In the lobby of the Baylor football offices, a national award given to a Bears player is positioned prominently: the 2006 Ray Guy Award, won by punter Daniel Sepulveda.
Until this season, Sepulveda stood as the football program's most recent national honoree. That status changed Thursday night, when quarterback Robert Griffin III won the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.
It is expected to reach unprecedented heights tonight, when Griffin -- one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy -- hopes to take a formal bow in New York after receiving college football's top individual honor. Griffin has been projected as tonight's winner in multiple straw polls and by websites that solicit feedback from Heisman voters.
"Going to New York as the favorite to win the Heisman, that's indescribable. It's crazy," said Griffin, who has received a major spike from voters based on his strong performances in the Bears' recent victories over Oklahoma (Nov. 19) and Texas (Dec. 3). "We live in a 'right-now' media age, so it's all about what you're doing right now. Momentum can help you out. We had a lot of momentum at the end of the year and my team put me in a good spot ...Sometimes, other players who go to the bigger programs will get that spotlight just because they're at that program. Sometimes, you can go unnoticed. But to me, it just makes you work a lot harder to get what you're going to get."
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Baylor coach Art Briles said Griffin, a fourth-year junior from Copperas Cove, is more than deserving of college football's top individual honor after leading the Bears (9-3) to the No. 12 spot in the final BCS standings, the loftiest perch in school history for a program that posted 14 consecutive losing season from 1996-2009.
Briles admitted he has spent time this week pondering the possibility of passing a Heisman Trophy display on a daily basis en route to his office.
"It would be fun to touch the trophy every day, I can promise you that," Briles said. "We've had a lot of firsts over the last few years. It's time to have one more."
What could tonight mean to a school that has seen its BCS status threatened during conference realignment talks in each of the past two years and has had no player finish higher than fourth in any previous Heisman race (quarterback Don Trull, 1963)?
"What it would do for the university is unequalled in modern history at Baylor," Briles said.
Griffin topped Wednesday's final installment of the Scripps Howard News Service's weekly Heisman poll, receiving six of 10 available first-place votes. The poll has correctly projected the Heisman winner 20 times in 24 seasons, including last year.
The website StiffArmTrophy.com called the Heisman race in favor of Griffin after polling 203 Heisman voters. Among that group, 127 placed Griffin atop their ballots and 49 others placed him second or third.
Griffin's fellow finalists include Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and LSU defensive back/punt returner Tyrann Mathieu. If he cannot win, Ball said Griffin would be his choice because RG3 is "an incredible player who does it all."
During the regular season, Griffin led the nation in passing efficiency (192.3 rating) and points responsible for (22.67 per game) and posted a 36-6 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions. He rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns.
He also ranked among the NCAA leaders in total offense (386.8 yards per game, second), completion percentage (72.36, fifth) and passing yards (3,998, sixth). Griffin's 10.83 yards per pass attempt led the nation and he averaged an eye-popping 36.6 yards on his 36 touchdown passes.
But the son of two Army sergeants (Robert Jr. and Jacqueline), who was born on a military base in Japan, is best known in Waco for his leadership skills and his collection of colorful socks.
He wears the socks -- which often feature cartoon characters, including Barney, Elmo and Cookie Monster -- to emphasize points when interacting with children or, at times, media members. They also illustrate his free-spirited personality off the field.
"Rob's as goofy as they come," Baylor linebacker Elliot Coffey said. "He loves life. He exudes a happiness that makes everyone around him feel better. ...Those socks are crazy. But here's the thing: If he keeps playing the way he does, he can wear those socks as much as he wants."
Griffin wore blue Cookie Monster socks under his charcoal-gray suit Thursday while collecting the O'Brien Award, calling it an appropriate choice because Cookie Monster was "hungry for a win" in Orlando. He has been secretive about tonight's selection.
But there is no secret about how much Griffin has meant to the Baylor program. Tailback Terrance Ganaway, who has rushed for a school-record 1,347 yards this season, said Griffin is "the spine of this team" because he binds everyone together emotionally.
"He's attached to everybody," Ganaway said. "He can make everyone go, from the cornerbacks to the linebackers. He gets everyone juiced up... and he's the most dynamic player in the NCAA."
Griffin said he's dreamed of this opportunity since childhood but still envisions being "at a loss for words" to hear his name announced as tonight's recipient.
"You dream it, you want to be there. But when you actually get there, you're still like, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Griffin said. "It's monumental. The finalists with me... are all deserving of the award. Whoever wins it, I'm sure he'll celebrate and then do a couple of Heisman poses."
If Griffin is the player doing the posing, Baylor will have a fresh trophy to command the most prominent spot in the lobby of its football offices.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760