STATELINE, Nev. — With college football right around the corner, the Heisman Trophy conversation has already begun.
This year’s race could look a little different with the likelihood of two defensive players not only being included in the conversation but high on the list of candidates as well. UCLA is expected to campaign for senior linebacker Anthony Barr while South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney already finished sixth in the voting last year.
Charles Woodson remains the only predominantly defensive player to have won the award, doing so in 1997, but the consideration of Manti Te’o and Clowney last year shows that college football might just be ready for another Heisman winner on the other side of the football.
“He’s a big time player as everybody knows,” said Clowney’s coach at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier. The “Old Ball Coach” was on hand Saturday afternoon in Lake Tahoe, playing in the American Century Championship. “God-given ability is his biggest asset right there. Fast, quick, strong, really pursues well and loves to play.”
Clowney’s hits on opposing quarterbacks were downright vicious. His hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl won him an ESPY award. Had he not been only a sophomore last season, he may have been a top-10 pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
“He was the No. 1 high school recruit in the nation and he’s going to be the No. 1 NFL pick, they all say,” Spurrier said. “So that tells you how good he is.”
Clowney’s 13 sacks were only half of a sack fewer than Barr, and that was Barr’s first year on defense. Spurrier was impressed with the feat of both defenders. UCLA head coach Jim Mora has been equally impressed, saying back in spring practice that he would put Barr against any other defensive player in the country.
“There’s nobody I’d trade him for,” Mora said in April. “Nobody.”
Should either of them win, it would be a historic feat. While Woodson was predominantly a corner back, he also saw action at wide receiver and punt returner. Clowney or Barr would become the first true defensive player to win the award.
It’s a strong argument that can be made for the All-American defenders. Barr will have a year of development and polish under his belt while it’s clear that Clowney has yet to hit his ceiling.
“Just natural god-given talent,” Spurrier said. “That’s the big thing he’s got.”