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Baylor’s Griffin, Stanford’s Luck Lead Heisman Trophy Finalists

Robert Griffin III of Baylor University is among five finalists for the Heisman Trophy and will be joined at this week’s award ceremony in New York by fellow quarterback Andrew Luck, running backs Montee Ball and Trent Richardson, and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

Griffin, a junior, finished the season as college football’s top-ranked quarterback as he led Baylor to a 9-3 record and a No. 12 ranking in the Bowl Championship Series standings. He’s thrown for 3,998 yards and 38 touchdowns, while rushing for 832 yards and nine scores.

Luck, the runner-up to winner Cam Newton last year, is seeking to join Jim Plunkett as Stanford’s second Heisman Trophy recipient, and Ball aims to be the third Wisconsin player to be voted college football’s top player. While Alabama’s Richardson and Louisiana State’s Mathieu are each seeking to give their schools a second Heisman winner, Griffin is hoping to become the first Baylor player to capture the award in its 77-year history.

“It’s big for our program and shows the direction that we’re going in,” Griffin told reporters yesterday. “Hopefully the vote turns out our way, but being invited is an honor. It’s not all that we want, but it’s a starting spot.”

Griffin and Baylor will play the University of Washington in the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl, marking the first time the Bears have made back-to-back postseason appearances since 1991 and 1992. Eddie George, who won the 1995 Heisman Trophy at Ohio State, is among more than 900 voters for the award and said Griffin tops his ballot.

“He had signature wins against Oklahoma, Texas, TCU,” George said on Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN network yesterday after announcing the finalists. “I’m blown away by his performance and even in his losses, he was great. I think he might have the edge over all the other candidates.”

Luck’s Season

Luck passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns after electing to return for his senior year even though he was projected as a top National Football League draft pick. NFL scouts and draft analysts say Luck will probably be the No. 1 selection in this year’s draft.

Luck guided Stanford University to an 11-1 mark and second place in the Pac-12 north division this year. No. 4 Stanford will play third-ranked Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 2.

Ball, a junior, ran for a nation-high 1,759 yards and 32 touchdowns as Wisconsin, which will play Oregon in the Rose Bowl Jan. 2, finished 11-2 in the Big Ten Conference. He leads the country with 38 touchdowns overall, one shy of the single-season record at college football’s top level set by Barry Sanders.

Ball is the first Heisman finalist from a Big Ten school since Ohio State’s Troy Smith won in 2006. Wisconsin’s two Heisman winners were Ron Dayne in 1999 and Alan Ameche in 1954.

Alabama’s Richardson

Richardson, a junior, amassed 1,583 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns for second-ranked Alabama (11-1), which will play Louisiana State for the national championship on Jan. 9.

He could be the second Alabama running back to win the Heisman in the past three seasons, as Mark Ingram became the Crimson Tide’s first recipient in 2009.

Mathieu was voted the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player of the year and finished the season ranked second in punt returns. Nicknamed “The Honey Badger” for his fearless style of play, Mathieu returned a punt 62 yards for a score as LSU beat Georgia 42-10 in the conference title game Dec. 2.

Charles Woodson, the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Michigan, was the only player to receive the award while playing primarily on defense. Woodson, like Mathieu, played cornerback and returned kicks.

LSU’s only Heisman winner was Billy Cannon in 1959.

New York Presentation

The finalists will travel to New York for the presentation of the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 10 and Baylor coach Art Briles said he’s excited about Griffin’s opportunity to make history.

“What it would do for the university is unequalled in modern history at Baylor,” Briles said. “We’ve had a lot of firsts over the last few years, it’s time to have one more.”

Quarterbacks Matt Barkley of the University of Southern California and Case Keenum of the University of Houston were among the leading players not selected as Heisman finalists.

Barkley threw a Pac-12 record 39 touchdown passes this season and set a school mark by completing 69 percent of his passes for a USC team that’s ineligible for postseason play because of National Collegiate Athletic Association violations. Keenum led the nation with 5,099 passing yards and 45 touchdowns as Houston went 12-1.

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