Those hoping for clarity in an especially cloudy Heisman Trophy race may have found it during Championship Weekend. Yet mere days from the 2011 ceremony, questions remain.
Were magical 11th-hour performances from Robert Griffin III and Montee Ball enough to sway voters? How badly will Case Keenum's worst game of the season hurt his chances? Is Tyrann Mathieu suddenly a factor again after an impressive closing stretch? Will idle frontrunners Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson benefit from stellar bowl destinations?
The answers largely depend on how voters weigh the final Saturday or the regular season. Two-time winner Archie Griffin once told me "I get [my vote] in when everybody has played the same amount of games," but not every voter shares that strategy. That variation and uncertainty is pointing to one of the closest finishes in the award's 77 years.
Mark Ingram's 28-point win over Toby Gerhart two years ago was the smallest margin of victory ever, but that race didn't feel nearly as unsettled as this one, in which the bulk of the six voting regions feature a legitimate candidate.
While each contender will have his supporters, Griffin, Richardson and Luck have been in the hunt since the start and remain the most likely to hoist the iconic trophy. In this Watchman's mind, the edge should go to Griffin.
While Luck and Richardson brought their teams to high-profile bowls, neither captivated the way Baylor's quarterback did. Griffin was simply dazzling, and that should be enough to overcome the Bears' three losses.
This week isn't just about breaking down the odds; it's also about casting an official vote. Before I unveil my choices and the reasons behind them, here's a look at the contenders after 12 weeks. Also, be sure to vote in our People's Heisman Poll and check back Friday for the final results.
Now, the ballot...
Last week: 15-of-22 passing for 320 yards, two TDs and one INT; 12 rushes for 32 yards and two TDs; one punt for 28 yards in a 48-24 win over Texas
Season: 267-of-369 passing for 3,998 yards, 36 TDs and six INTs; 161 rushes for 644 yards and nine TDs; one reception for 15 yards and three punts for 99 yards
"Most outstanding?" That's RG3, a former All-America hurdler who has emerged as the most dynamic player in the nation. You want stats? He broke Colt Brennan's single-season NCAA pass efficiency record with a 192.3 rating, finished second in the FBS in total offense (386.8 yards per game) and averaged a stunning 36.6 yards on his 36 touchdown passes. Looking for a Heisman moment? His game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass against Oklahoma fits the bill. Career achievements? He's just the third player in history with at least 10,000 career yards passing and 2,000 rushing, joining Dan LeFevour and Colin Kaepernick.
Griffin's most impressive feat, however, might be getting us all to pay attention to Baylor. He took down Oklahoma and Texas in the same season, a long unthinkable occurrence in Waco, and he led the Bears to the second nine-win season in school history and the first in 25 years. He did all this despite a defense that gave up over 35 points and 475 yards per game. That's Heisman worthy. Griffin isn't BCS-bound, and more often than not that's been the ticket to winning the bronze trophy over the past 13 years. But in a season where no player on a top-tier team locked up the award, my vote goes to the guy who has been truly captivating all season.
Last week: Regular season completed
Season: 263 rushes for 1,583 yards and 20 TDs; 27 receptions for 327 yards and three TDs; three kick returns for 66 yards
Based on pure numbers, Richardson wasn't the nation's premier running back -- five others ran for more yards; four scored more touchdowns -- but it's hard to argue with his results. As detailed last week, Richardson fits the blueprint for a winner: He carried his team to the national championship game, and he did so while navigating the waters of the SEC, which received a further reputation boost by placing two teams in the BCS title game. Richardson stands a strong chance of giving the conference its third straight trophy, having averaged 136 yards per game in conference play. He also became the third player, and first running back, in league history to total 20 touchdowns in one season.
Richardson's trademark was his toughness: A stunning 49.7 percent of his yards came after contact, and he totaled 938 and 12 touchdowns after halftime. But for as strong as he was against the five top 20 defenses he faced, his yardage total would be the lowest for a Heisman-winning running back since 1975. He'd benefit from having a Heisman moment, but it's hard to argue that he delivered one. His career-high 203 yards came against Auburn's 99th-ranked rush defense, and he was largely held in check by No. 1 LSU in the biggest game of the season.
Last week: 27 rushes for 137 yards and three TDs; three receptions for seven yards and one TD; one pass for 32 yards in 42-39 win over No. 13 Michigan State
Season: 274 rushes for 1,759 yards and 32 TDs; 20 receptions for 255 yards and six TDs; two passes for 57 yards and one TD
This decision was the most difficult. I could have gone with Luck here, but his last four games included five picks and a blowout loss. I could have gone with Mathieu, but in my mind he took himself out of the running after he was suspended for failing a drug test. I could have gone with Keenum, but for all his numbers he fell short of putting Houston in a BCS game.
Ultimately Ball's run at history, which helped power the Badgers back into the Rose Bowl, won out. He scored a jaw-dropping 38 touchdowns, 12 more than any other player and one short of Barry Sanders' single-season record -- which Ball can break in Pasadena since bowl stats are now included -- and he led the nation with 1,759 rushing yards. As stunning as Ball's numbers are, they could be far gaudier: He sat out the fourth quarter in six of the Badgers' 13 games. If there's one fault in Ball's case, it's that he has another Heisman-caliber player in his own backfield in quarterback Russell Wilson, which makes it difficult to gauge how much of Ball's success stemmed from sharing the load. But not even that discounts Ball having one of the most prolific seasons in history.