In addition to my weekly straw poll of Heisman voters, I always include here on HP my own personal analysis of what’s happening in the Heisman race and why.
It all culminates in my final call of the race during the week of the Heisman ceremony. We have now come to that moment.
My personal prediction is not always consistent with the results of my poll. In 2009–a particularly volatile and close race–I predicted a win for Colt McCoy while my poll picked Mark Ingram. My poll was right, as it turns out, though not by much.
This year, there is no contradiction. I am calling the race for Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. And I expect him to notch a comfortable victory, capturing four of the six voting regions.
How we got here
The 2011 Heisman race should put to rest the simplistic notion advanced by lazy observers of the Heisman process that the trophy is merely an award doled out perfunctorily by voters to the best player on the best team playing for the national title.
Not only will the winner not play on a team involved in the national championship game, neither will the runner up. And, but for a few twists of fate, the third place finisher wouldn’t be there either.
What’s more, the winner will come from a 9-3 team, which is a testament to how much Griffin III captured the imagination of the Heisman electorate. In addition to being in adherence to the most vital elements of the 10 Heismandments, Griffin III wowed the voters like no other player in America in 2011.
There were three key moments in Griffin III’s run:
(1) A brilliant 5-TD performance in an exhilarating opening-game win over a TCU team that was coming off an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl win.
(2) An amazing 551 yards of total offense coupled with a dramatic closing touchdown pass to beat a top-5 Oklahoma team.
(3) A fine game against a stout Texas defense on the final Saturday before Heisman votes were due.
The first moment showed he was a legitimate Heisman candidate, albeit a regional one. The second moment helped him capture the hearts and minds of most Heisman voters and made him a national name. The third moment cemented the perception that he was, indeed, the season’s most outstanding player.
Along the way, as is always the case with a successful Heisman campaign, he had a little luck (ahem) on his side.
It can’t be stressed enough how important it was for him to have the final Saturday of the season (mostly) to himself to make that last case for the Heisman. If Stanford had beaten Oregon, or if Alabama had beaten LSU, both Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson would’ve sucked up much of this past weekend’s Heisman oxygen while playing in their conference’s championship game. Both would’ve had that 13th game in which to further pad their stats. Instead, they were out of sight, out of mind for many voters.
Griffin III stepped into that void and made the most of his opportunities.
By the time votes were due, his momentum was palpable. All other candidates were but sand castles in a rising tide of support for Griffin III.
This was one of the more impressive Heisman fields in recent memory. Andrew Luck was the strong leader for most of the season and didn’t do anything in particular to lose the trophy. He’ll end up as just the fourth two-time runner up in Heisman history and, no doubt, a future NFL star. Trent Richardson’s talent jumps out at you and he might’ve won the Heisman in a different year, or if a few small things had gone his way in this one. Montee Ball scored 38 touchdowns, which might be the most impressive feat ever for a non-top-three Heisman finisher. And one could make a case that Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu is, pound-for-pound, the best football player in the land.
But Griffin III will win this because he had the best mix of attributes that voters were looking for this season:
— He led Baylor to a respectable 9-3 record, its best total since 1986. Most years, Baylor is 3-9, so Griffin III is rightly credited with sparking the turnaround.
— He put up, arguably, the best numbers. His NCAA-record pass efficiency rating of 192.31 was almost 24 points better than Luck’s. His amazing 10.8 yards per pass attempt–just shy of Ty Detmer’s record of 11.1–allowed him to finish with the sixth most passing yards (3,998 yards) despite being 42nd nationally in attempted passes (he had 828 more passing yards than Luck despite four fewer throws). He accounted for 45 touchdowns passing and running (in the realm of Tim Tebow’s 51 for a 9-3 Florida team in 2007) and he was second nationally in total offense.
— The team record and the individual production came about despite a porous defense and a roster that doesn’t exactly match up with college football’s elite programs. As a result, Griffin III’s contributions to his team were seen as more valuable than those of the other candidates.
— His off-the-field image and academic prowess was an added benefit in a college football year replete with scandal, corruption and ugliness.
— Let’s also credit the Baylor sports information department, which did a fine job all season of keeping voters in touch with Griffin III’s exploits via a snazzy website and several trading card mailers.
Add it all up and you get this year’s Heisman winner.
But what will the results look like on Saturday?
Here’s how I think the vote will go, with estimated point totals (tough to predict, but ratios could be in this range):
1. Robert Griffin III (1,700+ points)
2. Andrew Luck (1,100-1,300 points)
3. Trent Richardson (800-900 points)
4. Montee Ball (450-550 points)
5. Tyrann Mathieu (380-480 points)
6. Matt Barkley (200-250 points)
7. Case Keenum (125-175 points)
8. Russell Wilson (50- 80 points)
9. Brandon Weeden (25-50 points)
10. LaMichael James (10-30 points)
Estimated Regional Breakdown
2. Griffin III
2. Griffin III
1. Griffin III
1. Griffin III
1. Griffin III
1. Griffin III