It would have been so easy if Andrew Luck had just been a little bit better, but the Stanford quarterback who was the frontrunner from the very start of the season played his worst at his team’s biggest moment, and so came back to the pack. And it’s quite a pack.
What a muddled mess.
No, not the dumb system that plucked Alabama over Oklahoma State to play LSU for the national championship mostly because a bunch of people voted for the Crimson Tide ahead of the Cowboys with no way of knowing which team is truly better, but who should win the Heisman Trophy.
Take note of that phrasing - not who will win the Heisman Trophy, but who should win the Heisman Trophy.
It would have been so easy if Andrew Luck had just been a little bit better, but the Stanford quarterback who was the frontrunner from the very start of the season played his worst at his team’s biggest moment, and so came back to the pack.
And it’s quite a pack.
There’s Montee Ball, the Wisconsin running back who is just one touchdown away from tying the record for TDs in a season set by the incomparable Barry Sanders in 1988. There’s Matt Barkley, the USC quarterback who nearly beat Luck’s Cardinal and then did beat the same Oregon team that made Luck look mortal and took Stanford down. There’s Robert Griffin III, the Baylor quarterback who posted the best pass efficiency mark in the history of college football. There’s Tyrann Mathieu, the LSU cornerback who doesn’t have a ton of interceptions but seems to either run back punts or force fumbles on a weekly basis. And there’s Trent Richardson, the Alabama running back who’s the best player on a team that will play for the national title.
That doesn’t even mention Case Keenum and Kellen Moore, the record-setting quarterbacks from Houston and Boise State, respectively, whose stats are perhaps better than those of Luck and Barkley but whose teams needed to be perfect - and who needed to be perfect themselves - to overcome the fact that they play far weaker competition than any of the other contenders.
Of course, neither was close enough to perfect with the Cougars getting housed by Southern Mississippi in a game Keenum threw two interceptions and the Broncos falling to TCU at home in a game Moore was outplayed by Casey Pachall.
So it comes down to Barkley and Ball, Griffin and Luck, Mathieu and Richardson.
It comes down to six players, all with legitimate arguments in their favor, all seemingly impossible to pick out from the rest.
Luck and Barkley, for example, both have thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 35 touchdown passes.
Ball and Richardson, meanwhile, both run for better than 130 yards per game and have totaled more than 1,500.
And then there’s Mathieu. How do you quantify what he did for the Tigers, which includes igniting comeback wins over then No. 3 Arkansas in LSU’s regular-season finale and Georgia, which was riding a 10-game winning streak, in the SEC Championship Game with punt returns for touchdowns?
The Tigers’ 14-0 deficit to the Razorbacks became a 45-17 win after Mathieu’s 92-yard score, and their 10-0 deficit to the Bulldogs became a 42-10 victory after Mathieu’s 62-yard touchdown.
But then, suddenly, all becomes clear.
A winner emerges.
While all the others have some negative baggage that drags them down, Robert Griffin III stands tall.
His passing numbers match up with Barkley and Luck, even exceed them. He’s thrown for more yards than both, and his 36 TD passes are more than Luck’s 35 and just three behind Barkley’s 39. His six interceptions are one fewer than Barkley, and three fewer than Luck.
His rushing numbers then separate him from his cohorts at quarterback, each of whom had fantastic seasons, but largely with their arms. While Barkley ran for 14 yards and two touchdowns, and Luck 153 yards and two scores, Griffin rushed for 644 yards and nine TDs.
As for Ball and Richardson, while both put up good numbers, it’s not like either one ran for 2,000 yards or had a slew of 200-yard rushing games. They were very good, with Ball statistically better than Richardson, but not great the way the quarterbacks were. They were guys who could win the Heisman in a year when there weren’t special candidates, but this year there are special candidates.
Mathieu is the one who’s hardest to eliminate when compared with Griffin. But he missed an entire game, sat out LSU’s 45-10 win over Auburn, and the Tigers seemed to do just fine without him. Not to mention that his suspension - and that’s why he missed the game, not because he was injured - was due to a failed drug test.
There’s this fact that tips the scales in favor Griffin, one exemplified by Mathieu’s missed game and the way his team still rolled: All the other candidates have some serious talent surrounding them.
Griffin has good talent, but not on the level of Alabama, LSU, Stanford, USC and Wisconsin. And yet Baylor went 9-3 this season, including wins over TCU, Oklahoma and Texas.
Take Barkley and Luck away and USC and Stanford slip, but still play well. Take Ball and Richardson away and Wisconsin plugs in James White and relies a little more on Russell Wilson while the Alabama defense still shuts down the opposition and is the real reason the Tide roll over just about everyone. Take Mathieu away from LSU, and well, it already happened.
But take Griffin away from Baylor and the Bears probably don’t win half their games.
They certainly don’t beat TCU on Sept. 2, when Griffin threw five touchdown passes without a pick. And they don’t beat Oklahoma, when Griffin threw for 479 yards and four touchdowns, again without a pick.
“Not too many years ago, they said Baylor would never be 9-3, would never beat Texas, would never beat Oklahoma,” Griffin said after last Saturday’s victory over the Longhorns. “Why not (win the Heisman)?”
Griffin might win the Heisman, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Luck or Richardson is the name called on Saturday night.
In truth, Mathieu should be the only name that might be called other than Griffin.
But it’s Robert Griffin III who should join the elite fraternity, winners of the Heisman Trophy.
What We Learned
It was an impossible decision.
Voters had to choose between Alabama or Oklahoma State, two teams with the same 11-1 record and strong resumes, but different yet valid arguments for being the team picked to play LSU for the national title.
Voters, whose polls make up two-thirds of the BCS formula, chose Alabama.
“We wanted the opportunity to settle the debate that has gone all year about the offense in the Big 12 and the defense in the SEC,” a disappointed Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after his team was passed over - the consolation prize is a pretty good matchup with Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Crimson Tide pass the eye test.
They are the better team, or so it would seem.
Their defense isn’t merely good, but historically so, perhaps the best in more than a decade. They allow just 8.8 points per game, not once allowing more than 21. They even held LSU - which averages 38.5 points per game - to just nine, and only six in regulation.
While they lost to the Tigers in overtime, they beat every other team they played by at last 16 points.
And yet Alabama isn’t necessarily more deserving than Oklahoma State.
The Tide played a poor schedule. The SEC, contrary to popular belief, was not particularly strong this season, top heavy with a weak underbelly, and Alabama’s strength of schedule was hurt by that.
The Tide beat just three teams that finished with winning records, and only two teams that finished the regular season ranked in the top 25.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, played seven teams with winning records - plus two more that are 6-6 and could finish above .500 - and four that are ranked in the current top 25.
Simply, the Cowboys accomplished their 11-1 record against better teams. And while their defense didn’t shut everyone down, their offense rolled over every defense. They scored 49.3 points per game, which ranks second nationally.
But their loss was worse than Alabama’s.
Oklahoma State didn’t lose to a team like LSU. The Cowboys fell to Iowa State, which is just 6-6. It was in overtime, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was Iowa State and not Oklahoma or Baylor or Texas.
So voters were left to weigh resumes.
How do you choose between a team you know is probably - key word is probably - better than the other, yet the other played a more difficult slate of teams and wound up with the same final mark?
And you shouldn’t have to.
But in the stupid world of the BCS, a choice has to be made. More deserving should trump probably-better - Oklahoma State over Alabama - but you can’t fault anyone for choosing otherwise.
Don’t blame them. Blame the system.
And blame it for more than forcing voters to choose between teams virtually impossible to separate without having seen them play each other. Blame it for leaving Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Kansas State and Arkansas playing each other in the Cotton Bowl while choosing Virginia Tech and Michigan for the Sugar Bowl.
“Everybody is just very tired of the BCS,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said on Monday. “I think that’s the bottom line. Everybody is frustrated. Everybody doesn’t really know what to do anymore. It doesn’t make sense to anybody. I don't think anybody is happy anywhere. ... The whole thing needs to be changed, there’s no question about it.”
Game of the Week
It stands alone on the second Saturday of December, as it does every year, as it should.
Army vs. Navy, a rivalry like none other because of who plays in the game, young men who fight each other once a year on a football field but may someday fight together on a battlefield. The teams may not be as good as LSU and Alabama, but the players are every bit as special as Mathieu and Richardson, just for different reasons.
Nothing more needs to be said.
My top 10
1. LSU (13-0): Simply, the best.
2. Oklahoma State (11-1): Not better than Bama, but more deserving.
3. Alabama (11-1): Not worse than Oklahoma State, but less deserving.
4. Stanford (11-1): The schedule leaves the Cardinal out of the discussion for the BCS title game despite finishing with one loss.
5. USC (9-2): Perhaps the true second-best team in the nation.
6. Oregon (10-2): The Ducks vs. the Badgers in the Rose Bowl is among the most intriguing bowl matchups.
7. Arkansas (10-2): Losses only to LSU and Bama should have gotten the Hogs better than the Cotton Bowl.
8. Wisconsin (10-2): Apparently, Wisconsin and Michigan State are pretty even.
9. Boise State (11-1): Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
10. South Carolina (10-2): Spurrier vs. Pelini should be fun in the Capital One Bowl.
Contact Eric Avidon at 508-626-3809 or email@example.com.