Baylor's Robert Griffin Could Be Darkhorse Heisman Candidate
Who just might be the next Heisman winner we never considered?
Washington quarterback Jake Locker, Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers and even Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy are among several who come to mind. Let's add Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin (right), an even more obscure name from maybe the most unlikely of programs, to that mix. Toss in the fact that Griffin is coming off an ACL injury last season that ended his sophomore campaign three games in and you might have your longest long shot of them all this season.
But if Griffin is able to build on the excitement of his true freshman campaign in 2008, when he accounted for a school-record 28 touchdowns (15 passing and 13 rushing), he could very well find himself and the Big 12 thrust into the Heisman Trophy conversation in 2010.
In making this leap to Heisman candidacy, all we have to go on is Griffin's past when he was the very definition of Mr. Excitement on the football field. College All-American in track and field the spring before his freshman season (yes, he enrolled in school a semester early), Griffin combined a blend of intelligence, speed and grace rarely seen in quarterbacks.
His freshman season gave hope that the Bears would end their bowl drought of 14 years last season, but those hopes were dashed in 2009 when Griffin suffered the ACL injury to his right knee in the third game with Baylor owning a 2-1 record. Now that the bowl-less streak has been extended to 15 seasons, Griffin's presence has raised expectations that this will finally be the year Baylor hits six wins and bowl eligibility.
Achieving that feat itself would be enough to put Griffin into the Heisman conversation.
We'll take a look at some of the Big 12 Heisman Trophy candidates, some obvious and some not so obvious. Let the debating begin.
Six Obvious Candidates
1. Robert Griffin, quarterback, Baylor
The Bears' young quarterback showed two years ago as a true freshman that he is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Now, with a better supporting cast around him and in the third year of Art Briles' system, Griffin could be ready to take off like few outside of Waco could have imagined.
Griffin, who was a sprinter and hurdler for the Bears two years ago, just might be the fastest and most exciting quarterback in the country. A lot, however, will depend how his knee holds up after ACL surgery last October followed by a lengthy rehabilitation process. One of the biggest concerns following such an injury is burst, which, if missing, could greatly alter Griffin's effectiveness as a dual-threat quarterback.
2. Daniel Thomas, running back, Kansas State
As a junior college transfer last season, Thomas came into the league and left an impression on everyone he came across. He led the Big 12 last season in rushing with 1,265 yards.
Thomas will again be the featured piece of Bill Snyder's run-oriented offense. Already an NFL-caliber player, the powerful 6-foot-2, 230-pounder is bigger and stronger than last season and should be able to make even more of an impact in 2010.
3. Jerrod Johnson, quarterback, Texas A&M
It's hard to believe, but when Johnson (right) first stepped on campus four years ago, he was an athlete who wanted to play quarterback in Dennis Franchione's option-oriented system. Now entering his third season under Mike Sherman and his pro-style offense, Johnson is showing signs of being the complete quarterback who is athletically gifted enough to beat you with his legs.
Last season, Johnson caught the attention of the nation when he passed for 3,579 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions while averaging 275.3 yards per game. What can the rising senior do for an encore?
Johnson, who is coming off offseason shoulder surgery, led the Aggies to a bowl last season. He could be the catalyst who will put them in contention for the first Big 12 South title since 1998.
4. Ryan Broyles, wide receiver, Oklahoma
Broyles has been something of an enigma his first two seasons with the Sooners. But just maybe his 13 catches for 156 yards and three-touchdown effort during last season's 31-27 Sun Bowl win over Stanford is a sign of what's to come this season.
Broyles, who at times has shown a flare for the spectacular while struggling to make the routine play, could prove to be the best receiver not just in the Big 12, but the nation, if he can finally put together a consistent campaign. He finished last year with 89 catches for 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns.
5. Kendall Hunter, running back, Oklahoma State
Hunter has almost become a forgotten man after an ankle injury shelved him six games and severely limited him in others last season. You forget that two years ago, as a sophomore, Hunter led the Big 12 with 1,555 yards and an 119.6 yards per game average.
Hunter could again become a major piece of the Cowboys offense as it retools. But the unknowns are how well his ankle has recovered and how he will fit into the plans of new offensive coordinator Dana Holgersen's pass-happy scheme.
6. Blayne Gabbert, quarterback, Missouri
If nothing else, Gabbert proved last season he can take hard hits from the toughest of them and get back up and command his troops. But he also showed why he was a coveted quarterback coming out of high school as he made remarkable progress leading Gary Pinkel's offense.
Six Not So Obvious Candidates
1. Von Miller, linebacker, Texas A&M
Miller, who played the position called "Joker," could be the most menacing player in college football this season.
The NCAA sacks leader last season (17) has a knack for getting into opposing offense's backfields and creating havoc. Miller could have left school early for the NFL, but decided to come back to follow up on a year in which he had 48 tackles. That included 21.5 for loss and 31 solo stops.
2. DeMarco Murray, running back, Oklahoma
Right now, Murray could be going through OTAs with an NFL team, but he decided not to skip his senior season because of unfinished business on the football field at Oklahoma.
Murray could make a lot of noise this season as the Sooners return to prominence in the Big 12 South after a one-year absence. But the biggest key with him is health. When healthy, Murray is as explosive as any player in the country. He rushed for a career-low 705 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior last season as he battled an ankle injury.
3. Baron Batch, running back, Texas Tech
Under Mike Leach, it would have been almost silly to mention a running back and Heisman Trophy potential in the same sentence. But Leach is out and Tommy Tuberville is in, which means balance and time of possession offense.
For Batch (right), that could mean big numbers this season. Batch ran for 884 yards on 168 carries last season in Leach's pass-oriented offense. Look for the numbers to increase dramatically, which could very well thrust Batch into the national spotlight.
4. Derrick Washington, running back, Missouri
Washington could be one of the most versatile running backs in the nation this season, as he is able to impact the game on the ground and in receiving routes.
But it will be his ability as a rusher that will be most vital this season. Last season, he ran for 865 yards and 10 touchdowns on 190 carries.
5. Jared Crick, defensive lineman, Nebraska
Last season, Crick had the benefit of playing in the shadows of All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate Ndamukong Suh on the other side of the defensive line. And he took full advantage, averaging 5.2 tackles per game to end up with 73 stops, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks on the year.
Now, Crick has the opportunity to take defensive lineman to where even Suh could not last year. Crick is big and strong and has enough quickness to join the Heisman conversation. He also had a very good teacher in Suh.
6. Garrett Gilbert, quarterback, Texas
After Gilbert's reign over the Longhorns offense began one game sooner than expected, we now know what Mack Brown saw to anoint him Colt McCoy's heir apparent.
It may not have looked like it all the time during last season's BCS national championship loss to Alabama, but Gilbert could be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season. After a shaky start against the Crimson Tide, Gilbert settled down and nearly mounted a fourth-quarter comeback.
He followed that game with a strong spring and has already entrenched himself as the Longhorns' leader with not even a full game under his belt. If the Longhorns do well this season, Gilbert will at least be in the Heisman conversation.