December 4, 2011

Griffin's case sent to Heisman jury

RG3 builds a strong argument for the award.

WACO -- No wonder Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III envisions a post-football career as a lawyer. His closing argument in the 2011 Heisman Trophy race proved eloquent Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium.

Griffin, the only one of three leading Heisman Trophy candidates in action on the final day of the regular season, torched No. 22 Texas with his arm (320 yards, 2 TD passes) and his feet (two rushing touchdowns) while leading No. 17 Baylor to a 48-24 romp that lifted the Bears to heights the school has not seen in decades.

Baylor (9-3, 6-3 in Big 12), a perpetual bottom feeder in the Big 12 football standings until Griffin began squatting under center, clinched its first nine-win season since 1986 by doubling the score on Texas. It marked the school's most lopsided victory over the Longhorns since a 50-7 rout in 1989 and will give Baylor a chance for its first 10-win season since 1980 -- and only the second one in school history -- in the Bears' bowl game, most likely the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Antonio.

As always, Saturday's catalyst proved to be Griffin. Once again, he did something almost mathematically impossible.

Griffin came into the game averaging 35.9 yards on his 34 touchdown passes this season... and raised that mark to 36.6 with a pair of scoring strikes covering 59 and 39 yards. He did so against the only FBS defense in the nation that had not allowed a TD pass longer than 19 yards this season. Griffin finished with 352 yards of total offense, more than the season average allowed by a Texas defense (297.6) that ranked No. 9 nationally heading into the contest.

Personally, I thought Griffin did enough to deserve a place atop the Heisman Trophy ballot sitting on my office desk. Lots of people wearing green in the Baylor locker room agreed.

"If he didn't wrap up the Heisman, it's a crime," Baylor defensive tackle Nicholas Jean-Baptiste said.

"He's the most dynamic player in the NCAA right now. Why wouldn't he win it?" countered Baylor tailback Terrance Ganaway, who set the school's single-season rushing record (1,347 yards) by rolling for 152 yards and two touchdowns against Texas.

Frankly, the only argument I hear against Griffin boils down to the name across the front of his jersey: Baylor. Because the Bears have three losses and are not in the BCS bowl mix, that makes Griffin a lesser candidate -- to some -- than Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck or Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

Two different ESPN college football analysts have espoused that opinion this week. During Saturday's telecast of the Conference USA championship game, Craig James was asked about Griffin and responded: "I don't think he has a chance of winning."

In an interview earlier this week on ESPN/103.3 FM in Dallas-Fort Worth, analyst Kirk Herbstreit downplayed Griffin's chances, too.

"He's from Baylor," Herbstreit said. "He's not going to win the Heisman."

Maybe not. But the award is supposed to be given to the best player in college football. Including those from Baylor.

With Saturday's performance, Griffin bumped his season passing total to 3,998 yards, with 36 touchdown passes against six interceptions. Those are better numbers than Luck (3,170 yards, 35 TDs, 9 INTs) posted during his 12-game season. Griffin also outrushed Luck by a 644-153 margin while playing in a stronger conference than the Pac-12, according to BCS computer rankings.

Griffin certainly got the attention of Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson. Asked if RG3 was Heisman-worthy, Robinson said: "I think he is. He... played great against a great defense. He scored 48 points on us, so I think he is."

But the best rejoinder to the naysayers, appropriately, came from Griffin himself. Asked about the perception that a Baylor player could not win the Heisman, Griffin said: "Not too many years ago, they were saying Baylor would never be 9-3. That Baylor would never beat Texas or Oklahoma. But we did all those things. So why not make it a trifecta?"

Sounds good to me. But will enough voters from other regions agree? Baylor coach Art Briles said his quarterback has "done enough this season to win a Heisman" and that Saturday's effort against Texas should "help him, without a doubt."

"When you judge somebody [for the Heisman], you judge him over the long run and not the short run," Briles said. "And his long run has been very impressive this year."

Impressive enough that Griffin began Saturday's postgame remarks expressing confidence about his Heisman chances.

"We could be wrong, But we felt if we came out and got a victory, we should win the Heisman," said Griffin, who considers the bauble a team honor. "It's not just about me... I don't know if you can say we deserve it. But it definitely would be warranted."

I'll go with deserved. RG3's closing argument convinced me, even if it did nothing for Craig James.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch.

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