LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. _ Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III began buying into his status as a viable contender for national awards after racking up a career-high 551 yards of total offense in the Bears’ 45-38 upset of then-No. 5 Oklahoma on Nov. 19.
“We won the game and I skyrocketed toward the top of the charts,” Griffin said, reflecting on projections linking him to multiple honors, including the Heisman Trophy.
Griffin, a fourth-year junior from Copperas Cove, collected his first national award Thursday night: the 2011 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, given to the top quarterback in college football.
Griffin called it a “huge thing” to become the first Baylor quarterback to win the O’Brien, which includes a formal presentation ceremony on Feb. 20, 2012 at the Fort Worth Club.
“It’s for the best quarterback in the nation, so you want to be able to bring an award like that home. Everybody’s excited about the O’Brien,” said Griffin, who also is considered the Heisman frontrunner heading into Saturday’s announcement in New York. “Whether it’s that or the Heisman, those are big awards. Those awards are huge.”
Griffin, who led the nation in passing efficiency (192.3 rating) while leading No. 12 Baylor (9-3) to the school’s first nine-win season since 1986, was announced as the O’Brien winner during Thursday’s Home Depot College Football Awards show on ESPN. He edged Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Houston quarterback Case Keenum in balloting by members of the O’Brien selection committee.
Griffin, known for his collection of bright-colored socks _ many of them featuring cartoon characters _ strode across the stage to accept the trophy while wearing blue Cookie Monster socks beneath his charcoal gray suit.
Why Cookie Monster on awards night?
“Because he’s hungry to win,” Griffin said.
Griffin became the third quarterback from a Big 12 school to collect the O’Brien in the past four years, joining Texas’ Colt McCoy (2009) and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford (2008). He is Baylor’s first O’Brien winner since 1980, when the award was given to the best player in the Southwest and Bears’ linebacker Mike Singletary won it for a second consecutive year.
Griffin made his case by leading the nation in points responsible for (22.67 avg.) and ranking among the NCAA leaders in total offense (386.8 yards per game, second), completion percentage (72.36, fifth) and passing yards (3,998, sixth). Griffin’s 10.83 yards per pass attempt led the nation and he averaged an eye-popping 36.6 yards on his 36 touchdown passes.
Griffin finished with a 36-6 ratio of TD passes to interceptions. He also rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns in leading Baylor to a Dec. 29 berth in the Alamo Bowl against Washington (7-5).
Griffin’s selection as the O’Brien winner was well-received by fellow awards candidates and college football insiders.
“If I had to get one ticket for one game to go see one player, it would be him,” said ESPN college football analyst David Pollack, a defensive lineman during his playing days at Georgia. “He’s fun. He’s dynamic. He brings a ‘wow’ factor. The way he throws the football and the way he can run, he really is one of those guys that, when you’re planning for him as a defensive guy ... he’s an absolute pain in the butt because of all the stuff he can do. He’s a pretty special individual.”
Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, saw plenty of Griffin during the Bears’ 45-38 upset of the Sooners _ the game Griffin identified as the one that launched him on the national landscape. Against OU, Griffin threw for a school-record 479 yards and four touchdowns, including a 34-yarder to Terrance Williams with eight seconds remaining to break a 38-38 tie.
“He’s so versatile,” Broyles said. “His arm strength has gotten a lot better, and his accuracy is great. He can kill you with his legs. But he definitely showed against us that his arm is just as capable.”
Is Griffin the NCAA version of dual-threat NFL quarterbacks Michael Vick or Cam Newton?
“For sure,” Broyles said.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s top running back, will join Griffin in New York this weekend as one of the five finalists for the Heisman Trophy. If he cannot win the Heisman, Ball said the honor should go to Griffin.
“He’s an incredible player,” Ball said. “He does it all.”
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
_ Jimmy Burch