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Tyrann Mathieu isn’t going to win the Heisman. But he should.

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

Don't worry: I'm not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting Tyrann Mathieu has any kind of chance to win sports' most hallowed hunk of bronze on Saturday night. Robert Griffin III is going to win, by a wide margin. On paper, he probably deserves to win. As a rule, if you're good enough to generate a genuine groundswell of support at Baylor, you're probably too good not to win. Preemptive congrats to RG3.

Mathieu, on the other hand, is along for the ride. Of 203 published ballots compiled by StiffarmTrophy.com, Mathieu appears on 53 of them, and in first place on just three. (Griffin is in first place on 127.) Whatever distant chance he ever had to win as a non-offensive player went up in smoke (literally) when he was suspended for the Auburn game for allegedly failing a drug test. His most memorable play in the biggest game of the year, at Alabama, was an obvious cheap shot. Against upstanding, model scholar-athletes like Griffin and Andrew Luck, he doesn't stand a chance.

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The only thing Mathieu has going for him — the only reason he's even along for the ride, in spite of his position and his sophomore status and his swaggery disposition — is this: He's the most dynamic, edge-of-your-seat, did-that-just-happen playmaker in college football, and everybody knows it.

You can't really make that case on paper, though Mathieu's numbers stack up pretty well. He was the leading tackler for the No. 2 defense in the nation in both yards and points allowed. He had 6.5 tackles for loss as a defensive back. He forced more takeaways — two interceptions, six fumbles — than anyone else on a team that led the nation in turnover margin. He was second nationally in punt return yards. He led the nation with four non-offensive touchdowns, and was one yard away from a fifth.

But of course, we're talking about the Heisman Trophy: Everyone in New York has stats. They wouldn't be there if they didn't. What sets Mathieu's production apart is that it's generated almost entirely by his own hand — more than any other player in the country, he is literally making plays.{YSP:MORE}

Unlike Griffin, or Andrew Luck, or Trent Richardson, or Montee Ball, LSU does not have a play in the playbook designed to put Tyrann Mathieu on SportsCenter, or YouTube. Down to down, he's just another reliable cog carrying out his assignment in a dominant defense, which is a substantial part of any argument in his favor. But his ability to stand out from arguably the deepest, most athletic pack in college football is inspired solely by his creativity and knack for chaos. His big plays aren't a product of a great offensive line working in concert, or a receiver racking up yards after catch. They're a product of Mathieu creating a play where there wasn't one. It may be a joke, but the "Honey Badger" handle is an unusually apt one: The other guys get the ball — it comes to them as a matter of course — but Mathieu finds the ball and takes it, with unmatched flair.

To the extent the Tigers do make a conscious effort to get the ball in his hands, on punt returns, it's only out of recognition for the creative possibilities that may follow. On his 92-yard punt return against Arkansas two weeks ago (see above), he blows by six potential Razorback tacklers before any of his teammates appear in the frame. He made six more guys miss last week on a 62-yard trek to the end zone against Georgia, and later proceeded to juke out the entire team on a return that set up the offense for an easy touchdown "drive" from the Bulldog 11-yard line.

All of which was fairly clutch, by the way. The return against Arkansas came with LSU down 14-7 in the first half; it sparked a 34-3 Tiger run. The first return against Georgia came with LSU down 10-0 in the first half and going nowhere on offense; it sparked a 42-0 run. In the season opener, his strip-n-score against Oregon — the Tigers' first touchdown of the season — came with LSU down 6-3; it sparked a 30-7 run. His tip-drill interception at West Virginia set up a 1-yard touchdown "drive" that extended LSU's lead to 20 points just a few seconds before halftime.

The kid is a 170-pound stick of dynamite. On a dominant defense, he stood out. On the best special teams units in the country, he stood out, as a returner and a cover man. On the best team in the country, he was the best player. There was no other player in college football like him in 2011. There hasn't been a player in college football like him since the only other non-offensive player to take the Heisman, Michigan's Charles Woodson back in 1997. Statistically speaking, that's generous to Woodson. At this point, whether he takes home any more hardware or not, the Honey Badger has already taken the title of most outstanding player in America.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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