Heisman Goes to a Player in a Second-Rate Conference Who Played a Cheesecloth Schedule


Do you remember Troy Smith, Chris Weinke, Ty Detmer, or Andre Ware? Do you switch on the TV when Matt Leinart’s team is playing — do you remember what team he plays for? Does your heart beat faster when you think of the pro careers of Danny Wuerffel, Ron Dane, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Gino Toretta, or Charlie Ward? Do you even recognize more than two or three of these names? If so, you’re a master of trivia and your category is “Heisman Trophy Winners of the Last Quarter-Century.”

We won’t know for some time whether Robert Griffin III, who was presented the trophy as “the most outstanding college football player in the country” Saturday night at the Marriott Marquis, will join their ranks. As the Zen master says, we’ll see. But if history is any indication, Griffin will be recalled, if at all, as another college hotshot with fantastic stats who couldn’t make it in the NFL.

Why do I say that? Because once again, as they have so often done, the Heisman voters weren’t really looking to pick the best player — they were looking for the player with the best story. That was Griffin. The story in this case was that no player from Baylor had ever won a Heisman (nor, it should be added, has any player from Baylor ever deserved one), that Griffin was an underdog (so what?), and that, as the headline to the story by Stewart Mandel on put it, “Robert Griffin’s Heisman Helped Transform Long-Suffering Baylor.” (Is that the purpose of the Heisman trophy, to bring relief to beleaguered schools?)

You’d think when information is so easy to access on websites that Heisman voters might do a bit of research before casting their ballots, but year after year, decade after decade, that never seems to be the case. Griffin’s statistics have now appeared in hundreds of stories — he passed for just under 4,000 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions — and while we’re on the subject, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who finished second, threw for 3,710 yards, 35 TDS with nine interceptions.

But how much did all these gaudy numbers really mean? In Griffin’s case, the most important single fact was ignored in nearly all the pre- and post- Heisman hype: the closest Griffin came to facing a good defense all year was against Texas Christian in the first game of the season. TCU was the only team Griffin had to throw against that finished in the top 30 in fewest points allowed per game. (The Horned Frogs were 30th, and that was only because they play in the powder puff Mountain West conference and their schedule was littered with such non-powers as Louisiana-Monroe, Portland State, and New Mexico.) That was it. Griffin never had to play against a single good defense the rest of the season.

Luck’s situation was similar. In the last game of the season, Stanford beat Notre Dame 28-14; the Fighting Irish were 28th in the country on scoring defense. The truth is that both Griffin and Luck played schedules against teams where the finals seemed more like basketball scores. Luck’s Stanford team, for instance, beat Southern Cal 56-48 in three overtimes and lost to Oregon 53-30; Griffin’s Bears beat TCU 50-48, Rice 56-31, Missouri 42-39, Oklahoma 45-38, and Texas Tech 66-42. Baylor also lost to Kansas State 36-35, to Texas A&M 55-28, and Oklahoma State 59-24.

And both quarterbacks piled on the numbers against some helpless, beaten opponents just to impress Heisman voters. Why, for instance, was it necessary for Griffin to throw for 285 yards in a 48-0 pounding of Stephen F. Austin? (And why is Baylor even playing Stephen F. Austin?)

There’s only one league left in college football where defense is important, and that’s the Southeastern Conference. Alabama’s Trent Richardson, who was the betting favorite just two weeks ago, never had a chance after Griffin passed for 320 yards and accounted for four touchdowns against a mediocre Texas D in their last game. Richardson, though, put up meaningful numbers against real defenses: 1583 yards, 6.0 yards per try, and 23 TDs running and receiving in 12 games against seven teams that finished among the top 37 scoring defenses in the country — more good defenses than Griffin is likely to face in his entire college career even if he comes back to play his senior year at Baylor.

Does anyone seriously think that Richardson wouldn’t have rushed for something like 2500 yards playing the kind of schedule that Griffin’s or Luck’s teams played?

Does anyone really think that Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck would have thrown for nearly 4000 yards playing an SEC schedule — playing in the conference that has placed nine of its twelve teams in postseason bowls?

Once again the Heisman Trophy was awarded to a player on a team in a second rate conference playing a cheesecloth schedule. And they wonder why some of the past Heisman winners aren’t household names in their own households.

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