Go ahead. Criticize me, Alabama fans. You, too, Stanford alums and Wisconsin fanatics. I don’t care. I feel comfortable with my choice to place Baylor’s Robert Griffin on top of the Heisman Trophy ballot I submitted on Sunday night in what is turning out to be an incredible race.
But I will confess this: In my 11 years as a Heisman voter, this has been one of the toughest decisions. And this year’s final ballot count may be the closest ever. Yes, even more narrow than in 2009. That year, we saw Alabama running back Mark Ingram edge out Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, 1,304 points to 1,276.
Still, in my mind, the player they call “RG3″ is the top player in the nation.
Griffin’s main competitors appear to be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and USC quarterback Matt Barkley. But none were as singularly outstanding as Griffin, the quintessential one-man gang who literally put Baylor on his back in leading the Bears to the school’s first nine-win season since 1986– four years before RG3 was born. And a win in the Alamo Bowl over Washington will give Baylor its first 10-win season since 1980.
Do you see a trend here? Griffin is taking his program to places it hasn’t been in a generation. Are the other main Heisman competitors doing that? No. It’s about making those around you better—and RG3 is doing that, and then some.
And Griffin is making Baylor relevant while being surrounded by lesser talent than Luck, Richardson, Ball or Barkley.
Speaking of Luck and Richardson, I had them Nos. 2 and 3—respectively–on my ballot.
That’s your cue to “boo.”
How can a player from Baylor—BAYLOR—win the Heisman?
Look at Griffin’s numbers. He’s the nation’s most efficient passer (192.31), hitting 267-of-369 passes (72.4 percent) for 3,998 yards, 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He also finished 13th in the Big 12 in rushing, carrying 161 times for 644 yards (4.0 ypc) and nine touchdowns.
By the way: Those numbers are better than Luck’s.
Look at Griffin’s “Heisman moments.” No one had more. It began with a season-opening, heart-stopping performance in a 50-48 win over TCU that saw RG3 throw for 359 yards and five touchdowns. And it was bookended by a scintillating 479-yard, four-touchdown pass masterpiece in a 45-38 win over Oklahoma that was capped by a mind-bending touchdown heave to end the game.
And just for good measure, Griffin left voters with another signature victory, 48-24 over Texas in the season finale, throwing for 320 yards and two scores vs. a Longhorn defense that entered the game ranked No. 9 in the country.
Does the fact Griffin has “Baylor” written across the front of his jersey scare you? It shouldn’t, but unfortunately, I think it will.
Last Saturday while telecasting the C-USA title game, ESPN analyst Craig James said, “I don’t think he has a chance of winning.”
On a Dallas-Ft. Worth radio station last week, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said of Griffin: “He’s from Baylor. He’s not going to win the Heisman.”
Again, why should what school a player is at matter when it comes to winning the Heisman? It shouldn’t. But you have to go back to 1999 to find the last time the Heisman was won by a player from a non-traditional national power, when Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne won it. Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam also did it in 1994.
Griffin also will be downgraded because the Bears have three losses. Critics will chirp that one of the defeats was 55-28 on the road to a 6-6 Texas A&M team. (The other losses were 36-35 at Kansas State, and 59-24 at Oklahoma State.)
But players have won the Heisman with three losses. The last to do it was Texas running back Ricky Williams in 1998.
One last thing to consider: Take Luck away from Stanford, and the Cardinal is still an eight-win team—at least. Take Richardson off of Alabama, and the Crimson Tide still would have won at least 10 games.
Take Griffin off Baylor? The Bears would be, well, Texas Tech or Iowa State.
If the on-field achievements aren’t enough, consider this, too: Griffin graduated in December 2010, just three years after enrolling at Baylor, and is on track to earn master’s degree in May with one year of football eligibility remaining.
Bottom line: Griffin is too good to believe on many levels and deserves to win the Heisman. He’s the most outstanding player in college football in 2011.
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Got something to tell him about this post? He wants to hear about it. Follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart or send a question to his weekly mailbag here. You can also subscribe to his RSS feed.