WACO, Texas — Robert Griffin III has been too caught up in the moment to really consider how much he’s done to change the perception of Baylor.
When Griffin finally slows down and thinks about it, he might realize just how unimaginable it all seemed when he first arrived on the private school campus nearly four years ago as a 17-year-old kid who graduated high school early.
“I know we’ve been creating a lot of history,” Griffin said. “But it’s tough to be within it and look back on what’s happened. … The way the program is going now, you expect good things to happen.”
The next good thing could be the dual-threat playmaking quarterback and aspiring lawyer known as “RG3” becoming Baylor’s first Heisman Trophy winner.
That is quite a thought considering that the Bears used to be a constant fixture at or near the bottom of the Big 12 standings and never had a winning record in the league before Griffin arrived.
There also were concerns each of the last two summers during realignment talks that Baylor could be left out of a major conference before the Big 12 twice revived itself.
Now the 15th-ranked Bears (9-3) have their most wins in 25 years and are going to their second consecutive bowl game after a 16-year postseason drought. With a win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl, they would match the school record of 10 wins set in 1980 during Mike Singletary’s senior season.
“It’s great whenever you can build something up from the ground up, because here at Baylor, things hadn’t been good for a while,” Griffin said. “The foundation had eroded away and we were able to get the grass back green.”
Griffin, the nation’s most efficient passer and one of the most exciting players, is one of five Heisman Trophy finalists who will be in New York for Saturday night’s ceremony. He is the only one from the Big 12, whose last two winners have been Oklahoma quarterbacks, Sam Bradford in 2008 and Jason White in 2003.
“The Heisman to me has always been about excitement,” Griffin said. “Anybody who wins it is deserving. But if you want to talk about excitement and what college football is really about, I think we’re doing it here at Baylor.”
All with the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Griffin at the helm.
Griffin, who won the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback on Thursday, has completed 267 of 369 passes (72 percent) for 3,998 yards with a Big 12-leading 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions, and run for 644 yards with nine more scores. He has averaged 387 total yards a game and his touchdown passes have averaged more than 36 yards each.
This season began with Griffin throwing for 359 yards and five TDs in a nationally televised Friday night game, when he even had a 15-yard catch on a third-and-10 drive that led to the game-winning field goal in a wild 50-48 victory over No. 16 TCU, the nation’s best defense the previous three seasons.
There was the Saturday night special three weeks ago against then-No. 5 Oklahoma, a team the Bears had never beaten. Griffin set school records with 479 yards passing and 551 total yards in a 45-38 victory. On the final drive, Griffin had runs of 22 and 8 yards before his scrambling 34-yard TD throw across the field with 8 seconds left.
“The last play of the game, threw back of the end zone, which kind of defines to me him, and how he’s matured into a great player,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “He not only has great athleticism, his accuracy at throwing, his arm strength, also his playmaking ability. … He’s a special one.”
After a 4-0 November sweep by the Bears — who had won a combined four Big 12 games in November the previous 15 seasons — Griffin made his final statement for Heisman voters by throwing for 320 yards with two long touchdowns and ran for two more scores in a 48-24 victory over Texas.
“He epitomizes everything you have to be to become a complete player on and off the field and that’s why he’s a finalist,” Baylor coach Art Briles said.
Griffin, a fourth-year junior, holds or shares 46 school records.
By time Griffin played his first game for the Bears in 2008, when at 18 he was the nation’s youngest FBS starting quarterback and weighed only about 190 pounds, he was already a Big 12 champion and NCAA All-American in the 400-meter hurdles. He graduated from high school near the top of his class before enrolling at Baylor for the spring semester.
“Coach Briles told me he’s not a prophet, but he did say that in two or three years, I’d be a Heisman Trophy finalist,” Griffin said. “And it’s coming true.”
Griffin set an FBS record by throwing 209 passes to start his career before his first interception.
Only three games into the 2009 season, Griffin tore the ACL in his right knee. He got a medical hardship redshirt and then in his comeback last year led the Bears to their first Top 25 ranking since 1993 and a bowl game.
Now he is going to be in New York with the chance of winning college football’s most prestigious individual award.
“Robert has become for many football fans the face of Baylor University,” athletic director Ian McCaw said. “He’s a model student-athlete. … He basically was a 17-year-old when he came here, and he’s a man now.”
Griffin completed his undergraduate degree in political science last December and is working on a master’s degree in communication. He still has aspirations of going to law school, and could start that next year.
That depends on if he decides to return for his senior season or declare for early entry into the NFL draft. He has given no real indication on what he plans to do.
“I’m not trying to make a decision anytime soon. I’ll push it off as long as I can,” he said. “I didn’t think I would be in this situation after starting as a freshman. This would be my last year (without the injury) and there would be no huge decision whether to come back or leave.”
Griffin doesn’t want his decision to be about money, possible draft status or whether he wins the Heisman Trophy.
“You don’t want to leave primarily because of money and you also don’t want to come back primarily because of an award,” he said. “It won’t be about whether I win the Heisman or not this year.”