The Heisman Trophy balloting was tougher than I can ever remember it being.
I labored long and pondered my vote for several days before I finally made it late Monday afternoon.
Voting for Colt McCoy isn’t an easy decision and after reading countless e-mails and letters this week assuredly wasn’t a popular one. But I think it’s the right one for a lot of good reasons.
Like an electorate that is swayed by the last thing they hear at a debate, I fear that some of my fellow voters and most fans across the country put too much importance on what happened in the most recent game. I don't think they considered the body of work for a season.
McCoy was intercepted three times in a tight 13-12 victory over Nebraska. One of the picks was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Another one was snatched by DeJon Gomes on an outstanding athletic play were he ripped it away from a Texas receiver.
I don’t think it was McCoy’s fault that he was sacked nine times against Nebraska. Instead, it was most indicative of playing behind the weakest offensive line he's had during his career.
But in the end, McCoy persevered to take his team to the conference championship and advance to the national championship game. Detractors talk about how he disappeared in that Nebraska game. I actually look at the toughness he showed to engineer his team to its biggest victory during the time he has been Texas’ quarterback -- despite the fierce pounding he took.
And other Heisman finalists struggled through bad games this season as well.
Mark Ingram produced 30 yards against Auburn -- a defense that was ranked 80th nationally in rush defense. Earlier in the season, he rushed for 50 yards against Arkansas's defense, which finished 68th in rush defense.
I also hear from some of my friends that cover the Southeastern Conference that other backs on Alabama’s team could have done the same thing as Ingram if they had gotten the opportunity.
People talk about the Heisman not being a career award and how previous years shouldn’t matter.
But I think Colt McCoy did enough this season to take his team to the brink of the national championship. On top of becoming the winningest quarterback in FBS history with a 45-7 career won-loss record.
That statistic resonates in a year where one candidate doesn’t stand out to me.
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had phenomenal individual numbers. But I still can’t get away from the biggest statistic in my mind: 9-4. As in Nebraska’s won-loss record.
Suh also had a few clunkers thrown in as well. There was the game against Texas Tech when he had four tackles and no sacks in a 21-point loss to the Red Raiders. He had four tackles and no sacks against Oklahoma. And three tackles and no sacks against Kansas.
It’s also likely that Suh played as a part of one of the great defensive lines in Big 12 history. Jared Crick set a school record for sacks against Baylor. Barry Turner was an underrated defensive end who repeatedly beat Adam Ulatoski last week. Pierre Allen had his moments as well.
The argument could be made that those opponents schemed to take him away from the game. But shouldn’t a Heisman Award candidate be able to overcome those offense plans, particularly playing with as strong a defensive front as the Cornhuskers had this season?
The top individual statistics belong to Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. But his numbers were swollen by playing six teams with rushing defenses ranked 60th or worst, including a 205-yard season-ending effort against a Notre Dame defense that ranked 90th in rush defense this season.
But Gerhart rushed for 82 yards in a loss against a Wake Forest team that was 5-7 and ranked 82nd in run defense. He also rushed for 96 yards in a loss against Oregon State. The Cardinal were 8-4.
I’m not here to belittle the other candidates, but merely to show that all of them had their failings over the course of the season. They all struggled through games that weren’t as good as their best.
And in the end, there’s something to be said about a quarterback who took his undefeated team to the national championship game while completing 70 percent of his passes. He had the biggest single rushing game and the longest rushing play of the season for a team that had no backs that rushed for more than 520 yards.
McCoy had one consistent receiver and an offensive line -- at least if Saturday night’s performance is an indicator --that left a lot to be desired.
One Heisman moment for him came on that 65-yard touchdown sprint through the Texas A&M defense.
But another one came six games earlier after one of his biggest disappointments.
After McCoy had thrown a fourth-quarter interception in the red zone, he made a crunching form tackle that saved many yards on a return and likely saved the Longhorns’ 16-13 victory over the Sooners.
A play like that showed me more than any mere statistic could have.
I voted McCoy for first place, Suh at second place and Gerhart at third.
I think it’s the right vote.
But because of the late interest, I’m more interested in this Heisman balloting than any I can remember in a long time.
It ought to be fun Saturday night.