November 17, 2009

Notebook: Ingram may need big SEC title game to satisfy critics

TUSCALOOSA _ It goes without saying that a lot will be resting on next month's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, where the University of Alabama will face Florida on Dec. 5 with a likely invitation to the Bowl Championship Series title game at stake.

However, that may only be the beginning.

Numerous individual honors could be on the line as well, including the Heisman Trophy and other national player of the year honors, and not just because of the potential showdown between sophomore running back Mark Ingram and Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow.

It'll be Ingram's make-or-break chance to win over his critics because of one important statistic he has almost no control over. Although Alabama has faced numerous that ranked high in rushing defense when they played, most of have dropped off since. Consequently the Tide hasn't faced a team currently ranked in the top 40 nationally.

Here's each opponent's current rank and average rushing yards allowed, followed by where they would be without having played Alabama.

Virginia Tech 65th, 147.5; 53rd, 134.1
Florida International 117th, 238.5; 117th, 234.11
North Texas 102nd, 190.3; 101st 182.6
Arkansas 47th, 132.7; 47th, 132.6
Kentucky 98th, 177.6; 94th, 174.7;
Ole Miss 47th, 1327; 40th, 125.2
South Carolina 62nd, 145.09; 50th, 133.2
Tennessee 60th, 143.1; 60th, 143.9
LSU 41st, 126.9; 38th, 121.4
Mississippi State 79th, 157.9; 65th 147.4

As for future opponents, Auburn ranks 91st at 169.73, but Florida is 10th at 94.30, statistically making the Gators the top rushing defense the Tide will face before balloting is completed.

However, those numbers may be a bit of an aberration because rushing numbers in the Southeastern Conference are up while Alabama's statistic have essentially stayed constant.

In other words, blame the dynamic offenses, especially the spread formation that Florida, Auburn and Mississippi State use to run more.

Last year, the average SEC team accumulated 147.09 rushing yards per game, with Alabama (No. 2), Ole Miss (4), Tennessee (12), Florida (15) and LSU (17) all in the top 20 in rushing defense, and Georgia 27th.

This year, the average rushing performance is up to 176.64 yards. As a result, only Alabama (again second) and Florida (10) are in the top 30, with Georgia next at 34th.

Yet in total defense six SEC teams are ranked nationally in the top 25 in total defense (2. Florida, No. 3 Alabama, No. 20 South Carolina, No. 21 LSU, No. 23 Ole Miss, and No. 25 Tennessee), and four teams are in the top 25 in scoring defense (No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Alabama, No. 10 LSU, and No. 12 Ole Miss), with South Carolina in 26th.

"You still have to earn your yards when you go out there," Ingram said. "I guess it's more of how people are spreading the ball a little bit more, it's not just always just someone running the ball, pounding. There's a whole bunch of different types of offenses. There are people that use five wide, or four wide receivers.

"It's just different each week."

Practice report
The team practiced outside Tuesday, but those limited to exercise bikes remained inside.

Junior running back Terry Grant (muscle strain) did not practice, but senior linebacker Eryk Anders, who aggravated a sprained ankle originally sustained against South Carolina, was back in his usual crimson jersey.

"I'll be good for Saturday," he said.

Walter Camp semifinalists
A student the other day did the Heisman pose in front of Ingram (funny, but a little weird he said) only that's not the only major award he's up for.

Tuesday both he and junior linebacker Rolando McClain were named on the 15 "Players to Watch" for the Walter Camp Foundation's player of the year award.

Alabama and Texas were the only schools to have more than one player listed, and McClain was the lone linebacker.

The other semifinalists are Stanford running back Toby Gearhart, Cincinnati wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, TCU defensive lineman Jerry Hughes, Houston quarterback Case Keenum, Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, Clemson receiver/kick returner C.J. Spiller, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate and Tebow.

"It's been an exciting college football season with many teams and players still in the hunt for national recognition," Walter Camp Foundation president Alphonse Paolillo, Jr. said in a release. "We've identified some outstanding players and we know the final weeks of the regular season should be even more thrilling."

The Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp are considered the three major national player of the year awards, and an Alabama player has never won any of them.

Although it used to be fairly common for someone to win all three awards the same season, it hasn't occurred since 1999 with Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne. That ended a 33-year span in which 19 times one player took home the hardware trifecta.

Last year, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma won the Heisman, Tebow the Maxwell and Colt McCoy of Texas the Walter Camp.

"I try and not pay attention to it," Ingram said of the Heisman hype. "People keep bring it up all the time and I hear it all through my day.

"I let everyone else doing the talking and try and stay focuses on the task at hand."
Finalists for the Bronko Nagusrki Award for defensive player of the year will be announced Wednesday or Thursday. McClain is expected to be named a Butkus Award (linebacker of the year) finalist Thursday.

Awards list rundown
Heisman Trophy: Finalists announced Dec. 9.
Maxwell Award (outstanding player): Mark Ingram, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Walter Camp Award (Player of the year): Ingram, McClain semifinalists. Finalists announced Dec. 2.

Butkus Award (linebacker): McClain, semifinalist. Finalists announced Thursday.

Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Terrence Cody and Mike Johnson on watch list. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Bednarik Award (defensive player): Cody and McClain, semifinalists. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Doak Walker Award (running back): Ingram, semifinalist. Finalists named Nov. 23.

Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back): Javier Arenas, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Lou Groza Award (kicker): Leigh Tiffin, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Bronko Nagusrki Award (defensive player): Finalists announced Wednesday or Thursday. Arenas, Cody and McClain are all on the watch list.

Rotary Lombard Award (lineman): Cody finalist. Winner announced Dec. 9.

Ted Hendricks Award (defensive end): Midseason watch list announced in mid-November. No Alabama players were on the preseason watch list.

Lott Trophy (defensive impact player): McClain semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 24.

Rimington Trophy (center): Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Eddie Robinson Award (coach): Finalists announced Dec. 9.

George Munger Award (coach): Nick Saban, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Broyles Award (assistant coach): Finalists announced Nov. 30.

Alabama players are no longer in the running for the Davey O'Brien Award (quarterback), Unitas Golden Arm (senior quarterback), Fred Biletnikoff Award (wide receiver), John Mackey Award (tight end), Ray Guy Award (punter), or Walter Campbell Trophy (scholar-athlete, formerly known as the Draddy Trophy).


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