The guidelines for Heisman Trophy voters are basic and simple.
Vote for the most outstanding player in college football.
It doesn’t have to be the best player on the best team.
It’s not required that he be the best back on one of the best teams.
He doesn’t necessarily have to be the best player on a team going to a BCS bowl.
It doesn’t have to go to the player whose sports information offices have generated the best campaign.
It doesn’t have to go to the marquee player on the name team.
It doesn’t have to go to the player TV analysts in major markets ordain as their champion in midseason.
Ideally, it goes to the most outstanding player in college football.
Now, consider the player who received my first-place vote. It was actually an easier decision than in most years.
He has passed for 3,678 yards, run for 612 yards, and accounted for 41 touchdowns. He has been intercepted only five times and threw 171 passes before he was intercepted the first time. At one point early in the season, he had more touchdown passes than incompletions.
He’s Robert Griffin III, who has led Baylor to an 8-3 record and five Big 12 victories for the first time in program history.
If RGIII, as he is known, had compiled the above statistics while playing for Alabama, LSU, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma or any other perennial national title contender and name program, the Heisman race would have been over weeks ago. He would be a shoo-in.
No player has made as much of difference to his team and has changed the dynamics of defending his team as Griffin. Without him, Baylor is probably 3-8 — or at least not headed to a pretty decent bowl.
The bottom line for me is I think Griffin, in overall ability and leadership, is a better quarterback than Cam Newton was for Auburn last year and Newton was another obvious vote for me.
I don’t need to see what Griffin does against Texas on Saturday. He earned my first-place vote in the final seconds of the 45-38 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners, who the Bears defeated for the first time in 21 tries.
Oklahoma had tied the scored at 38 with 51 seconds left. With the ball on the 20, the Bears ran a basic running play apparently content to take the game into overtime. The Sooners called timeout after that play and two more would have forced Baylor to give up the ball with several seconds remaining.
Baylor coach Art Briles and Griffin then decided that if OU was going to try to play to win in regulation, they would, too. Griffin promptly led the Bears 80 yards in five plays for the winning touchdown in a game that several fans, not connected or who normally don’t cheer for Baylor, told me it was one of the most exciting college football games they had ever seen. The Bears’ win helped set up Arkansas with a possible shot at the BCS title game.
On that drive, Griffin scrambled for 22 and 8 yards.
Then, he rolled left, eluded a tackle attempt, then threw partly off his back foot across his body and hit his receiver in stride, in the numbers, in the end zone of the opposite end of the field for the winning touchdown with eight seconds left.
He made it look easy. The degree of difficulty on that throw under pressure with so much at stake, in my opinion, was almost off the charts.
That proved conclusively to me, he was the outstanding player in college football.
Griffin graduated in three years, helps out in multiple charities and is thinking about passing up the pro draft and get a special exemption to enter Baylor Law School and play his senior season next year.
He’s everything you can ask in a college athlete, on and off the field.
My second-place vote went to Andrew Luck of Stanford, who also has made a huge difference for his team in making plays and leadership and passed up a possible high pick in the pro draft last year to return to school and lead his team. Trent Richardson of Alabama was my third choice.
In more than three decades of voting, I’ve tried to take the Heisman mandate seriously and vote for the most outstanding player. I’ve voted for much-hyped favorites but also from lesser-known schools, linemen and even a NCAA Division I-AA player. I try to go outside the box when possible.
To be transparent, I’m a Baylor graduate. But I’ve always voted for the player and not the school. I voted for Darren McFadden of Arkansas for the same reason: I thought he was the best player in college football that year. The last Baylor player I voted for the Heisman was Mike Singletary and I think that worked out pretty well.
Sometimes, we need to show that the quality in college football is greater than just a handful of teams or even greater than the favorite sons of folks with a platform in major media outlets. That excellence in college football can extend to teams not on the immediate radar and far away from the national title picture — maybe an 8-3 or 9-3 team that hasn’t reached that level in decades and appears headed something like the Holiday Bowl or Insight Bowl.
Sometimes, we need to focus on the players who do the remarkable and lead their teams to do the unexpected and put up astounding numbers while off the marquee for most of the season.
This is one of those times.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)