Heisman finalists weary, still rarin' to go

Robert Griffin III was working on about 4 1-2 hours' sleep after catching an early flight from Florida to New York on Friday.

Not that he was complaining. Griffin will trade sleep deprivation for a chance to bring No. 15 Baylor its first Heisman Trophy any day.

“This is what it is if you're going to play well and your team is doing great things,” he said shortly after taking his seat at a table surrounded by reporters and video cameras in a hotel conference room. “People are going to want to talk to you, they're going to want a piece of you. It's exciting.”

The Bears' thrilling dual-threat quarterback was one four Heisman finalists to arrive in New York on Friday afternoon, along with LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and running backs Trent Richardson of Alabama and Montee Ball from Wisconsin.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was in Baltimore receiving the Johnny Unitas Award and was scheduled to arrive in Manhattan on Saturday morning, about 12 hours before the Heisman will be presented.

Griffin and the other finalists came straight from the college football award shows in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday night, where he picked up the Davey O'Brien award as the nation's best quarterback.

Luck entered the season as the clear-cut Heisman front-runner after turning down a chance to be the first pick in the NFL draft to return to Stanford for one more season.

He was excellent, passing for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns for BCS-bound Cardinal (11-1).

But on the way to what seemed like an enviable Heisman victory, RG3 zoomed past Luck with a memorable closing month, highlighted by victories against Oklahoma and Texas.

“After the Oklahoma game all the players on the team realized that if we won out and we did it in style … we'd be here,” he said. “I say we'd be here because that's who I'm here for. I am here for those guys.

“The Texas game was probably the most pressure we had all year to win a game. And we did it in convincing fashion.”

Griffin and the Bears beat Texas 48-24 on Saturday in Waco, Texas, to finish the season 9-3, Baylor's first nine-win season in 25 years. Lifting Baylor from the doldrums — along with passing for 3,998 yards and 36 touchdowns — is a big part of why Griffin is expected to break a Heisman trend on Saturday night.

Seven of the last eight winners, including Reggie Bush who later vacated the title, played in the BCS national championship game, like Mathieu and Richardson will. The Southeastern Conference rivals meet again Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

“It was a slugfest out there,” Richardson said about LSU's 9-6 overtime victory in November. “I can't wait for this rematch.”

The recent exception to the BCS title game-Heisman connection was Tim Tebow, who won it in 2007 playing for a Florida team that finished the regular season 9-3.

Griffin has some of that Tebow magnetism: good looks, a bright smile, comfortable in front of the camera and adored by his home fans.

He's not quite Tebow-famous, but he's no longer just a regional star.

“To be in Orlando and have guys screaming, 'RG3!' and 'Sic'em Bears,' that's amazing,” he said. “Baylor fans are everywhere now.”

Luck and Griffin are both from Texas and were in the same 2008 recruiting class. They could have formed a dynamic quarterback duo at Stanford.

Griffin said he took his only recruiting trip to Stanford and loved the campus. Then-Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh pitched a two-quarterback system to Griffin, in which Griffin would share the job with Luck.

Griffin was skeptical so he committed to Houston instead, then switched to Baylor when coach Art Briles left the Cougars for Waco, Texas.

“I decided to do what was best for me,” Griffin said.

It worked out well for Luck, too. He figures to be the first overall pick in the NFL draft.

Mathieu is trying to become the first defensive back to win the Heisman since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997.

The sophomore nicknamed Honey Badger for his tenacity, size (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) and dyed blonde hair has four return touchdowns this season.

“For me to get here, it just goes to show you how talented we are on the defensive side,” he said.

Ball figures he's a long shot to win Saturday night, even though he is one touchdown away from breaking Barry Sanders' single-season mark of 39 set in 11 games back in 1988.

“Not winning the Doak (Walker Award) and being the underdog for the Heisman just sets a fire under me for Oregon,” said Ball, who lost out on the Doak Walker award to Richardson on Thursday in Orlando.

No. 9 Wisconsin plays No. 6 Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

Griffin has developed into the clear favorite.

Two web sites — Heismanpundit.com and Stiffarmtrophy.com — that have been near perfect in projecting the winners over the last decade — both peg Griffin as a comfortable winner.

He tries not to pay attention to the prognosticators.

“Facebook goes crazy with that type of stuff,” he said.

“But you just try to block it out. Like I said, you're supposed to be nervous, you're supposed to not feel like you're owed anything and if you're name is called, you stand up and you forget you're speech.”

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