At the beginning of the 2011 season, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was one of three players tied at +2800 to win that season’s Heisman Trophy, along with USC signal caller Matt Barkley and University of Washington running back Chris Polk.
Unfortunately for that trio, they weren’t co-favorites, just tied in the position of having 10 players considered more likely winners.
If your last vivid memory of Griffin is of him limping around the field, trying to play with a knee injury while Commanders coach Mike Shanahan appeared to be catatonic, it’s worth a look back at what made him so special (Griffin, not Shanahan).
RG3's High School Career
In high school, Griffin started at quarterback and passed for 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns and ran for eight more, while throwing just two interceptions.
But it was on the track that he was a real star, breaking Texas state records in both the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles.
As a junior in 2007, he was the top-ranked high school 400-meter hurdler in the country, and was named the Texas Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
During his senior year of football, Griffin was ranked the fourth-best dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com, and was recruited by Stanford, Tennessee, Kansas, Nebraska, Houston, Illinois, Tulsa, Washington State and Oregon.
He committed to play for head coach Art Briles at Houston, but when Briles moved to Baylor, RG3 followed, also citing Baylor’s high caliber track and field program.
Baylor Bears Career
Having graduated from high school early after serving as class president, Griffin was just 17 when he arrived on the Baylor campus.
On the track, he was the Big 12 400-meter hurdles conference champ as a freshman, and took part in the Olympic trials.
In the classroom, Griffin graduated in three years with a degree in political science, a 3.67 GPA and an A in Latin. He also began his masters while at Baylor, and was named an Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar.
If RG3 seems a bit self-satisfied in those Nissan Heisman House commercials, it’s probably just a schtick. But who could blame him?
On the football field, Griffin was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, and gained notice for his part in an upset win over Texas A&M, completing 13-of-23 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
The Heisman season
In the late summer of 2011, the Baylor Bears were an afterthought, and were placed in sixth spot in the Big 12 preseason poll.
Opening against 15th-ranked TCU, the Bears won 50-48 on the strength of a late field goal and Griffin's performance: he completed 78 % of his passes, totalling 359 yards and five touchdowns.
That win put the Bears in the AP Poll rankings for just the third time in 15 seasons, while at the same time making RG3 part of the Heisman conversation.
A small part.
Ten weeks into the season, there were still 10 players with better Heisman odds than Griffin, and by now he was +7500, and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, at -250, had one hand on the trophy.
Then Oklahoma came to Waco.
Baylor had been 0-20 against the Sooners, and most of those games weren’t even close, reported the Associated Press.
“At the end of the day, they coached better than we did, and they played better than we did,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
When the game ended, students and fans - most in gold T-shirts - stormed the field to surround Griffin and the Bears after arguably the biggest win in school history.
It was the highest-ranked team Baylor defeated since winning 20-13 at third-ranked Southern California in 1985.
“They said we needed that signature win,” Griffin said. “We got it.”
The 45-38 victory, which included four touchdown passes – the final one with eight seconds left in the game - and 72 rushing yards, made RG3’s trip to the Downtown Athletic Club very likely.
Heading into conference championship week, Griffin was +500 to win the Heisman, Trent Richardson +100, Andrew Luck -130 and Montee Ball +2000.
That was after the final game of the regular season, in which Griffin led Baylor to a 48-24 thrashing of Texas, passing for 320 yards and two TDs and running for two majors himself.
"On Saturday, in what may be the last home game of his college career, the Bears quarterback put on the kind of performance that could convince Heisman Trophy voters he's best player in the country," said the AP.
"Griffin has accounted for 45 touchdowns passing and running this season to go with 3,998 yards passing. He is one of only three players in major college history with 10,000 yards passing and 2,000 rushing in a career."
That performance did convince Heisman voters, and he went into the week of the presentation at -1000.
Griffin III became the first Baylor Bear to win the Heisman, taking the vote in five of the six regions, with Andrew Luck the choice in the Far West. Griffin III had 405 first-place votes, compared to 247 for Luck.
Trent Richardson was a distant third with Montee Ball and Tyrann Mathieu finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
The acumen of oddsmakers was on display for the Alamo Bowl. Baylor went into the game against Washington favored by 8.5, and won by 11, 67-56.
The game set the record for the highest total regulation in a bowl game in college football history.