Robert Griffin III beat out preseason favorite Andrew Luck for the Heisman Trophy, dazzling voters with his ability to throw, run and lead Big 12 doormat Baylor into the national rankings.
The junior quarterback known as RG3 became the first Heisman winner from Baylor on Saturday night by a comfortable cushion over the Stanford star.
Griffin started the season on the fringe of the Heisman conversation, a talented and exciting player on a marginal team, while Luck was already being touted as a No. 1 NFL draft pick.
Draft day might very well still belong to Luck, but Griffin diverted the Heisman to Waco, Texas, to a school that has never had a player finish better than fourth in the voting — and that was 48 years ago.
Right before his name was called, Griffin took a deep breath. When it was announced he broke into a bright smile. Then it was hugs all around, for his coaches, his parents, his sister and his fiance.
He took a few long strides up to the stage and let out a laugh when he got there, making a joke about the Superman socks — complete with capes on the back — he was wearing before going into his acceptance speech.
“This is unbelievably believable,” he said. “It’s unbelievable because in the moment we’re all amazed when great things happen. But it’s believable because great things don’t happen without hard work.
Griffin received 405 first-place votes and 1,687 points.
“Everybody associated with Baylor has a reason to celebrate tonight,” he said.
Luck received 247 first-place votes and 1,407 points to become the fourth player to be Heisman runner-up in consecutive seasons and first since Arkansas running back Darren McFadden in 2006 and ’07.
He was also first to congratulate Griffin
“Very much well deserved,” Luck said.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson was third with 138 first-place votes and 978 points. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball (348 points) was fourth and the other finalist, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (327) was fifth.
Griffin’s highlights were simply spectacular — his signature moment coming on a long, cross-field touchdown pass with 8 seconds left to beat Oklahoma — and he put up dizzying numbers, completing 72 percent of his passes for 3,998 yards with 36 touchdown passes and a nation-leading 192.3 efficiency rating.
More importantly, he lifted Baylor (9-3) to national prominence and one of the greatest seasons in school history. The 15th-ranked Bears won nine games for the first time in 25 years, beat the Sooners for the first time ever and went 4-0 in November.
That was after winning a total of four November games in their first 15 Big 12 seasons. And the last three games? Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas.
Luck was the front-runner from the moment in January he surprised many by returning to Stanford for one more season instead of jumping to the NFL to become a millionaire. He didn’t disappoint, with 3,170 yards receiving, 35 touchdown passes, a completion percentage of 70 percent and a rating of 167.5.
Griffin put up better numbers and, essentially, out-Lucked Luck, who became a star by lifting a forlorn program at a private school out of the shadows of its powerful conference rivals.
Luck made a sensational one-handed catch early in what turned out to be a blowout victory against UCLA. Nice.
Griffin made a 15-yard reception in traffic to convert a key third down on the game-winning drive in Baylor’s opening 50-48 victory against TCU. Better.
The 6-foot-2, 220 pounder with sprinter’s speed — he was an all-American in the 400-meter hurdles — grabbed plenty of headlines and attention with that first Friday performance against the Horned Frogs and ended the first month of the season with more touchdown passes than incompletions.
He was an early Heisman front-runner, but he faded in October as Baylor lost three of four. Griffin continued to pile up video game numbers, but not enough to compensate for the Bears’ leaky defense.
He finished with a kick and shot up the Heisman charts on Nov. 19, when Baylor beat Oklahoma 45-38. Griffin passed for 479 yards and four touchdowns against the Sooners, including that sensational 34-yard, game-winner to Terrance Williams in the closing seconds.
He stated his case one last time — emphatically — on championship Saturday, capping his season with 320 yards passing and two TD passes and two touchdown runs in a 48-24 victory against Texas. It was the second straight year Griffin led the Bears past those longtime bullies from Austin.
At that point it become obvious that quarterback Don Trull’s fourth-place finish in 1963 would no longer be the Heisman standard at Baylor.
Landing Griffin, the son of two U.S. Army sergeants who settled in central Texas, was a recruiting coup for Baylor, though it was something of a package deal.
Griffin had committed to Houston and coach Art Briles, but when Baylor hired Briles away, Griffin switched up and followed the coach to a program that hadn’t even played in a bowl game since 1994.
He started 11 games as an 18-year-old freshman in 2008 and tore a knee ligament three games into the 2009 season.
He returned last year as good as new and with a newfound commitment and love of football. He threw for 3,501 yards and led Baylor to a 7-6 record and its first bowl appearance since 1994.
This season, his passing has improved and he’s still a dangerous runner (644 yards and nine DS). He has left little doubt that he’s a pro prospect, though he’s got one more game — the Alamo Bowl against Washington on Dec. 29 in San Antonio — to show his stuff.
An aspiring lawyer who is working on a master’s degree in communications, he holds 46 school records and adoring Bears fans are praying he comes back for more.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.