Baylor’s Robert Griffin III Takes Home the Heisman Trophy

Robert Griffin III outruns Andrew Luck for the 2011 Heisman Trophy

Congratulations to the 77th Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. He was easily the most electrifying player this year, a Cam Newton-lite if you will. It may have been a benefit Newton didn’t win it last year. Although he was swirled amidst off field allegations, had he won it last year the voters may have looked to give the award to another type of player this year or position. However if you look at Griffin III’s season in a vacuum, he deserved it hands down.

All he did was lead perennial doormat Baylor into the National spotlight completing 267 of 369, for 3,998 yards, 36TDs to only 6 interceptions. He was also a threat on the ground where he ran for 649 yards and another 9 touchdowns. He’s just 353 yards away from a 5,000 yard season against stellar competition and still has an Alamo Bowl showdown with Washington to pad his stats further.

Statistics don’t tell half the story. It was this electrifying talent that led his teammates to believe they could play with anyone. It started with his destruction of #14 TCU’s highly ranked defense, to the tune of 359 yards passing and 5 touchdowns in building a 47-21 lead. After the Bears offense grew cold, Griffin proved his mettle driving the Bears to the winning field goal 50-48 and a collegiate star was born. This was the first great early game of the season and talk of Griffin III’s exploits were showcased on national television.

Then really grew steam when he performed the coup de gras against Oklahoma. His Baylor Bears were ranked 22nd and were taking on media darling Bob Stoops and his #5 ranked Sooners. You have to understand the Bears were 3 weeks removed from losing badly to ranked #4 Oklahoma St. (59-24) and #23 Texas A & M (55-28). Their confidence was shaken as a team going into this game and it was do or die to find out if they were for real.  Griffin, who passed and ran his team to a 38-24 fourth quarter lead in one of the game’s of the year, dazzled early. Once their momentum crested, the high powered Sooners sprang to life and rallied to tie the score 38-38, with 2:38 to go.

With Oklahoma holding all three time outs, the Bears came out conservative and ran a dive showing they were content to go to overtime. Stoops called the first of his timeouts, which showed the Sooners wanted to force the Bears to punt the ball back and give the Sooners a chance to win it in regulation. Baylor’s body english looked defeated and Waco was completely silent. Armed with the knowledge of what Oklahoma intended to do, it was Griffin III who charged back to the huddle to breathe life in his team. He completed two strikes in the heart of the Sooner’s zone to put Baylor in field goal range reversing the momentum. Instead of waiting to kick the winning field goal, on first down he scrambled to his left and fired a 34 yard touchdown to Terrance Williams with :08 left. BALLGAME!!

By the time he engineered a 48-24 trouncing of the 22nd ranked Texas Longhorns, it was obvious this was the best player in all of college football. He led the Bears to a 4-2 record over top 25 teams. In the aforementioned games with Oklahoma and Texas how’d he do?? Against Oklahoma Griffin III ran for 98 yards while throwing for 479 yards and 4 touchdowns. Then you had him toast up the Longhorns rushing for 36 yards and 2 TDs, while throwing for 320 yards and 2 more scores.

Buoyed by these three signature games, it was impossible to hand the Heisman to another player. He carried his team into national prominence and backed up the press clippings with performance. The Baylor Bears went 9-3 with him at the helm and had their best record since 1986. Now further that distinction with bringing the school it’s first ever Heisman winner. So what does he do as an encore?? We suspect a 500 yard performance (rushing and passing) and a high draft status in April.  With the Colts eyeing a pure drop back passer in Andrew Luck, it looks like many teams would vie for his services. Right now, the Cleveland Browns are on the clock.

For if he’s Cam Newton-lite, he may be just as deadly in his rookie year. We’ll have time for that later. As for right now, congratulations Robert Griffin III. You deserved your Heisman with a performance for the ages.

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College Football’s Leveled Playing Fields

Marshall Faulk at San Diego State

The changing faces of college football over the last fifteen years has been a unique situation upon the sporting landscape. Gone are the days when the traditional schools would line up and pummel a school from a smaller conference. Don’t get us wrong, there are still some lopsided contests but the talent level is closer than in the 1970’s,80’s, or even the 90’s. This is the byproduct of several things.

The first thing was with up to 20 cable televisions showcasing football around the country. Schools could recruit outside their region for talent and deliver the promise that their families and friends could still watch them play. Alternative schools to the traditional powers also offered players the chance to remain at their position of choice. One glaring example of this was when Marshall Faulk was coming out of New Orleans as a high school star.

Tons of schools were recruiting him and one of the heaviest was Florida State. They would offer Faulk a full scholarship yet they wanted him to switch from running back  to cornerback. Faulk opted to go to San Diego State where he dazzled the nation as a freshman gaining 1,429 yards and 23TDs. Along the way he had a freshman record 386 yard, 7 touchdown performance against U of Pacific. Before you say something about the talent level, keep in mind he’s just 3 weeks away from giving his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech. So kill that noise.

The point being he didn’t have to play cornerback with Terrell Buckley and watch Amp Lee and Warrick Dunn as tailbacks at Florida St when he had other alternatives. Being on the west coast and playing in many night games, Faulk was watched all around the country and became the first freshman to get serious consideration as a Heisman Trophy candidate. There are other notable examples of this but an electrifying running back that made both Hall of Fames (college and pro) seemed like a logical example. Players know they can go anywhere and be seen all over the country.

Steve Slaton slashing up Marshall

The second was the scholarship limitations the NCAA  instituted in 1990. Now the top 20 schools, the Miami’s, Florida St’s, Oklahoma’s, Nebraska’s, Texas’, Michigan’s, Ohio St’s, the USC’s couldnt swallow the top 100 tailbacks coming out in a given year. Some of them were talents that never developed or later developed. Some players actually blossomed at non traditional schools that struggled to get the blue chip prospect.

When you get a Steve Slaton at West Virginia, a LaDainian Tomlinson who opted to stay near home at Texas Christian, or a Jamal Anderson at Utah, or even a Doug Martin right now at a Boise St. These players could have split time or may not have started early in their careers at traditional schools. In most cases we never hear of these players as they fade into obscurity and don’t make the pros.

Some play in Canada but many fall by the way side. Two players that did play later were Jeff Smith of the Nebraska Cornhuskers of ’83 and Priest Holmes of Texas in the late 90’s. Each played RB behind Heisman winners in Mike Rozier and Ricky Williams. Yet both developed their talent in the NFL, Smith had a serviceable career with Kansas City Chiefs, where Holmes went on to rewrite the Chiefs record book after winning a Super Bowl ring in Baltimore.

Yet all of a sudden we were seeing electrifying, record breaking runners at schools we didn’t expect those performances from. The aforementioned LaDainian Tomlinson, A Troy Davis at Iowa St running for back to back 2,000 yard seasons in the mid 90s. A Barry Sanders rushing for 2,629 yards and 37TDs in a 1988 Heisman Campaign, who followed an All American Thurman Thomas. Who followed another All American and ’82 NCAA rushing leader Earnest “Sparkplug” Anderson with over 1,800 yards rushing. Yes the year Herschel Walker won the Heisman he didn’t lead the nation in rushing. The latter three talents went to Oklahoma St and not Texas or Oklahoma.

The third key component in leveling the collegiate playing field were the different strategies employed by college coaches.  These evolving sets have been lifted from the antiquated wishbone offense to more pro style sets including the run and shoot, 3 receiver one back sets, to the variations of the spread offense. Teams that couldn’t field All American offensive linemen could opt for an attack that spread the defense and made it think. Why go toe to toe with an opponent when you can out think your opponent and outhit him when he is out of position? This has been the true equalizer in college football over this last ten years just ask Michigan how it feels about Appalchian St. Michigan became so confused that they thought “hell if you can’t understand it hire a coach who does” yet they didn’t have the type of talent needed to direct that offense under coach Rich Rodriguez.

With the run and shoot, different types of receivers were needed to make the offense go. You recruited your traditional large fast receiver(6’0-6’3 -215 lbs.) along with a new prototype that manned the slots.  This player was smaller in stature yet quicker than the large fast receiver and stood (5’7-5’9 -175-185lbs.) which were the high school receivers that traditional schools didn’t recruit unless they were going to be switched to cornerback.

Yet these players found homes in offenses that spread the field and played their game in space throwing the football. Most teams realized that the third and fourth best WR were normally better than third and fourth corners on a given team. You had the University of Houston in the 80s and early 90s as the vanguard of the run and shoot teams and most recently June Jones University of Hawaii teams. Even the Miami Hurricanes employed these techniques winning two National Championships in1989 and 1991.

Then along came Rich Rodriguez and his West Virginia Mountaineers. He took the spread offense to a complete zenith with what you could do with a 53 1/3 yard wide field and implemented a power rushing attack from a spread formation. First he recruited Pat White from Alabama.  At 6’0 (being generous) and 185 lbs. he was short for a quarterback and had a decent arm, yet it was his 4.28 40 yard dash that made it nearly impossible for interior linebackers to read blocking patterns, than get to the flank to defend against his options or pitch to Steve Slaton.

Slaton was brought down from Pennsylvania. One of the nation’s fastest running backs coming out of high school in 2005.  He had committed to Maryland who had offered him a scholarship then retracted their offer.  He took his 4.3 speed to West Virginia to team with Pat White, Owen Schmitt, recievers Darius Reynaud #82 and Brandon Miles#7 and a powerhouse was born. They spread from a traditional set and some 3 receivers yet ran what they call a speed option that most MLBs didnt have the lateral quickness to stay with.  The result?? First we have to set the table for you.

The Miami Hurricanes and Boston College had just fled the Big East to join the ACC. Many felt that the Big East was no longer a top flight conference with two of their heavyweight schools having departed. Yet the Mountaineers started a redshirt freshman in Pat White, and a freshman tailback in Steve Slaton and a new offense took the country by storm.  They improved as the season went on and Slaton finished the season with 1,128 yards and 17 TDs, while White finished with 952 yds rushing and 7 TDs to go along with moderate passing to keep defenses honest.

Once they ran out to a 10-1 record, their Big East championship gave them an automatic bid to the BCS Sugar Bowl where they would take on Georgia. The Bulldogs that year were 12-1 and only a close loss in SEC play had kept them from appearing in the National Championship Game. Experts scoffed that West Virginia’s offense couldn’t perform that well against a superior defense from a superior conference. Yes experts were treating the Big East as a second tier conference with the remaining teams.  So the battle lines were drawn and since the Sugar Bowl had to be moved from New Orleans to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, because of Hurricane Katrina, this would be a home crowd for the Bulldogs too. No way the Mountaineers could stay on the field with an SEC team……………….right??

Naturally underdogs play with a chip on their shoulder and Bulldogs were chasing Mountaineers all night. In a humiliating 38-35 defeat, SEC Champion Georgia never led in the ball game. No one on the set picked West Virginia to win and the nation watched in stunned amazement as the Mountaineers burst onto the field and  was up 28-0 before Georgia knew what hit them. Freshman Steve Slaton set the Sugar Bowl rushing record with 26 carries for 204 yards, 3 Tds with twin 52 yard touchdowns that were electrifying. Passing the exploits of Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Major Ogilvie, Vegas Ferguson, and keep filling in blanks here…Slaton outrushed them all just being 7 months removed from high school. Yikes!!

This watershed game got more coaches on the bandwagon of the spread to be used as a rushing offense.  By the time the point was hammered home that this was an offense to stay, was when Appalachian State upset Michigan in “The Big House” in 2007. Now even skeptics were using some variation of the offense in their playbooks. Though the SEC was embarrassed that night in the Sugar Bowl, we come to see that 5 years later Auburn wins the National Championship over Oregon and both were run first, spread option teams. In came the Cam Newtons and Terrelle Pryors to lead this new wave…

So the landscape has changed, first through the proliferation of cable television stations allowing players to play in far away places and still be seen back home.  This changed the way colleges could approach players when they weren’t the clear cut favorite to land a particular recruit. Players weren’t forced to switch positions to go to a particular name school when there were other alternatives.

This happened simultaneously with the NCAA limiting the amount of scholarships teams which spread talent all over the collegiate landscape. Then in an effort to find the great equalizer, coaching innovations leveled the playing field even more with better tactics while landing a better athlete on their campus than ever before.  Couple these factors with the natural chip on the shoulder that most underdogs play with and college football has turned into “On any given Saturday…” Making college football an even greater game than before.  We’ll be back to help solve the National Championship Game and BCS problem later.

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2011 Heisman Campaign: Doug Martin of Boise St.

Boise St’s talented Doug Martin

Heisman Trophy

One of the nation’s best running backs wasn’t even a guaranteed starter at his position just two years ago, let alone last year. Would you believe he was a complimentary back and special team standout who switched to and from safety several times at Boise State?? At 5’9 201lbs, he runs with a Mark Ingram-like low center of gravity, yet unlike the past Heisman Trophy winner, Martin has an explosive burst. He began the 2010 season as a complimentary option to incumbent starter Jeremy Avery and just flat unseated him. He wound up rushing for 1,260 yds on just 201 carries, had a whopping 6.2 yards per carry average and 12 TDs. Yikes! What would he have done if he had been the undisputed starter at the beginning of the season??

He exploded at the end of the season when he dazzled the nation with one of the best performances in college football against Nevada.  Boise St was ranked #3 with a 10-0 record and traveled to play Nevada, who was on a 10 game winning streak, and were 10-1 with a #19 ranking. This was the last hurdle for the Broncos to push to play in that elusive National Championship Game. In a nationally televised game, the Broncos sprinted out to a 24-7 lead thanks to 2TDs by Martin. The last of which was a 51 yd sweep to the left that left Wolfpack defenders gasping for air as he sprinted into the endzone for what appeared to be a clinching touchdown. Yet the Wolfpack furiously fought to get back into the game tying the score at 24 with 5:10 left in the regulation.

The Boise offense had been stifled for the better part of two quarters when they turned to their dynamic junior running back. In what should have been a last possession time consuming drive, Martin accidentally showcased his flare for the dramatic. On 1st and 10, he took a routine screen pass, set up blocks with a few electrifying moves and powered through an attempted tackle and exploded for a 79 yard touchdown. The play was stunning by itself yet when his team was playing pensive and they needed it most he came through. Alas the finish to the game robbed the Broncos of their shot at playing for it all falling 34-31 in overtime. However that Saturday night in front of an ESPN audience Martin amassed 152 yds on 24 carries for 2TDs while gaining 78 yards on 3 receptions and another touchdown. Two of his scoring plays were from 51 and 79 yards out.  For the season he had 11 plays of over 25 yds or more and 3 that were over 50.

After receiving a slight from the Bowl Committee and having to play December 22 in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, the Broncos again had a national television audience tune in. After both teams started off sluggish, Martin moved the crowd with an 84 yard touchdown run in which he outran the entire secondary the last 50 yards to the endzone. He had another breathtaking cutback run of 32 yards and finished the day with 17 carries for 147 yards and 1 touchdown in a 26-3 win. When the lights came on and it was time to perform, he played his absolute best.

So why the high expectations on Doug Martin? He finished with 6, 100 yard games and if he carries the football to the tune of 250-275 times this season he could rush for 1,700 yards and over 20TDs in the Mountain West Conference. He rushed for 15TDs in a complimentary role in 2009 so those numbers aren’t far-fetched.  His stock is clearly on the rise and this is an NFL ready running back. As we debated the merits of a Boise St’s legitimacy to play for the National Championship last year, we expect some flack because of the Broncos schedule and conference. Until you realize

  • LaDainian Tomlinson -TCU Hornedfrogs WAC- 13,404 NFL Career Yards, 144 rushing TDs & NFL record 31TDs in one season
  • Walter Payton – Jackson St – SWAC- Former NFL All Time Rushing leader with 16,726 yards rushing
  • Jamal Anderson-Utah WAC- Ran for Atlanta Falcon record 1,750 yards on NFL record 410 carries in 1998
  • Mike Anderson-Utah WAC – Ran for NFL rookie game rushing record 250 yards against New Orleans Saints 2000

2011 Boise State Bronco Stadium Banner of Doug Martin

Just to name a few of the merits of those coming from smaller schools and their ability to compete with their BCS Conference School counterparts at the next level. Take a look at Reggie Bush for example….yet I digress. Ahem it’s at the collegiate level we’re talking about. As the video illustrates Martin can avoid the big hit with his quick feet yet when contact is imminent, he explodes into tacklers with the mentality of a defensive player. If you approach Boise St’s Stadium, you’ll see these huge banners of Kellen Moore and a few other players, yet its the one to the left of this column that will catch your eye. Keep your eye out for him this season and in next April’s draft. You haven’t heard the last of this talent and with an injury free season could be the best in the country and worthy of the Heisman Trophy.