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In a Heisman field rich with talented offensive players, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart is the one who most consistently impressed. (Nhat V. Meyer/Mercury News)

WANTING TO get it right, I waited until 24 hours before the deadline to submit my ballot for the Heisman Trophy.

And still, I didn't get it quite right.

The name Ndamukong Suh should have been typed in, and it was not. Nebraska's dynamic defensive tackle is a ferocious presence and has earned the privilege of being the No. 1 overall pick in next year's NFL draft.

If I could resubmit my ballot, Suh would be on it.

But Stanford running back Toby Gerhart would remain the first choice. Because his season best exemplifies what one should want from the player deemed the best in college football.

Gerhart excelled statistically, rushing for more yards (1,736) and scoring more touchdowns (26) than anybody else in Division I. His work was done in the Pac-10, the deepest of the major conferences — no matter how much hype is hoisted on the SEC.

Being the best player in what quite likely is the best conference should be enough for the 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior to win the most famous award in the sport.

But there is more to Gerhart's credentials. Much more.

In a field rich with talented offensive players such as Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, Houston quarterback Case Keenum, Notre Dame wideout Golden Tate and a half dozen others, Gerhart is the one who most consistently impressed.

While the others all had one or more performances they'd like to forget, the closest Gerhart came to ordinary were the two games in which he was held under 100 yards. He gained 82 on 17 carries at Wake Forest and 96 on 20 at Oregon State.

Stanford, it should be noted, lost both of those games, which represent two of Gerhart's three lowest carry totals for the season. The third, a 20-carry game against Cal, also resulted in a Cardinal loss.

Evidently, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh needed to discover several times that getting off his horse was a bad thing.

Conversely, riding Gerhart almost assured prosperity for Stanford. In the four games in which the Cardinal scored 40 or more points, he averaged 30 carries.

As if this weren't enough testimony to Gerhart's value to his team, there is also his value to his school. He single-handedly raised the profile of a team projected to turn in its uniforms after the regular season. The Cardinal (8-4) was dragged by Gerhart to the Sun Bowl, its first bowl game in nearly a decade.

It's almost superfluous that Gerhart last week was named to the Pac-10 All-Academic first team. A management science and engineering major, Gerhart is carrying 21 units, with a 3.25 GPA.

Did we mention he's scheduled to graduate a quarter early?

In other words, it's not enough that Gerhart is a terrific football player. He also is a figment of a marketer's imagination. As such, Gerhart sets the bar at a height his fellow Heisman candidates must leap to reach — and none of them succeeds.

Suh comes closest because he's at least as dominant on defense as Gerhart is on offense. It's not his fault Nebraska plays in the Big 12, where the talent can't come close to matching the general emphasis on the sport, but it's enough to put him behind Gerhart.

Early polling indicates Gerhart's co-favorite is Alabama's Mark Ingram, a fine running back on a team destined to become the national champion. But Ingram is surrounded by so much blue-chip talent that there is no appreciable drop-off when the Crimson Tide turns to his backups. This would seem to compromise his value, eh?

Nobody else, on merit, deserves to make the trip to New York. McCoy and Tebow were invited despite neither being as good as he was last season. McCoy benefits from Texas' cotton candy nonconference schedule; he'll be exposed against Alabama. Tebow happens to be the 2007 winner and the cover boy for the sport.

Heisman voters, and there are hundreds of us, are requested to fill out three lines — first name, last name, school — for each of our three choices. Once evaluations are done, the entire voting process lasts a couple minutes.

That none of my choices was Suh is regrettable, for he deserved to be on the ballot of someone who has voted for defensive players in the past.

Having Gerhart atop my ballot, however, feels absolutely right. He earned the vote, earned it in every way he could.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.