By Harrison Goo-
(CBS) Many of the Heisman previews I've read in years past have analogized the finalists to contestants in a beauty contest. Often times the winner is the player who looks the prettiest (usually a quarterback) rather than the player who actually is the most "outstanding" (a much more objective standard.) That's why, for the purposes of this preview, I've decided to liken the players involved to horses in a race as opposed to individuals in a pageant. Why? Because horse racing is (I think at least) a far more appropriate representation of the type of effort that creates a Heisman winner. To wit, winning a horserace requires far more than just having a thoroughbred. Successful horseracing involves melding several critical components together: the horse, a jockey, and a trainer. None of these individual components could exist without leaning heavily on the others and, as such, developing a certain level of trust becomes necessary for growth.
Just like the old cliché that calls football "the ultimate team sport", so too then, is winning an award. No individual football player can possibly succeed without the help of his team and, much like horseracing, it's very important when gauging a player's individual excellence, to also evaluate the support they've had around them throughout the season. Do they win BECAUSE of their team, or IN SPITE of them? Is the offense tailored to fit their skills or did they have to adapt to it? The answers to these questions I believe are critical in determining just how "outstanding" an individual player is. So, without further ado (and in no particular order), here are your 2011 Finalists.
The Lead Horse: Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor (9-3)
Season Statistics: |3,998 Yards Passing|36 Passing TD's|6 Int's|72.4% Completion Percentage|644 Rushing Yards|9 Rushing TD's.
- Jockey: Kendall Wright, WR
- Trainer: Art Briles
In a somewhat surprising result (although maybe not so much if you consider that his most recent impressions are a pair of stunning performances against Oklahoma and Texas in back to back weeks), Robert Griffin III is widely considered to be the odds-on favorite to win the award this season. After being picked to finish 6th in the preseason Big-12 Poll, Griffin's Baylor team finished a surprising 9-3, with losses to Kansas State, Texas A&M (at the time ranked #23) and Oklahoma State (at the time ranked #4), and wins over Oklahoma (then #5) and Texas (then #22). Griffin is the only one of the Heisman Finalists whose team will not be playing in a BCS Bowl in January (they will be meeting Washington in the Alamo Bowl on December 29.)
A dual-threat quarterback (he was ranked #1 in the nation as a 110-meter hurdler in high school), Griffin followed Briles from Houston to Baylor and flourished under his tutelage. A huge part of Griffin's appeal is the fact that he is leading a school not generally considered to be a traditional football powerhouse, into mainstream prominence. In addition to that, he's likely playing with more All-Academic Big-12 athletes (10 for Baylor including Griffin III) then with All-Conference athletes. So while there is something to be said for Kendall Wright (a 5-10 190 lb junior receiver for the Bears), it was Griffin's ability to extend plays and move around in the pocket that has allowed his receivers to get open and make plays. Oh, and he also throws just about the prettiest deep ball you will ever see at any level of football.
The Work Horse: Montee Ball, Running Back, Wisconsin (11-2)
Season Statistics: |1,759 Yards Rushing|32 Rushing TD's|20 Receptions|255 Receiving Yards|6 Receiving TD's.
- Jockey: Russell Wilson, QB
- Trainer: Bret Bielema
In terms of pure statistical success, there is no denying Montee Ball's qualifications. Behind Ball and Quarterback Russell Wilson, the Badgers achieved an 11-2 record with their only losses coming at Michigan State (then ranked #13, and later avenged in the Big-10 Championship Game) and at Ohio State. Ball's 38 total touchdowns are just one shy of Barry Sanders' all time mark of 39 (with one more game, the Rose Bowl against Oregon, to try to tie or break this number.)
A fairly diminutive back at 5-11, 210 lbs, Ball's impressive combination of speed, power and elusiveness has left opponents grasping at air for much of the season. Add to that mix dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson, and opposing defenses were hard pressed all year to decide whom to focus their efforts on. One noticeable difference in Ball between this season and last is his improvement in terms of running maturity and patience. When he began his career at Wisconsin, he was a small bruising back (think Jacquizz Rodgers). Realizing that this style would wear on his body, Ball appeared to adjust himself to avoid direct contact. So, while still delivering the occasional crushing blow, Ball also began to shift his body so as not to absorb the same huge collisions he did as a freshman and even as a sophomore. This has led to greater productivity (as evidenced by his huge statistical year this season) and likely to greater career longevity.
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