Who will be in 2013's Heisman Trophy race?
DEC 10, 2012 9:58a ET
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. With potentially three years of eligibility remaining as the first freshman winner, the odds are on the Texas A&M 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 leads the nation with an average of 21.8 points per game. Over the last five games of the regular season, he racked up 24 total TDs and 1,883 yards of offense. That gives him 4,042 total yards on the season. But he needs to perform when the spotlight is on. Clemson is 0-2 vs. Top 25 teams this season and has dropped four of five against ranked opponents with Boyd as the starter. 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. Since then, just two WRs 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 2006 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 eighth in FBS with a 161.6 rating, and prolific, leading the league with 25 TD passes. Louisville's 2013 nonconference slate is manageable (Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky and FIU) and, if he can capitalize and keep the Cardinals 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 ever for such a 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 has led the FBS in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (21 1/2), could see him get an invite to New York after he finished sixth in this year's voting.
WR Marqise Lee, USC
As previously stated, it's been 21 years since a receiver won and only two 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 leads the nation with an average of 9.3 catches a game and ranks second with an average of 140 yards a contest. He is also third in FBS with an average of 215.6 all-purpose yards and averages a staggering 17.0 yards per touch. FOX Sports analyst and 1995 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 is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency (165.6) and has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions — just one in his past six games. The numbers become even more impressive considering he's a redshirt freshman. He should get better in Year Two 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. 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 past 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). He still remained an effective rusher and needs 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 first since Eric Crouch in 2001.
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Now comes the hard part for Manziel: exceeding one of the greatest freshman seasons in college football history. He already has 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 title 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 he 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 more than 300 yards in a game just twice in his career — but he's the country's most efficient passer with a 173.0 rating. He also has just three interceptions in his past 16 games and he's thrown for 26 TDs in 2012, 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 as long as running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon don't steal the show.
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Fifth in the voting this year, Miller should be among the early national title favorites after the Buckeyes went undefeated in 2012. 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 after 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 past 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 Murray the main attraction between the hedges.