Later today, the Heisman Trophy will be awarded to college football’s “best” player. As all know, the linemen and all but the most exceptional defensive players can be eliminated from consideration. This year, there is one of those exceptional players–Tyrone Mathieu of LSU, a defensive back/specials teams player extraordinaire. The rest of the contenders play the familiar positions: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford; QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor; RB Trent Richardson, Alabama; and RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin. Here is how the Confidential ranks them (not a prediction of who will win the award):
1. Robert Griffin III, Baylor QB.
While he now likely to win, there is good reason for this momentum. Consider this–the last time Baylor won 9 games was 1986, 25 years ago. Since the Big XII was formed in 1996, Baylor has put up the following win totals: 4, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5, 4, 3, 4, 4, 7, and 9 (this year). Under Griffin, Baylor has 16 wins the past two years, including two bowls. In the non-Griffin, Big XII years Baylor won 39 games in 13 years (3 per year) and went to zero bowls. 8 per year under Griffin, 3 per year without him. It’s one thing for a player to plug into a system and dominate. Griffin has been a program changer.
And if you like statistics, look at these. A 192.3 passer rating, better than Russell Wilson, Case Keenum, Kellen Moore, and some guy named Andrew Luck. A top 5 completion percentage. The 6th most yards passing. An average of 10.8 yards passing per attempt, best in FBS. 36 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. You can put those numbers up against any QB. In fact, according to ESPN, Griffin had the highest QB rating ever: “You read that Griffin ‘broke the passing efficiency record’ and it sounds simple and rolls off the tongue. But really think about that: There are 120 FBS teams that suit up every year. That number’s fluctuated, but college football’s been going on for a long, long time.”
For good measure, Griffin chipped in for 644 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. While there were 10 quarterbacks to rush for more yards, none of them had a better QB passer rating than Griffin. After all, he had the best passer rating of the season. And the best passer rating in the history of the rating. The Confidential has no idea how Griffin’s game will translate to the NFL, but the fact that Luck’s game will easily transfer is no reason to ignore the statistics and impact on a team/program. Give him the Heisman.
2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin RB.
Wisconsin finished the season 11-2. Those two losses were on Hail Mary passes against Big 10 opponents Michigan State and Ohio State. There is nothing Montee Ball could have done to prevent either result from happening. In fact, in the Michigan State loss, Ball missed significant time during the game with an injury, before gutting out the rest of the game and scoring the touchdown that put Wisconsin temporarily ahead of the Spartans with less than 2 minutes to go.
And check out the statistics. 1,759 yards was most in the nation. 32 touchdowns rushing and 38 overall. According to ESPN, only Barry Sanders had more in a single season.
The only reason the edge goes to Griffin here is because Ball played with a top QB. Griffin was the top passer, but Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson was 2nd in that category. That took some of the pressure off Ball at times, as teams had to respect both players. The narrow edge goes to Griffin here.
3. Andrew Luck, Stanford QB.
You want wins, Luck got 11 of them for the Cardinal. That allowed Stanford to qualify for its second straight BCS bowl game appearance. You want passing yards, how about 3,170 in a 12-game season? You want touchdowns, how about 35 of them? You want passer rating, how about 167.5? You name the statistic, Luck put it up for Stanford.
However, it’s just not good enough this year. Look at Griffin’s statistics–they are better across the board. Moreover, by all accounts, Luck could be in the NFL this year. In deciding to come back for one more year, Luck did what media pundits always love to see–the guy choosing college over the pros. However, his statistics did not improve. Stanford’s fate did not improve. And, in the big game against Oregon, Luck had two interceptions and a fumble. Luck had an outstanding season, but just not enough to justify awarding the historical relevance that comes with winning the Heisman trophy. He’ll have to settle for a Super Bowl someday.
4. Trent Richardson, Alabama RB.
Trent Richardson was the key offensive player on a team that will play for the national championship. He led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. According to ESPN, his 23 total touchdowns were second in school and SEC history. Against LSU, he rushed for 169 yards. Not too many TEAMS did that against LSU.
Richardson has a few Heisman moments too, such as the long runs against Auburn and Ole Miss. But, as you can see, those plays came against the bottom half of the SEC West. And he cannot leapfrog the statistical season put up by Montee Ball. Granted, Wisconsin likes to run up the stats against inferior teams, but Montee Ball had 32 touchdowns. That is a hard number to overlook. In some years, he had the season to deserve the Heisman. Just not this year.
Also hurting Richardson is the absence of a Heisman moment.
5. Tyrone Mathieu, LSU DB.
If you watched the big LSU games this year, you know that this guy was the sparkplug for a 13-0 LSU team. When things looked bleak in big wins over Arkansas and Georgia, Mathieu took over with long special teams returns for touchdowns. Against Arkansas, Mathieu had a 92-yard punt return to tie the game at 14-14 in the first half, serving as the catalyst for an LSU romp in the second half over the #3 team in the BCS standings at the time. Against Georgia in the SEC championship game, LSU had zero first downs in the first half. However, Mathieu’s 62 yard punt return touchdown kept LSU in the game, leading to another second half romp over the SEC East Champions. Throw in a whole host of big defensive plays, including forced fumbles and interceptions, and it is easy to see how Mathieu is a finalist.
However, LSU is 13-0. In this instance, their overall talent works against Mathieu. The LSU secondary features Morris Claiborne, who led the team in interceptions and had some key specials teams plays of his own, such as the 99-yard kickoff return against West Virginia. LSU had a top 5 defense overall, including 2 of the top 40 sack leaders in the NCAA. And, when Mathieu was suspended for a game against then #20 Auburn, LSU still won 45-10. Mathieu’s suspension has to be a factor too. Although Mathieu is a special player on a very special team, that is not enough to leapfrog any of the top 4.