2011 Heisman Trophy Watch: The Right Man Might Win

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 03: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Baylor Bears runs onto the field before a game against the Texas Longhorns at Floyd Casey Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

This year, the Heisman Trophy looks like it will end up being bestowed upon the most outstanding player in the country. This doesn't always happen.

When this year's Heisman finalists were announced, I had two immediate reactions: 1) Wow, this has been a pretty neat year, and 2) holy crap, Robert Griffin III is about to win the Heisman. Just a few weeks ago, I came to grips with the fact that, simply because of the fact that he played for Baylor and had a poor defense backing him up, Griffin probably wasn't a viable candidate. But by pulling the Bears to nine wins (and finishing the season with wins over both Oklahoma and Texas), he has evidently not only reentered the race, but become the overwhelming favorite.

This is a very, very good thing. The two things that have always driven so many mad about the Heisman is that it almost always only allowed to go to a quarterback or running back who plays for a national title contender. Granted, if you are a title contender, you likely have many excellent players on your team, but by limiting the pool of excellence to only these players, you are quite often doing a disservice to the players who are truly the best in the country. Sure, Griffin's candidacy would have been mortally wounded had the Bears gone 7-5 instead of 9-3; and sure, Griffin is indeed a quarterback. But Baylor is still absolutely not a national title contender or a historical power, and a Griffin win would mean that the award might truly going to the best college football player in the country. And that is fantastic.

So here's my guess for how the vote will shake down Saturday night:

5. Montee Ball

If I Had A Vote: We'll say fourth. Though honestly, that his probably a bit hypocritical. His stats grade out better than Richardson's, so by picking Richardson above Ball, I'm falling into the same "The team matters too" trap that trips up everybody else.

What I Said Last Week: "Big Ten Championship versus Michigan State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET). Penn State has one of the best run defenses in the country (among other things, they held Trent Richardson to 4.4 yards per carry), but Ball just destroyed them, averaging 6.6 yards per touch in a Wisconsin romp. If he can do the same to yet another great defense this weekend, he could slide up to No. 4 or No. 5 on the list." Ball had 144 combined yards (137 rushing, seven receiving), scored four touchdowns and threw a pass to quarterback Russell Wilson for 32 yards.

Why Fifth? Ball leads the nation in my opponent-adjusted Adj. POE statistic, rushed for 1,579 yards, pulled in 255 receiving yards, scored 38 combined touchdowns, and completed two passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. All for a team that was two freak pass completions away from a national title appearance. Honestly, he should probably be higher, but who are you going to bump?

4. Tyrann Mathieu

If I Had A Vote: I honestly have no idea. Mathieu was a game-changer at the beginning of the season, then got suspended, then disappeared for a few games. But he was instrumental in creating enormous momentum swings when LSU trailed in each of the Bayou Bengals' last two games. His resume at this point is incredibly unique for a Heisman candidate. I'll say this, though: this is a litmus test. The higher he places in the Heisman vote, the more this proves that most Heisman voters indeed wait until all games have been played to cast their vote. I have always abhorred the way it seems a lot of voters make up their minds weeks in advance. Mathieu went from non-existent two weeks ago, to marginal last week, to viable this week. He only finishes in the top three if a vast majority of voters actually do their jobs correctly.

What I Said Last Week: I said nothing about him. I honestly didn't think the voters would see him as a viable candidate. I am happy to have been incorrect.

Why Fourth? To say he finished the year strong is a massive understatement. The "Honey Badger" nickname has caught on, to the point where Verne Lundquist was openly discussing it during the SEC championship, and we know that marketability is a big piece of winning the Heisman.

3. Andrew Luck

If I Had A Vote: Third.

What I Said Last Week: "You want consistency? Luck has completed exactly 20 of 30 passes in three of his last four games. He was good against Notre Dame, though I wouldn't say he "torched" them by any means. Being the leader all season pays its dividends, as quite a few voters probably made up their mind about Luck weeks ago. But a) he still wouldn't get my vote, and b) I don't think he's going to beat Richardson, not with Matt Barkley stealing some of his votes."

Why Third? He did enough down the stretch to potentially win if nobody else had huge moments. But then Richardson went crazy against Auburn, and Griffin combined for 800 passing yards, six touchdowns and some key rushes against Oklahoma and Texas. He never had that "Heisman moment" everybody so covets, and his stats were only excellent and not other-worldly. He almost certainly pulled in most of the early-voter ballots, but he probably still doesn't pull in the hardware.

2. Trent Richardson

If I Had A Vote: Second.

What I Said Last Week: "I said Richardson needed 175 yards, and he got 203. With Griffin getting hurt and Luck playing at a good-not-great level, I think Richardson is absolutely in the driver's seat. That he doesn't have another game to play helps (no chance of screw anything up)."

Why Second? The conventional wisdom has turned, it seems. After his enormous game versus Auburn, I thought Griffin would need to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 against Texas to pass Richardson, but apparently 300 and 32 was enough to turn the tide. Still, it wouldn't be a complete shock if Richardson won. He really did something special this year as the No. 1 running back and No. 2 receiver on a (sorry, Oklahoma State) potential national title team.

1. Robert Griffin III

If I Had A Vote: First.

What I Said Last Week: "For at least half an hour (before people switch to the SEC title game), Griffin will have all of America watching him. Heisman voting is unfair, of course, and I'm sure Griffin lost ground after getting concussed against Texas Tech, but he will have one last chance to make a great impression against a great defense. I'm not sure what it would take for him to win at this point (I'm thinking 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards would be a nice place to start), but he still might surprise us."

Why First? Honestly? Because people started paying attention. Griffin almost did himself a disservice by winning the Big 12 hurdles championship as a freshman; he got pigeon-holed as a run-first athlete who occasionally passed. Instead, he is the latest Jason White, a strong athlete who learned how to pass after a knee injury. Griffin was always a smart decision-maker (he went almost his entire freshman year without throwing an interception), but everything has come together in his junior season. He is two passing yards shy of 4,000, he has completed 72 percent of his passes, he has a six-to-one touchdown-to-interception rate (36 touchdowns, six interceptions), he has rushed for over 600 yards, and he caught one of the most important passes of the season, a third-down, over-the-middle pass late against TCU. He has been simply incredible. That he plays for Baylor was a detriment to his candidacy for quite a while, but that seems to have changed. Any player on the list of finalists would be justifiable and acceptable as a Heisman winner. But Griffin is a half-step ahead.

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