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by | Special to

Betting against an Ingram Heisman repeat? Bad idea


Here is where those of us who cover college football get into trouble: You get some information that you know is good. And from that information you start to build a narrative that you're sure will hold up for the entire season.

Example: In my conversations with players and coaches at Alabama in the spring and summer, it was made very clear to me that running back Mark Ingram would probably not get the 271 carries he had during his Heisman Trophy winning season in 2009. Two reasons:

1) The coaching staff wanted to get more carries for their splendid sophomore, Trent Richardson and 2) The coaching staff didn't need to lean on Ingram because they had developed so much trust in quarterback Greg McElroy. Alabama also wanted to get the ball to a healthy Julio Jones more often. Stated more simply, Ingram wouldn't carry the ball 271 times because Alabama didn't NEED for him to do that in order to win. Based on that fact alone I believed that Ingram would not become the second man in history (Archie Griffin in 1974-75) to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner in 2010.

Ingram sat out Alabama's first two games after having his knee scoped. That only solidified my belief that a second Heisman was not in Ingram's future. When Richardson went for 144 yards and made it look easy against Penn State on Sept. 11, it was a lock. Shoot, I had people telling me that Richardson was BETTER than Ingram.

Then Ingram came back to test his knee against Duke. Actually, he did more than test it. Ingram got 151 yards on just nine carries. But hey, it was Duke, which had given up 54 points to Wake Forest the week before. Besides, the narrative was set. My mind was made up. Mark Ingram was not going to get back in the race for the Heisman Trophy.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The great thing about college football is that on a given afternoon, a gifted athlete can do something remarkable and make your assumptions look silly. That is what Mark Ingram did last Saturday at Arkansas. He had 157 yards on 24 carries and scored with 3:18 left to give Alabama a 24-20 victory, its 18th straight dating back to last season.

More on Mark Ingram

But those numbers don't begin to tell you why Ingram has now jumped back into the Heisman Trophy race with both of his very talented feet.

First of all, Ingram made a run early in that game that a mere human is not supposed to make. His team was trailing 7-0 after 50 seconds before the largest crowd in the history of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (76,808). The smell of an upset was in the air. Alabama had won 27 straight regular-season games but it just FELT like this was going to be the Hogs' day.

Then Ingram suddenly jumped into the open field and two Arkansas players -- safety Tremain Thomas and cornerback Ramon Broadway -- got just close enough to get a face full of stiff-arm. That was the power. Then the speed got Ingram to the 10-yard line. Yet another defender tried to knock him out of bounds. Then the agility allowed Ingram to tight rope the sideline and tip toe past the pylon for the touchdown. It was ridiculous. A man that strong and that powerful isn't supposed to have that kind of speed and balance.

"How good was that?" asked offensive guard Barrett Jones.

Very good. Actually it was damned good. One of the best I've seen in a long time.

"We always take pride in not letting the first guy tackle us," said Ingram, a very proud man.

But it was in the fourth quarter that Ingram became a force of nature. With the game on the line, Ingram relentlessly pounded an Arkansas defense that was getting more tired by the moment. Six times Ingram lined up in the wildcat formation and just got one tough yard after another.

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Arkansas had no answer.

"Mark just wears the defense down," said Jones. "It was obvious that they were getting tired. That's when he just pounds on people."

"Mark is really a great competitor," said his coach, Nick Saban.

Ingram does some of his very best work on the big stage. He proved it in the SEC Championship Game against Florida last December. He proved it again in the BCS National Championship Game against Texas.

Now he will get another big stage Saturday when Alabama hosts No. 7 Florida at Bryant-Denny Stadium. In Florida's first two conference games against Tennessee and Kentucky the Gators defense faced the SEC's top rusher. In both games Florida held that runner to under 100 yards. Just make a note of that and remember it Saturday night.

Until last December, Alabama had never had a player win the Heisman Trophy. But Ingram is more than capable of giving the Crimson Tide back-to-back Heismans. I know I've learned my lesson. I'm not betting against No. 22.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on The CBS College Sports Network.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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