Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III joins Stanford's Andrew Luck, Alabama's Trent Richardson, LSU's Tyrann Mathieu and Wisconsin's Montee Ball as finalists for the award that will be given out Saturday.
In the 24 hours after Washington’s date with Baylor in the Alamo Bowl was announced, the odds only got better that the Huskies might face a Heisman Trophy winner.
As the deadline hit Monday for Heisman ballots to be cast, two websites projected Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as the favorite based on votes that have been made public.
And later Monday, Griffin was officially announced as one of five finalists for the trophy, which will be presented Saturday. The other finalists are Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Louisiana State defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
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Washington has only once before faced a Heisman Trophy winner in a bowl game — Michigan’s Desmond Howard in the 1991 Rose Bowl, a 34-14 Huskies win that clinched a share of the national title.
Griffin, a junior, leads the nation in passing efficiency at 192.31 — on pace to break the NCAA season record of 186.0 set by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan in 2006 — having thrown for 36 touchdowns this season against six interceptions, while also rushing for 644 yards and nine touchdowns.
Just as important, he has helped fourth-year coach Art Briles complete a turnaround of the Baylor program from 3-9 in 2007 — the year before Briles arrived from a successful stint at Houston — to 9-3 this year.
Briles said in a conference call with reporters Monday that having a Heisman Trophy winner to boast of would only further the cause of Baylor’s rebuilding. The Bears have had just two players in their history finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting, and none since quarterback Don Trull was fourth in 1963.
“What it would do is just put us on a national level that we have never been on,” Briles said. “We’ve been getting closer … our national image is increasing. But what the Heisman Trophy would do is just instead of taking a single-engine plane off the runway, it would take us to a big jet taking off and put us with some of the elite teams in America.”
Griffin was regarded as a potential Heisman contender heading into the season, then considered a favorite after a fast start that included 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the first three games.
His Heisman stock dipped at midseason when Baylor lost road games at Kansas State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State in a four-game span.
But Griffin re-emerged after throwing for 13 touchdowns and running for six more as Baylor won its last five games, including a 48-24 win over Texas on Saturday. He is just the third player in Football Bowl Subdivision history with 10,000 career passing yards and 2,000 career rushing yards
Griffin’s Heisman chances were among the reasons the Alamo Bowl picked Baylor ahead of Oklahoma as its Big 12 representative to face the Huskies, its choice out of the Pac-12.
And his fast finish is a reason Baylor has been installed as a 10 ½-point favorite for the Dec. 29 game. The contest, featuring two high-scoring offenses and forgiving defenses, also has over-under for total points of 75 — most for any of the 35 postseason bowls.
• Briles, who is 24-25 in four years at Baylor, is rumored to be among the possible candidates to succeed Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, and one website reported he could officially interview this week.
• Baylor didn’t finish its season until Saturday, so Briles noted he hadn’t had much time yet to really study the Huskies. What he knows of UW is “just what I’ve seen the last couple, three years,” he said. “They are really good football team, I know that. That running back (Chris Polk) is a tough kid who runs hard, their quarterback (Keith Price) is very dynamic, and last year when they had Jake (Locker), that was a really good team. I also was very impressed with how they came back and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. So I know Steve (Sarkisian) has done a tremendous job. We are in for a tough task, I know that.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.