I spent a quality 15 minutes as a guest on the radio in Dallas Friday night, listening to a New Yorker–the indefatigable Arnie Spanier–try to convince me (frankly, Arnie harangued me, as is his style) that I just HAD to cast my Heisman vote for Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. Griffin had propelled the previously lowly Bears to eight wins (they would pick up number nine the next day against Texas) and done so spectacularly, mixing the ability to run (644 yards, 9 TDs) and pass (3,998 yards, 36 TDs, 72.4% completion success) into a rare concoction. Arnie made it sound that I would be downright un-American if I so much as considered, much less voted for, any other candidate.
Well, it’s a good thing Joe McCarthy isn’t around anymore, because I am passing on RGIII. He has had a tremendous season and lifted the Bears to heights they haven’t reached since 1980, when Grant Teaff’s club won the dearly departed Southwest Conference–and promptly was drilled in the Cotton Bowl by Alabama, 30-2. It was a fantastic performance by Griffin, and it meant the world to the Baylor program, which had earned legitimacy thanks to his play.
But it wasn’t enough. Instead of choosing the Baylor star, I am casting my ballot for Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
It was a tough decision, to be sure, but Luck won out because no one else in America had a tighter control on what happened during the course of a football game than did Luck. Not only did he post great numbers and help Stanford to a BCS bowl; Luck also acted as offensive coordinator and maestro throughout the season. Facing pre-season expectations that were practically impossible to meet, Luck performed as well as any quarterback in recent memory.
Stat geeks will point out that he didn’t throw for 4,000 yards. He amassed 3,170. His 70% completion rate was outstanding but not record shattering. And he threw nine interceptions to go with his 35 touchdown passes. Several quarterbacks, including Griffin, won the numeric beauty contest. But this isn’t about pure stats. If that were the case, Houston’s Case Keenum and his nation’s leading 5,099 yards and 45 touchdown strikes would get my vote.
This isn’t about NFL potential, either. The Heisman is a college award, and it should be based entirely on how well a player performs on Saturdays (and occasionally Thursdays or Fridays). In fact, there are those who believe Griffin might even be a better pro than Luck, thanks to his amazing mobility–the guy is a world-class hurdler–and rocket arm. If you happened to catch the Bears’ game against Texas Tech, you saw the effortless deep ball Griffin tossed in the first quarter. It resembled a NASA moon shot and followed a majestic parabola that would have excited the entire Baylor mathematics department. One college coach told me last week that he prefers Griffin for the Heisman based on the “playground theory,” which holds that if you were choosing from among the nation’s best players for a pick-up game, Griffin would be the first pick because of his rare athletic ability and potential to play nearly every position on the field.
Since this is not the decathlon, Griffin’s hurdler’s speed and his potential to play wide receiver, defensive back and punt returner don’t matter – unless he actually did all that, a la Charles Woodson in 1997. He didn’t.
Luck isn’t going to win a lot of foot races. No coach would want him lining up opposite a star receiver with hopes of shutting him down. All Luck does is play quarterback at an incredibly high level. Moreover, he did not have the kinds of weapons at his disposal that would have made it easier for him. While Stanford’s tight ends are strong, the Cardinal’s wideouts are not blazing targets. For Luck to be as successful and accurate as he has been is a testament to his ability to deliver the ball on time and make great decisions.
Luck’s success comes from knowing where to throw the ball–and more importantly–when. So many of the mistakes quarterbacks make come when they wait too long to throw a pass. They either don’t trust the receiver to arrive at his destination on time or aren’t completely comfortable with their reads of the defense. Luck displayed little uncertainty throughout the season, and as a result, made a sturdy–but unspectacular–crop of receivers look especially good.
He was even more impressive at running the offense. It is becoming more common to see entire offenses turn toward the sidelines in the seconds before the snap to get an audible call that has been relayed from a coach to the sideline. There was none of that at Stanford. Before the season, Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton told me that he had asked Luck to use the summer to study the great NFL quarterbacks to see how they command the game. That’s advanced stuff. Most coaches want their QBs to immerse themselves in the offense more thoroughly and develop a greater understanding of the team’s concepts and philosophy. That wasn’t necessary for Luck.
“The measuring stick for a coach is if you and the quarterback are thinking along the same lines in every facet of the game in decision making,” Hamilton said. “[Luck] is very much ahead of the game in regard to college quarterbacks and how they prepare.”
Luck began the 2011 season with almost unreachable expectations. Had he left Stanford following the 2010 season, he would have been the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Once he stayed, rotten teams throughout the league could be consoled by the fact that their putrid play might be rewarded by the chance to select Luck next April. As Indianapolis established new lows for production and heart, respected analysts debated the merits of cutting loose four-time MVP and future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning and installing Luck under center next September. With all of that on the table, Luck was expected to throw for 5,000 yards, lead Stanford to the national title and solve the European debt crisis. That he fell a bit short should not be an indictment of Luck’s season. Instead, it should demonstrate at what a high level he played and just how talented he is.
RGIII had a great year and should be a fine professional. Alabama running back Trent Richardson and USC quarterback Matt Barkley were great also. So, for that matter, were Keenum, Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weedon–fine QBs all. But in the final analysis, the nation’s best played in Palo Alto this year.
Andrew Luck has my Heisman vote.
- The Phillies’ signing of Laynce Nix is a little mystifying. After saying it wanted to improve its plate discipline, the team signs a guy who had a .299 on-base percentage last season and walked only 23 times in 351 plate appearances. Short of a blockbuster this week at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, the Phils have not upgraded their lineup significantly.
- Congratulations to Temple on its New Mexico Bowl berth. The Owls posted their second straight eight-win season and deserve a spot in the post-season, even if that spot is in Albuquerque.
- The Eagles are still in it! If they win out, and the Cowboys lose to North Penn and the Giants move to Crete … Forget about it, people. Thursday’s debacle in Seattle proves the Birds are a mess and need more than mathematical probability even to think about the playoffs.
- Even though Saint Joseph’s lost to American Sunday night, Hawks’ big man C.J. Aiken blocked six more shots and is now averaging a robust 5.0 per game. The Hawks are much improved from last year, and Aiken is certainly worth the price of admission.
- It was comical to hear ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit whining that the Sugar Bowl selected Michigan and Virginia Tech because the schools’ fan bases travel better than those of Kansas State and Boise State. I thought Herbstreit knew his stuff. Bowls were invented to bring large numbers of outsiders to town during a time when tourism is traditionally down, not to select necessarily the best teams. The naïveté was a little surprising, Kirk.