Who will be in 2013’s Heisman Trophy race?

For 37 years it’s been part of Archie Griffin’s identity and an answer to a trivia question.

The
only two-time winner in Heisman Trophy history when he won in 1974 and
‘75, it’s not a distinction the Ohio State great ever thought he’d hold
by himself forever.

“I just felt like if I could do it twice,” he once told me “I know that somebody else out there can do it.”

Others
tried. Seven exactly, with Billy Sims coming the closest to the repeat
when he was second in the voting in his follow-up season of 1979. Since
then we’ve seen Ty Detmer (1991), Jason White (2004), Matt Leinart
(2005) and Tim Tebow (2008) all finish third in their bids for
back-to-back wins – Tebow was also fifth in his final chance in ’09 –
and the last two returning winners, Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram didn’t
even crack the top 10.

Now it’s Johnny Manziel’s chance and with
potentially three years of eligibility remaining as the first freshman
winner, the odds are on the Texas A&M’s quarterback’s side, even if
history is not.

But if we thought the degree of difficulty in
ending the freshman bias was high, it’s about to be amplified as he now
carries the weight of trying to join an exclusive fraternity within an
exclusive fraternity.

Then there’s the matter of his competition.

So
who will be vying for the Heisman Trophy in 2013? Here’s a look at next
season’s top candidates, listed in alphabetical order, a group that’s
subject to change with NFL defections.

QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson

Sheer
numbers won’t be a problem. Boyd led the nation, averaging 21.8 points
per game and over the last five games of the regular season he racked up
24 TDs and 1,883 yards of offense to give him 4,042 on the season. But
he needs to perform when the spotlight is on, going 0-2 vs. Top 25 teams
this season and dropping four of five against ranked opponents.
Teammate Sammy Watkins will generate buzz but the deck is stacked
against the position with Desmond Howard the last wide receiver to win
in ’91 and since just two have been finalists (Randy Moss in 1997 and
Larry Fitzgerald in ’03).

QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

The
Big East hasn’t produced a Heisman Trophy winner since Miami’s Gino
Toretta in 1992 and its last finalist was in ’06 with Pitt’s Larry
Fitzgerald. Could Bridgewater change either of those distinctions? The
conference’s offensive player of the year in leading the Cardinals to a
10-2 record, Big East title and a spot in the Sugar Bowl, Bridgewater
has been efficient, ranking eight in FBS with a 161.6 rating, and
prolific, leading the league with 25 TD passes. Louisville’s 2013
non-conference slate is manageable (Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky and
FIU) and if he can capitalize and keep the Cardinal from sliding out of
the BCS title picture Bridgewater will be tough to ignore.  

DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

With
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o equaling former Pitt defensive end
Hugh Green (1980) for the highest finish ever by a strictly defense
player and producing the highest points total every for such player, the
door would seem to be open for Clowney. The Hendricks Award winner as
the best defensive lineman in the nation, Clowney will enter his junior
season with a level of name recognition not often reached by a defender.
Another year like his sophomore season in which he led FBS in sacks
(13) and tackles for loss (21 1/2), could see him get an invite to New
York after finishing sixth in this year’s voting.

WR Marqise Lee, USC

As
previously stated, it’s been 21 years since a WR won and only two have
ever claimed the Heisman in Howard and Tim Brown in 1987. But Lee is cut
from the same cloth as those two, serving as a kick returner as well as
a pass-catcher. The Biletnikoff Award winner after leading the nation
with 15 catches a game and ranking second with 140 yards a contest, he
was also third in FBS with 215.6 yards of total offense and averaged a
staggering 17.0 yards per touch. Fox analyst and Heisman winner Eddie
George called Lee the best WR in college or the pros. It was hyperbole,
but not by much.

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

He’s
sixth in the nation in pass efficiency (165.6) with a near-70 percent
completion percentage, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions, just two of
which have come since September. The numbers become even more impressive
considering he’s a redshirt freshman. He should get better in Year 2 at
the controls of Chip Kelly’s offense and with the Ducks likely to be in
another national title race, Mariota will get plenty of attention. Of
course, teammate De’Anthony Thomas, who is a highlight waiting to
happen, could make a run of his own but Mariota looks to be Oregon’s
best chance.

QB Taylor Martinez, Nebraska

T-Magic
has jumped into this race at points in each of the last three seasons
but could 2013 be the year he sticks around? Martinez made major strides
as a passer in ’12, increasing his yards (2,667), completion percentage
(62.2) and TDs (21) and still remained an effective rusher, needing 27
yards against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl for his first 1,000-yard
season. If he continues to progress into his fourth year as a starter,
he could make a serious push to deliver Nebraska its fourth Heisman and
the first since Eric Crouch in 2001.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Now
comes the hard part, exceeding one of the greatest freshman seasons in
college football history. Manziel has already set the SEC record for
total offense at 4,600 yards with the bowl game ahead of him and the
buzz entering his sophomore season could become even bigger now that
Johnny Football has become Johnny Heisman. But we only need to look at
Tim Tebow to see how difficult the path that awaits Manziel is. After
winning as a sophomore, Tebow led Florida to the BCS Championship Game
his junior year and had more first-place votes (309) than that year’s
winner, Bradford (300), or runner-up Colt McCoy (266), but was left off
of 152 ballots. Like Tebow, Manziel is about to face an entirely new set
of expectations.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama

He
could enter his senior season in Tuscaloosa as the face of a team
that’s won back-to-back national titles. McCarron isn’t going to blow
anyone away with his numbers, he’s thrown for over 300 yards just twice
in his career but he’s the country’s most efficient passer with a 173.0
rating and just three interceptions in his last 16 games and he’s thrown
for 26 TDs, which ranks third in the SEC. The Heisman is no lifetime
achievement award, but with his overall resume, the team he’s on and the
conference he plays in, McCarron figures to be a factor so long as RBs
Eddie Lacy or T.J. Yeldon don’t steal the show.

QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Fifth
in the voting this year, Miller’s Buckeyes should be among the early
national title favorites after going undefeated. In his first year with
Urban Meyer, Miller passed for 2,039 yards, ran for 1,271 and had 28
total TDs in earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors. He
delivered the highest finish for a player on a team facing a postseason
ban since Houston’s Andre Ware won in 1989 and will enter his junior
year as potentially the best chance at continuing the streak of
dual-threat QB winners with Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Manziel.

QB Aaron Murray, Georgia

He’s
24 TD passes from Danny Wuerffel’s all-time SEC record of 114 and 1,864
yards away from the career yardage mark of 11,528 set by David Greene.
Both of those records should be well within his grasp considering his
career paces – he’s averaged 33 TDs the last two seasons and 3,221 yards
in three years as a starter – and the weapons Georgia will have if he
puts off the NFL and returns to Athens. Of course he’ll also be fighting
another potential Bulldogs candidate in Todd Gurley, who led the SEC in
rushing as a freshman, but those record chases figure to make him the
main attraction between the hedges.