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.