Another guarantee game, another Heisman Trophy candidate. Aren't these money-making matchups hard enough without adding one of the best players in college football to the challenge?
In the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's season finale Saturday at No. 2 Alabama, the Mocs, for the third straight season, will go up against a front-runner for the Heisman.
In 2007 there was Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who finished second to Florida's Tim Tebow. Last season the Mocs faced Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford in their opener, and Bradford went on to win the trophy. Now it's Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram's turn.
"I don't think (athletic director) Rick Hart is doing it on purpose," Mocs senior linebacker Joseph Thornton joked. "You don't ever really know who's going to be on the Heisman watch at the beginning of the year, and it's just happened to fall that we've faced one of the favorites the last three years."
According to this week's ESPN Heisman Watch and the latest poll at HeismanPundit.com, the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Ingram is the current favorite. And for good reason, Mocs coach Russ Huesman said.
"One guy's not going to get him on the ground," Huesman said. "When he gets you in one-on-one situations, he can run through you. We've got to take great angles just to be near him."
Ingram, who would be the third straight sophomore to win the Heisman, has rushed for 1,297 yards (fifth-most in the nation) and 10 touchdowns this season. He's averaging 6.7 yards per carry and also has 25 receptions for 225 yards and three scores.
"He's got great feet, he runs with great pad level, he runs through tackles and he can catch," Mocs defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said.
Ingram is 200 yards shy of Bobby Humphrey's school single-season record of 1,497, set in 1986. Despite all its championships and All-Americans, Alabama (10-0) never has had a Heisman winner.
A huge game against the Mocs (6-4) could help change that, but Alabama coach Nick Saban hinted this week that Ingram won't stay in the game just to boost his numbers.
"We don't really worry about stats," Saban said. "We're going to make all the decisions based on winning and what's best for our team."
Both McFadden and Bradford had good games against UTC but didn't put up monster stats. McFadden rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and Bradford completed 17 of 22 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
The Mocs' guarantee game next season is against Auburn on Nov. 6. As of now the Tigers don't have an apparent 2010 Heisman candidate, but Ingram wasn't on anybody's list at the start of this season.