When the final votes are tallied and the award is announced in New York City on Saturday evening, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III should be the one hoisting the Heisman Trophy.
He thinks so. So does fellow Heisman finalist Montee Ball. Even stiffarmtrophy.com, which unofficially tallies the selections of Heisman voters, said Griffin is projected to win with 71 percent of the vote.
And that's the way it should be.
While the other competitors — Wisconsin running back Ball, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, LSU defensive back/punt returner Tyrann Mathieu, and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — all had stellar seasons in their own right, Griffin embodies the spirit of the trophy as expressed in the Heisman Trophy Trust mission statement:
The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.
Of the five competitors, no one has had to work harder for the trophy than Griffin. Now, that's not to say the others don't work hard. Of course they do or they wouldn't be in New York. But Griffin is the only one of the five not playing a BCS bowl or a national championship and he certainly didn't come into the season with the Heisman hype that Luck and Richardson had.
Baylor is, well, Baylor. It's been the doormat of the Big 12 for longer than anyone can remember. Last year marked the first bowl game the Bears had gone to since 1994 and they didn't even have a very good showing. Even though Griffin had a pretty good sophomore season, there was little reason to notice and little reason to think he or Baylor might make a national splash in 2011.
But that's the funny thing about college football: Things rarely go the way you think they will. If they did, Oklahoma would be playing for a national title and Luck would be the overwhelming Heisman favorite.
But Griffin threw a wrench into all of that the minute the year kicked off.
From the opening game, Griffin raised eyebrows after torching TCU defense that had been No. 1 nationally in total defense for three consecutive seasons for 359 yards and five touchdowns. By the time the season was halfway over, Griffin had thrown 22 touchdowns to just two interceptions while completing 78 percent of his passes.
But it was Griffin's final five games that solidified his status as a bona fide Heisman frontrunner. He threw for 400 yards in a 42-39 win against Missouri. He threw three touchdowns passes and led a fourth quarter comeback in a 31-30 overtime win against Kansas. He threw for nearly 500 yards in an upset of then-No. 5 Oklahoma. He was knocked out of the Texas Tech game (though even concussed he managed to score a rushing touchdown) and returned the following week to upset Texas. In that five-game stretch, Griffin threw for 1,623 yards, 13 touchdowns, and just two interceptions while completing 67.1 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 322 yards — half his season total — and six scores.
Griffin made Baylor worthy of the national spotlight. Without him, a team that ranks 114th in total defense and has one of the worst special teams units in the country doesn't get much national play especially in a power conference such as the Big 12.
Griffin has been responsible for putting Baylor back on the map. This year's 9-3 campaign is the first nine-win season since 1986 and a win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl would give the Bears 10 wins for just the second time in school history.
On Thursday night, Griffin won the Davey O'Brien Award, which is given annually to the nation's best quarterback. It's only the third national award a player from Baylor has ever won and the first by a quarterback. On Saturday, Griffin should cement his Baylor legacy by adding the nation's most coveted bronze statue to the Bears trophy case.