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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

The Big Picture: Program-changer Griffin my Heisman pick


A few hours from now I will submit my official Heisman ballot. A player from Baylor is going to be listed in the No. 1 spot. I still can't quite get over that. Before last season, the Bears hadn't been to a bowl game in 16 years. The program has only produced one guy who won any of the national individual awards in the past 25 years, and he was a punter.

Yet here we are. In the first week of December, there is no player in the country who seems more deserving of the title Most Outstanding Player than a Baylor Bear, Robert Griffin III. The world-class hurdler bolted out of the gate with a spectacular performance in the opening week of the season, carving up an TCU defense that, when we last saw Gary Patterson's team, was winning the Rose Bowl. The Horned Frogs were the stingiest defense in the country in 2010. RG3 lit them up for 50. And he didn't slow down much, if at all, from there.

For the first month of the season, Griffin had a nearly 1-1 TD-INC (completions) ratio. You had to figure eventually RG3 would fade from the Heisman picture. Why? Well, because, um, players from Baylor can't really win the Heisman, can they?

You know, eventually, they stumble a few times. The losses pile up. Their teams drop from the national consciousness. Looked like that was going to be the case, but then in mid-November, Griffin produced another jaw-dropping performance. This time, Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners got clowned. RG3 burned them for 551 yards of total offense, which included an epic last-second TD drive to give the Bears, who had been 0-20 against OU, a historic win.

Going into this weekend, I had a cluster of about a half-dozen guys near the top of my Heisman ballot. RG3, who was one of the few who still had a chance to make one last statement on the field, had a slight lead.

Griffin's opponent: Texas. The Longhorns had struggled again this season, but they'd been solid defensively. They came into the game ranked No. 7 nationally in run defense; No. 8 in pass efficiency defense; and No. 9 in total defense. They had not allowed a touchdown pass of 20 yards or longer. No other team could make that claim. That note was made all the more impressive since UT plays in a league packed with prolific passers.

It took RG3 two plays Saturday to nuke all of that hadn't-allowed-a-TD-pass-of-20 yards-or-longer stuff. He ripped UT for a 59-yard touchdown to give Baylor a fast start. By midway through the third quarter, Griffin's offense had scored more TDs on Texas defense than anyone had this season. Baylor had five touchdown drives. The longest took 90 seconds.

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It was an ideal way to cap off a remarkable season. Mack Brown's Texas teams had never lost in Waco, going 6-0, but RG3 fixed that too. The Bears blasted UT 48-24 in the rain.

I know there are some other deserving Heisman candidates, but there isn't anyone more deserving than Griffin.

Stats-wise, he has made a strong case. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and is on pace to smash Colt Brennan's NCAA record, thanks in part to a stellar 36-6 TD-INT mark and the fact that he's averaging almost 11 yards per pass attempt. (Only two other QBs, Russell Wilson and Case Keenum, are even averaging above 9.)

Skeptics have tried to dismiss Griffin's play by knocking the level of competition. They say he only plays against porous defenses. While it's true that he's not exactly facing the 1985 Chicago Bears on a weekly basis, he stacks quite well compared to the other top Heisman QBs.

Griffin has played four top 50 (scoring) defenses: TCU (30), Missouri (44), Oklahoma (37) and Texas (42nd). In those games, Griffin has thrown 14 TDs and almost 390 yards per game, been picked off once and has run for three more TDs. His team also scored 24 points per game more than those other teams average allowing.

Stanford's Andrew Luck has faced three such defenses: USC (47), Oregon (48) and Notre Dame (28). In those games, Luck has thrown 10 TDs, four INTs and has run for one TD. His team averaged 15 points above what those teams normally yield.

USC's Matt Barkley faced four such defenses: Utah (18), Notre Dame (28) Stanford (23) and Oregon (48). He has a 11-3 TD-INT ratio, and his team scored 14 ppg more than what those teams usually surrender.

The biggest differentiator for me in regard to Griffin and everyone else this season is the impact he has had on that program and this team. Consider this: Baylor is 109th in the country in scoring defense and 114th in total D and still 9-3. They are the only team ranked worse than 100th in scoring defense that even has a winning record. Take RG3 off this team and they're not even a bowl team. With him, they're 9-3 and in the top 20.

There is no one else in the Heisman race you could say that without them, their team isn't even a bowl team. Andrew Luck is probably closest to that type of magnitude. Trent Richardson and Montee Ball have had terrific seasons, but without them, their teams are still in the Top 25.

A week or so ago, I spent the day at TCU. Gary Patterson and I chatted for a bit about Griffin. The Horned Frogs coach said the biggest difference in Griffin this year is how much better he is at throwing the deep ball. "He didn't used to be so good at that, but you can tell he's really worked at it," Patterson said.

Griffin's development as a quarterback is impressive. The guy arrived at Baylor known primarily for his blazing speed. Most bigger programs such as Texas saw him as more an "athlete" than as a QB. No matter -- he continued to hone his skills and has emerged as an intriguing NFL prospect. Of course, he still can attack a defense with those world-class wheels, but it' has been his arm that has been doing most of the damage.

When we spoke to Griffin a few days ago on the podcast, he explained how winning the Heisman would mean more for his program than it would for any of the other top candidates. He's right. One guy has made Baylor football relevant. He did it from the first weekend of the season, through the last.

Not bad for a guy who at the start of the season wasn't even one of the top 10 contenders, according to oddsmakers.

As for the rest of my ballot ...

I feel confident in my No. 1 pick. I didn't feel as strongly about the separation in the Heisman mix of the next few guys. For instance, Matt Barkley has faced a few tougher defenses than Luck but USC has better receivers than Stanford. ... Montee Ball has more TDs and gaudier numbers than Trent Richardson, who plays in a "stronger" league. ... Kellen Moore has continued to be superb despite having both of his standout receivers move on to the NFL and might have Boise State in the BCS title game if not for one missed field goal. ... But the more I thought about it, LSU's Tyrann Mathieu should be my No. 2 guy.

No non-offensive player changes games, big games too, the way the Honey Badger does. He did it again Saturday in the Georgia Dome when the Tigers were beging dominated by the Georgia D. LSU could get nothing going at all offensively. Didn't even have a single first down. Matthieu goes back to field a punt, shakes free and goes 62 yards for a touchdown. He flipped LSU's switch. Again. Just like he did when the Tigers were struggling a week ago against Arkansas.

A few hours after that game, LSU assistant Frank Wilson told me that the Arkansas players and some staff were doing a lot of yapping at LSU after taking their double-digit lead. Mathieu strutted back to field the punt deep in Tigers territory, and when he did, he yelled back to the Tigers sideline. "I got this! I got this!" Translation: Honey Badger is coming to the rescue. Honey Badger is going to be the spark.

Scott Van Pelt tweeted out a good stat about the Tigers flipping the switch. LSU had spotted its two opponents a combined 24-0 lead the past two weeks. After that: The Tigers have outscored them 83-3. It all started with the Honey Badger.

Mathieu's next punt return after the TD was even more jaw-dropping than his first. He reversed field, sprinted, stopped, shook off some people, paused, sped up and left everyone riveted before being tripped up inside the UGA 20. He broke seven tackles on the 47-yard runback and it seemed like he broke 17. And it certainly appeared like he broke a lot more wills than that. The play appeared to happen in slow-motion. In our studio, so many people kept blurting out "Oh no, he did NOT!" I joked it felt like we were in a beauty parlor.

Very few guys have a knack for making these kinds of plays so often, and they don't come around much. Charles Woodson has it. So does Ed Reed. Troy Polamalu too. Mathieu is like a combination of the three.

Mathieu has now scored four TDs despite not lining up for one offensive play from scrimmage. He also recovered a fumble Saturday. His stat line for the season is unlike any I've ever seen: He's the leading tackler on the best team in the nation. He has forced six fumbles, picked off two passes, recovered five fumbles and is second in the country in punt returns. Mathieu is tied for third in the country in forced fumbles. Everyone else in the top seven are D-linemen. The top 15 guys in the category are DLs or linebackers, except Honey Badger, although as I wrote in September, some teams peg Mathieu as more of a SAM linebacker despite what the roster says.

If Griffin hadn't had the season he did, I'd have no problem putting Mathieu No. 1 on my list, especially after seeing what he did Saturday and when he did it.

Random stuff

The good news for OK State? It beat OU. The bad news? The Cowboys lost 6-6 to Iowa State. (Getty Images)  
The good news for OK State? It beat OU. The bad news? The Cowboys lost 6-6 to Iowa State. (Getty Images)  
 I don't have much problem with the idea of a rematch in the BCS title game, and it doesn't bother me one bit that many people took issue with the fact that there wasn't a touchdown scored in the first LSU-Alabama game. (If you want fireworks, you'll have shootouts in other bowl games to marvel at. This isn't about programming but rather the best two teams.) I felt like Alabama is the next best team after LSU, but Oklahoma State couldn't have made a stronger statement than they did by blasting OU off the field. I expected OU's defense to give Brandon Weeden fits. Didn't happen. The Sooners came into the game No. 3 in the country in sacks but didn't have one in the game while OSU ran for 278 yards. Big showing by an experienced O-line there.

I give credit to the OSU SID staff for hustling to try to detail why the Cowboys may deserve a shot at LSU over 'Bama. (They cited a CBSSports.com blind blog poll that concluded the same thing.) Best points: Oklahoma State has played and beaten five teams in this week's Top 25. Alabama has two. Stanford has none. The Cowboys also have wins over seven bowl-bound opponents. 'Bama has six. Oh, and they're also their conference's champs. 'Bama is not.

The bad news for OSU is it lost to 6-6 Iowa State. 'Bama lost in overtime to No. 1 LSU.

Honestly, I don't think either is a slam dunk. It's pick your poison. I lean to Alabama because I feel like LSU would force a lot of turnovers and run it down OSU's throats, where I could see 'Bama getting its ground game going behind Trent Richardson. Of course I didn't expect OSU to hammer the Sooners like they did. You can knock their defense, but they are great at getting turnovers. No one's better. They've forced 42 this season.

Fair or unfair, I also think what's working against Oklahoma State is that it's Oklahoma State, and pollsters are just not used to seeing them in the position so there's more skepticism. That bias has seeped in, especially since 'Bama recently won a BCS title and plays in the league that has won five in a row.

It won't happen, but I would love to see a play-in game between Oklahoma State and Alabama. Winner gets a crack at LSU in the SuperDome.

 Nice job by Clemson by doing a 180 and ending the ACC season in impressive fashion, hammering Virginia Tech. Dabo Swinney made a lot of noise earlier this week (directed at South Carolina and Steve Spurrier) and his team backed it up.

 Arkansas State, which hadn't had a winning season since 1995, drilled former league powerhouse Troy 45-14 to finish the season 8-0 in league play and 10-2 overall. That's a remarkable turnaround led by first-year coach Hugh Freeze. The bad news for ASU? Freeze is almost a lock to be coaching at a bigger school probably by the end of this week.

 Sad to see Howard Schnellenberger, a true program-builder, end his coaching career with such a clunker. His FAU team got thumped 26-0 by Louisiana Monroe to finish the season 0-8 in the Sun Belt and 1-11. It was the third time this season FAU was shut out.

 I'm curious to see where Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist transfers to. Having covered him since high school, I'd expected his career to have turned out in South Bend a lot better than it did. Between injuries and turnovers, he really seemed snake bit. Crist is a mature, likable guy who looks like he should be an NFL QB prospect in terms of size and athleticism, but for whatever reason, it wasn't working out there. Hopefully for him it will in his next stop. Perhaps he'll follow Russell Wilson's lead up to Wisconsin or return home to California to one of the Pac-12 schools.

 Mike Leach's first hire at Washington State is Dave Emerick, who had been Arizona's assistant director of football operations and their in-house recruiting guy. Emerick, 32, spent a decade as Leach's right-hand man at Texas Tech. He is the first of what figures to be a handful of former Leach assistants heading to Pullman.

 Stat of the Day: Bill Snyder would be my national coach of the year pick as I outlined in the Tuesday Top 10: Kansas State, a team that was preseason picked eighth out of 10 teams, is 10-2. They survived a scare from Iowa State 30-23. They are 8-1 now in games decided by seven points or fewer. That one loss was to Oklahoma State 52-45.

 Stat of the Day, Take II: Courtesy of my colleague Dennis Dodd: Montee Ball's 38 total touchdowns for Wisconsin are more than 52 teams.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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