lines all season, Suh bulldozed through it.

1. Mark Ingram 2. Colt McCoy 3. Ndamukong Suh

The knee-jerk reaction would have been to go with Suh, who capped a brilliant season with a spectacular game last Saturday night. But no player has meant more to his team than Ingram. Alabama would not be where it is without him. And in the biggest game of the college football season, Little Mark responded with 113 rushing yards, three TDs and a momentum-swinging 69-yard catch-and-run. McCoy? He was atop my ballot on Saturday morning and probably would've stayed there with just a steady performance against Nebraska. The winningest quarterback in Division I-A history picked the wrong time to play arguably the worst game of his college career.

1. Mark Ingram 2. Ndamukong Suh 3. Toby Gerhart

In one of the most muddled races in recent memory, Ingram gets my vote because he consistently came up big in big games in leading Alabama through the nation's toughest conference and into the BCS title game. The sophomore averaged 165 yards and had six touchdowns in five games against Top 25 opponents, and faced four defenses ranked in the top 16 while totaling 1,864 all-purpose yards and 18 scores.