One thing that I should note early in this post is that I'm unconventional in how I view the Heisman Trophy. First of all, it is not an MVP award and should not be treated as an MVP award. I care not at all about whether your team is in the national championship hunt, unless you have a larger role than even the normal team star in getting them there. (See: Newton, Cam.)
I'm also picky about what I count as a "Heisman moment." The only Heisman moment I can recall that really put someone on the map for me was Mark Ingram. Against South Carolina in 2009, Ingram essentially was Alabama's offense. And in a game that was only 20-6 on the scoreboard (and only 13-6 until late in the fourth quarter), that performance was crucial to winning the game. Rarely would I consider one play a Heisman moment.
Here's to whom the Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded: "The outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." That to me simply means the best player in the country, regardless of what his or her team's record might be.
I should also probably note here that I have an enormous amount of respect for both of the SEC finalists for the award. Either Trent Richardson, the Alabama running back, or Tyrann Mathieu, the LSU cornerback, would be an excellent choice for the trophy, and I would love nothing more than to keep the trophy in the SEC. But neither of them is the player that I would select were I a voter for the Heisman.
No, Robert Griffin III of Baylor is the most outstanding college football player this year, and should win the award over Richardson, Mathieu, Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Andrew Luck of Stanford. All five had great seasons, but Griffin is the only one that deserves college football's highest honor.
You start with the top-line stats; you always do. And Griffin's are almost unbelievable. His 192.31 passing efficiency rating will set an NCAA record as long as it doesn't fall by more than six points in the bowl game. Even against the questionable defenses of the Big 12, the 72.4 percent completion rate is jaw-dropping. Griffin is just shy of 4,000 yards passing.
Griffin threw a touchdown pass in every game of the season, threw interceptions in only five games (and more than one in only one game). He threw for at least 212 yards in every game he played for more than a half, threw for more than 300 yards nine times and threw for more than 400 four times.
Oh, and he runs, too. For 644 yards and nine touchdowns on 161 carries, including 100-yard efforts against Iowa State and Kansas.
RG3 also had seven of the nation's 100 biggest games in terms of total offense. Many of those were against some of Baylor's biggest opponents -- a 551-yard day against Oklahoma, the second-biggest day in the FBS, including a 10.6 yard per play average; 452 yards against Oklahoma State, an average of 6.9 yards and good for 32nd on the list; and 397 yards against TCU for the 77th spot on the list and a 10.7 yard average.
He also had the 19th-best passer rating of the year against TCU, the 57th-best against Oklahoma, the 63rd-best against Kansas State and the 78th-best against Texas. All of those days included passer ratings above 200.
Richardson also had some strong individual performances, but few of them came against Alabama's marquee or most important opponents. He did have the 34th highest rushing total of the year against Auburn, when he ran for a career-high 203 yards and a 7.5 yard per carry average. But the other entries on that list came against awful Ole Miss (64th), mediocre Florida (65th) and overwhelmed opponents Georgia Southern (79th) and North Texas (100th).
Richardson did have one fairly important game in the all-purpose running category, the 89th-best day at 235 yards against Arkansas, but that's it.
The fact of the matter is that while Richardson was an excellent player this year, he was statistically not even the best running back who will be in New York City on Saturday. Richardson's 1,583 yards are behind Montee Ball's 1,759; his 131.9 yards per game trail Ball's 135.3; his 6.0 yard rushing average is behind Ball's 6.4; and he has 20 touchdowns to Ball's 32.
Some of that can be accounted for by schedule difficulty, sure, but the gap is still pretty substantial, especially on touchdowns.
Then again, Richardson has this.
Then again, Ball had fewer breakout performances, and those that he did have were against Illinois (19th rushing game of the year, 224, 5.9) and Purdue (21, 223, 11.2). What Ball has going for him is that he scored touchdowns -- a lot of touchdowns. Enough touchdowns to get Ball mentioned in the same sentence as Barry Sanders. More points scored (which doesn't include passing touchdowns, for example) than any other player in the nation.
Of course, Tyrann Mathieu might just be the national leader in points scored by a defender who's "only" picked off two passes. Neither of Mathieu's touchdowns come from his pair of interceptions -- they were instead the result of some of his five fumbles. Mathieu also has two punt returns for touchdowns. The four scores ties him for sixth on LSU in terms of touchdowns.
Combined with his team-leading 70 tackles and accounting for the fact that he missed a game, and Mathieu might have the best Heisman argument in years for a defensive player, with the possible exception of Ndamukong Suh. The problem for Mathieu is that defensive players need a field almost devoid of other qualified candidates, and I just don't think that's the case this year.
As for Andrew Luck -- if Andrew Luck hadn't gotten the preseason Heisman hype and weren't a favorite for the top pick in the NFL Draft, I don't think he would be in NYC this weekend. Even when isolate the passing numbers from the rushing numbers, Luck is behind or even well behind Griffin in most categories -- passer rating (197.31-167.50), total yardage (3,998-3,170), average per attempt (10.8-8.5), touchdowns (36-35), touchdown percentage (9.8-9.4), interceptions (6-9), interception percentage (1.6-2.4) and completion percentage (72.4-70.0). Griffin had four games among the top 100 in terms of yardage; Luck had one -- against Colorado. None of Luck's games ranked among the 100 best in terms of passer rating.
The same thing that goes for Richardson goes for Luck, only more so -- it's not that the Stanford quarterback didn't have a great year. Anyone who watches football knows that Luck had a great season. It's that he didn't really surprise. There's nothing Luck did that Griffin didn't do better, and the numbers are great but not necessarily all-time great.
So if I were to cast a ballot from among the players who are headed to New York -- and I'm not sure that Luck would make it without that qualifier -- it would probably look something like this:
2. Trent Richardson
3. Montee Ball
4. Tyrann Mathieu
5. Andrew Luck
That said, I would be perfectly fine if Richardson, Ball or Mathieu won the award. And it would not be the worst Heisman result in the history of the award, or even my lifetime -- hello, Reggie Bush -- if Luck were to take home the trophy.
But if you ask me who should win it based on their season and none of the other factors that are too often considered in awarding the Heisman, it's Griffin. I'm not even sure it's that close.