Why RGIII, not Andrew Luck or Trent Richardson, Should Win the Heisman Trophy

Let me begin by saying that I'm obviously looking at this year's Heisman Trophy race through green and gold glasses. I've been excited about Robert Griffin III since Baylor hired Art Briles and it became rumored that a four star dual threat quarterback recruit from Copperas Cove was coming with him. Ever since that fateful time in the winter of 2007, RGIII has been repeatedly amazing.

I present here an analytical case that in my mind clearly demonstrates why RGIII deserves to win the Heisman over Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson, who are in my mind the two other front runners. I'm not focused on team accomplishments, "Heisman moments", or any of those other esoteric or abstract concepts here. I think Griffin produced plenty of those types of unquantifiable things this year, and the other guys did too (with the exception of Luck, who doubtlessly is an incredible player, but has been riding the wave of preseason hype since August.) I don't mean to suggest here that I don't think there are any other players with a worthy case, I think Landry Jones, Matt Barkley, Kellen Moore, and Monte Ball, in no particular order, each have had great seasons worthy of recognition. That being said, I think RGIII, Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson are the three clear favorites.

Note: I'm not going to get into Tyrann Mathieu here because he's an unquantifiable player. If you want to argue that he's accounted for 3 "game changing" or "impact plays" in every game he's played this year, then I would remind you that Robert Griffin III has accounted for 45 touchdowns in 12 games (3.75 a game); so in my mind, he's clearly had at least an equal influence on the outcome of Baylor games. And further, please consider that without Robert Griffin, the best case scenario would involve some very happy bloggers who just saw Baylor achieve a 6-6 record and its first bowl bid in forever (Baylor obviously doesn't go bowling in 2010 without RGIII), while it's not hard at all to imagine that LSU would still be in the BCSMNCG without Mathieu.

I present a couple of charts below. Basically, I include Griffin III, Luck, and Richardson's averages in each game they've played vs. Division I-FBS competition. I then took each of those team's stats (passing defense for Griffin III/Luck, rushing defense for Richardson) and removed the Heisman contenders' performances from them. So in each case, we're looking at a candidate's average game, vs. a defense's average game against all other FBS teams.

These are quick and dirty calculations - so with respect to Richardson and measuring run defenses: Richardson accounted for about 55% of Alabama's carries this year, so I took his opponents' totals and standardized them for that amount of carries. If other teams use their feature back a bit less, he's getting the benefit of counting a few runs from poorer players: conversely, if any of Bama's opponents played a team with a running QB like Kansas State, T-Rich gets hurt a bit by those QB carries being included. Furthermore, Richardson has had great value as a receiver this year as well, but I simply didn't have time to look at RB receptions vs all of Alabama's opponents. I'll talk more about that below.


One further note: I did not cherry pick any of the statistics below. I chose these measurables without knowing how each candidate would rate. All data is courtesy CFBStats.com.

(Per game) Comp. Att. Yds. TD Int. Comp. % YPA TD% INT% Pass. Eff. 10+ 20+ 30+ 40+
Robert Griffin, III (Baylor) 22.5 31.6 339.4 3.0 0.5 71.3% 10.7 9.5% 1.7% 189.2 13.0 5.4 3.1 1.9
Baylor opponents 21.2 35.6 249.6 1.6 1.1 59.6% 7.0 4.6% 3.0% 127.7 9.5 3.3 1.5 0.7

(Per game) Comp. Att. Yds. TD Int. Comp. % YPA TD% INT% Pass. Eff. 10+ 20+ 30+ 40+
Andrew Luck (Stanford) 22.5 32.2 273.0 3.0 0.8 69.9% 8.5 9.3% 2.3% 167.4 11.1 3.8 1.3 0.6
Stanford opponents 20.1 32.8 240.7 1.7 0.8 61.3% 7.3 5.3% 2.4% 135.6 9.8 3.1 1.3 0.7

(per game) Rushes Yards Touchdowns Yards per Rush Touchdowns/Rush
Trent Richardson (Alabama) 21.0 128.0 1.6 6.10 7.79%
Alabama opponents 20.9 84.4 0.7 4.04 3.50%

Remember: the opponent totals below each candidate's totals DO NOT include that player's performance (e.g. Texas's passing statistics do not include the results from Saturday's Baylor win over Texas).

Griffin III vs. Luck

  • First of all, if you can look at the charts for Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck above and find a reason that Luck should be ahead of Griffin on anyone's ballot, please let me know. This is a collegiate award, not the NFL draft.
  • RGIII completed 2.4% more of his passes than did Andrew Luck against a slate of defenses that allowed 0.7% fewer completions.
  • He averaged nearly 90 yards more than each Baylor opponent allowed otherwise, Luck only threw for 33 more yards that Stanford opponents were allowing on average.
  • Furthermore, Luck's explosive passes (10+, 20+, etc) were basically in line with his opponents' season totals, he had one extra 10 yard completion per game, while RGIII bettered each of the Baylor opponents' season numbers in over 3 fewer attempts per game.
  • Griffin III averaged 2.2 yards per attempt more than Luck against a slate of defenses that allowed .3 fewer yards per attempt than Luck.
  • Opponents were half as likely to intercept Griffin as other quarterbacks they faced; Stanford opponents intercepted Luck at a nearly identical rate to the rest of their schedules.
  • I didn't include Griffin or Luck's rushing totals here, but feel free to take a look at those on your own - they are heavily slanted in Griffin's favor.
  • I think the most striking point for Griffin is the following: Griffin had a higher passer rating against a tougher slate of defenses; in fact, the difference between Griffin's passer rating and his opponents' (61.5) was nearly twice that of the difference between Luck and Stanford's opponents' (31.8).

Griffin vs. Richardson

  • Comparing quarterbacks to running backs obviously isn't apples to apples, but I'm going to give it a go anyway. FIrst - I would note that Baylor ran 861 plays against FBS competition, and RGIII either threw it or ran it 58.1% of the time. Alabama ran 728 plays against FBS competition, and Richardson either ran it or caught a pass on 35.3% of them.
  • RGIII averaged 3.7 yards per pass attempt more than his schedule had allowed; Trent Richardson gained 2.06 yards per carry more than his schedule had allowed.
  • RGIII added 51.5 yards per game rushing against FBS opponents and 9 touchdown runs; Trent Richardson only added 29.4 yards per game receiving and 2 touchdown receptions. When factoring in rushing and receiving, RGIII accounted for 2 more touchdowns per game against FBS competition than did Trent Richardson (3.81 to 1.81).
  • Against FBS competition, RGIII took part in a touchdown once out of every 11.9 plays he was involved in, while Richardson took part in a touchdown once out of every 12.9 plays.
  • RGIII accounted for 67.7% (42/62) of Baylor's offensive touchdowns against FBS competition; Richardson accounted for 45.5% (20/44) of Alabama's offensive touchdowns against FBS competition.
  • As stated above, Griffin averaged nearly 90 more yards passing than each Baylor opponent allowed otherwise. Richardson averaged 43.8 yards more rushing that each Alabama opponent allowed.

Conclusion

I believe the objective data above supports my conclusion that Robert Griffin unequivocally deserves the Heisman above Luck and Richardson, but I think there's one more thing to consider. I said above I'm not going to point to immeasurables or external factors...I lied a little.

Let's say for a second that you think it's a closer call than I do. If you believe that Luck or Richardson might have a small statistical edge over Griffin, then think of the 3 following numbers. 1, 25, 114 (!!!). Those are Alabama, Stanford, and Baylor's ranks in total defense. What about 8.8, 20.3, 35.7? Those are Alabama, Stanford and Baylor's average points allowed per game? Say you're a "new math" guy and believe in the stuff they're slinging over at Football Outsiders...2, 22, 78! Alabama, Stanford and Baylor's Defensive S&P+ ranks. Or what about 2, 10, 78? Alabama, Stanford and Baylor's Defensive FEI ranks. Griffin has done all of that...AND won NINE games...with a Sun Belt quality defense. Yeah, they've played well in a few spurts this year - but accumulated statistics look really ugly for the Baylor defense.

If you think you could honestly look Robert Griffin or a Baylor fan in the eye and tell him that Baylor would have won more than 5 games without him, I think you're a fool. Baylor has plenty of other talent, sure, but RGIII has had arguably the best season by a quarterback in NCAA history. Period.

Take Luck away from Stanford, they still have a top 25 quality defense. They might have lost 2 or 3 more games...but they're still looking at 8-4 or 7-5 and comfortably in a bowl game.

Take Richardson away from Alabama, and they're leaning on one of the country's two best defenses. They might have lost 2 more games at most (let's forget for the moment that Eddie Lacy is far better than replacement level), but realistically they're looking at 9-3 worst case, and likely probably still 10-2 and in a BCS game.

Take Robert Griffin away from Baylor. Who on Baylor's schedule do they beat? I'll give you SFA and Rice for sure (although Baylor gave up 31 points to Rice). They don't beat TCU under any circumstances. So now, Baylor's 2-1 heading into Big 12 play. It is conceivable to me that Baylor could have lost to EVERY SINGLE TEAM in the Big 12 without RGIII this season. You want me to be very, very bullish? OK. Kansas, Texas Tech, and another upset win. That's 5-7, BEST CASE, without Robert Griffin III. Worst case? 3-9. Or in other words, a typical Baylor team. In my opinion, RGIII was at least worth 4 wins to Baylor this season.

According to the Heisman Trust, "the Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence and integrity." I won't bother with integrity...if you've spent 10 minutes reading about RGIII this year, you've read a story that proved his got it.

I believe that this season, there is an outstanding, program-transcendant player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence and integrity.

The most outstanding college football player in 2011 has been Robert Griffin III, and he should win the Heisman trophy.

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