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Rise to Greatness: Which Heisman Finalist Will Take Home the Trophy?

Matt KingFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2011

Rise to Greatness: Which Heisman Finalist Will Take Home the Trophy?

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    After a season of speculating who the next Heisman trophy winner would be, the field has finally been narrowed down to just five. Standouts like Matt Barkley, Case Keenum and other deserving candidates have been cut, and we are now looking at the best of the best.

    I'll be taking a look at the order I think the finalists will finish in, but also how they got to this point. Some of these players were expected to be here, while some had to fight their way through doubt that they belonged.

    Each of them rose to greatness this season, but only one can be crowned.

No. 5: Montee Ball

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    A 4-star recruit out of Missouri, Ball got to Wisconsin and had to wait his turn freshman year, while John Clay put on a show for the Badgers. He still managed to get almost 100 touches and four touchdowns, good for second on the team.

    His sophomore year, Ball was part of a three-headed monster rushing attack with Clay and James White, all three splitting carries evenly. Ball started showing signs that he was something special, leading the pack with 18 TDs and improving his yards per carry from 4.0 to 6.1.

    Then finally, this year, Ball got the lion's share of the workload and made it count. He rushed for 1,759 yards and an astounding 32 touchdowns. And all of this with a quarterback who liked to take off on the ground as well.

    Ball also caught 20 balls and turned six of those into scores. He waited his turn in Wisconsin and made it count this year.

No. 4: Tyrann Mathieu

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    The Honey Badger was a 4-star cornerback from Louisiana who stayed home to play for the LSU Tigers. His freshman year was a standout one that saw him start to become a shutdown corner. He recorded 59 tackles and had four takeaways.

    But, of course, it was 2011 where Mathieu became a legend. He led the team with 71 tackles, had four fumble returns, two for touchdowns, two more interceptions and two punt returns for a touchdown, including a 92-yarder. But most impressively was his six forced fumbles. You better hold on to the ball around this man, because he will take it away from you.

    More than the stats, though, Mathieu was a source of intimidation out on the field this year. Quarterbacks always had to know where he was, or they knew they would pay. In just two short years, Mathieu became one of the most feared players in college football.

No. 3: Trent Richardson

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    A highly-touted 5-star running back from Florida, Richardson has been one of the few guys in college football that lived up to the hype from start to finish.

    His first two years at Alabama, Richardson had to back up a Heisman winner in his own right, Mark Ingram. His freshman year, he rushed for 750 yards on 145 carries and converted eight for touchdowns.

    In Richardson's second year on the Tide, he had to be patient, getting even less touches, but still managing to average 6.3 yards per carry and scoring another six touchdowns, while Ingram handled the bulk of the work. Richardson did start to improve his receiving game, though. He caught more balls, including an 85-yard touchdown as one of his four receiving scores.

    This year, sans Ingram, Richardson has had free rein, and he has cut loose: 1,583 rushing yards, six yards per carry, 20 rushing touchdowns and another three from the air in leading Alabama back to the BCS National Championship game.

No. 2: Andrew Luck

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    A 4-star prospect from the state that grows quarterbacks (Texas), Luck came into Stanford and, after a controversial redshirt his freshman year, was handed the starting position the next season. However, it was senior RB Toby Gerhart who shouldered most of the load for the Cardinal. Luck had a solid, if unspectacular year, with 2,575 yards, 13 TDs and a completion percentage of 56.

    Then, in 2010, Luck exploded. He threw for 3,338 yards, upped his touchdowns to 32 and improved his completion percentage to over 70 percent. He also rushed for 450 yards and three scores. Luck would have been the consensus No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, but he chose to stay in school and compete for the national title. He also was the runner up in Heisman voting to Cam Newton

    He wouldn't actually get his chance, although he did lead Stanford to a BCS bowl this year. Luck didn't improve much on his numbers from the past season, but that still may be enough to win him the trophy. Luck's meteoric rise to greatness these past two seasons is plenty worthy of the Heisman.

No. 1: Robert Griffin III

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    A dual-threat 4-star quarterback out of Texas, Griffin stayed in-state to play for Baylor. His freshman year, he threw for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 850, getting people very excited for his future.

    Unfortunately, as a sophomore, Griffin tore his ACL and had to redshirt. But when he got back onto the field the next year, you could tell he was all the way healthy. Griffin lit things up with 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns in the air, as well as an extra 635 on the ground with eight scores there. Griffin also completed 67 percent of his passes and really set himself up to have a big 2011.

    But no one could have predicted just how big.

    In almost 100 less attempts than the year before, Griffin threw for a shade under 4,000 yards, completing over 72 percent of his passes for 36 touchdowns. That in and of itself might be enough to win him the Heisman, but he also ran for 644 yards and nine more TDs on the ground.

    I would call those Cam Newton-like numbers, but that would be a disservice to what Griffin did in the air. Last year, Newton threw for over 1,000 yards less, although he did end up rushing for almost 1,000 yards more than Griffin. All in all, their seasons are comparable in their excellence and entertainment.

    If I'm the Heisman voters, Luck is only getting the trophy if it's a lifetime achievement award, because I think Griffin clearly had the more outstanding season. 

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