The 2013 college football season is just a few days away from kickoff with several teams getting their season’s started on Thursday night. It’s been a long, brutal offseason that didn’t seem like it would ever end, but the light at the end of the tunnel is now very visible as the season quickly approaches.
The 78th Heisman Memorial Trophy will be handed out after the regular season and conference championships have been completed, and now is a good time to take a look at the candidates for the award and offer my prediction of who takes home the stiff-arm trophy in December.
I’ve broken the candidates down into two categories: the front runners and the dark horses. The front runners are the candidates you have all heard plenty about by now, but the dark horses are guys who have flew off the radar a bit, and are guys I think could make a serious run towards the most prestigious individual award in college football.
The Front Runners
Johnny Manziel (QB/Texas A&M)
2012 Statistics: 68.0 CMP%, 3706 Passing Yards, 26 TDs, 9 INTs 155.3 QB Rating; 1410 Rushing Yards, 21 TDs
There isn’t a better player to start with than the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Manziel’s spectacular 2012 campaign culminated with him becoming the first freshman in history to win the Heisman. This time last year, Manziel was an unknown. Now, we all know him as Johnny Football A.K.A the most exciting player in college football. The Heisman was won by Manziel in an early November tilt in Tuscaloosa against No. 1 Alabama. Johnny Football was brilliant as he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 92 more yards in Texas A&M’s 29-24 victory over the Crimson Tide.
The one factor working against Manziel is an ongoing NCAA investigation to see if he received improper benefits for signing autographs. Texas A&M has no plans of sitting Manziel at this time, and it’s hard for me to believe that the NCAA will gather enough evidence to rule him ineligible. Of course, you never know what to expect from the NCAA. If Manziel is eligible, there simply isn’t another offensive player in the country as good as he is. It’s going to be tough for him to replicate the numbers he put up last season, and history is certainly working against him in his quest to win a second Heisman. Only Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (‘74 and ‘75) has ever won the award twice.
Braxton Miller (QB/Ohio State)
2012 Statistics: 58.3 CMP%, 2039 Passing Yards, 15 TDs, 6 INT’s 140.5 QB Rating; 1271 Rushing Yards; 13 TD’s
Braxton Miller was one of three players in the country last season to top 2000 passing yards and 1200 rushing yards. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is one, and we’ll get to the other one later on. Miller absolutely thrived in Urban Meyer’s offense in year one under his guidance as he led the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season. Ohio State was ineligible from playing in the postseason in 2012, but with Miller back the Buckeyes figure to be a serious challenger for the BCS crown.
If Miller wants to win the Heisman Trophy, his passing numbers will need to improve in 2013. His completion percentage of 58.3 ranked 60th in the country last year, behind the likes of Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, and Tennessee’s Tyler Bray. Miller should improve in his second year in Meyer’s offense, and he did take a giant leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons in Columbus. If he makes a similar jump in his junior year, then Miller could be hoisting the stiff-arm in December.
Jadeveon Clowney (DE/South Carolina)
2012 Statistics: 54 Tackles, 23.5 Tackles for Loss, 13.0 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles, 1 Fumble Recovery
I don’t think there is a better player in the nation than Jadeveon Clowney, who is a human wrecking ball at defensive end for the Gamecocks. He’s a quarterbacks worst nightmare. And a running backs. And the offensive linemen who are unfortunate enough to have to line up in front of him. One thunderous, punishing hit in the Outback Bowl put Clowney on the map, but he was already thought to be the best defensive player in college football prior to that, and he finished 6th in Heisman voting last year. It will take more plays like that for Clowney to win the award.
Clowney is attempting to become the first defense-only player to win the Heisman Trophy. Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson won the award in 1997, but he was also a punt returner. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finished runner up last year, even though his Heisman candidacy was a complete joke. Former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished fourth in 2009. Clowney is the strongest defensive candidate for the Heisman to come along in quite some time, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clowney add the Heisman to his growing list of accolades.
AJ McCarron (QB/Alabama)
2012 Statistics: 67.2 CMP%, 2933 Passing Yards, 30 TD’s, 3 INT’s, 175.3 QB Rating
Even though McCarron isn’t as flashy, and won’t put up the same gaudy rushing numbers as his contemporaries, it’s hard to ignore the facts. In two seasons as Alabama’s starting quarterback, McCarron has guided the Crimson Tide to a 24-2 record and led them to the mountaintop twice, winning two BCS Championships. Last season, he was the most efficient passer in the nation with a 175.3 QB Rating. His 10-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio was also tops in the country.
He was also at his best in the biggest of moments. He led a game-winning drive against LSU in Baton Rouge with less than a minute and a half to go; threw the game winning touchdown pass against Georgia in the SEC Championship game; and was near perfect in the BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame in Miami. He shed the “game manager” label for good last season with those performances. If McCarron leads Alabama back to the title game, will Heisman voters be able to ignore him again?
Marcus Mariota (QB/Oregon)
2012 Statistics: 68.5 CMP%, 2677 Passing Yards, 32 TDs, 6 INT’s, 163.2 QB Rating; 752 Rushing Yards, 5 TDs
Johnny Manziel got all the publicity, and rightfully so, but fellow freshman Marcus Mariota also put together a brilliant opening campaign in Eugene. His 32 passing touchdowns was tops for a freshman, as was his QB Rating and completion percentage. He was a perfect fit in Oregon’s offense, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store to follow up an outstanding freshman season.
If it wasn’t for Manziel, Mariota would have been the talk of the country, and probably would have received more love from the Heisman voters because of it. Even with Chip Kelly departing to Philadelphia, nothing should change for Mariota under new head coach Mark Helfrich. Oregon’s offense should be lethal, and Mariota has a plethora of weapons to help him put up video game like numbers again in 2013.
Teddy Bridgewater (QB/Louisville)
2012 Statistics: 68.5 CMP%, 3718 Passing Yards, 27 TDs, 8 INT’s, 160.5 QB Rating
I knew Teddy Bridgewater was good, but I didn’t know he was that good until last season’s Sugar Bowl against Florida in New Orleans. Coming in, nobody gave Louisville a chance to take down the SEC heavyweight, but nobody counted on a superhuman performance from arguably the best quarterback in the country. Bridgewater was battered and bruised by the stout Gators defense, but he showed every tool he has in his arsenal as he threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns in Louisville’s 33-23 win.
Louisville’s schedule sets up well for a run at an undefeated season as they don’t face a single team ranked in the Top-25 in the preseason AP or Coaches Poll. If Bridgewater can guide Louisville to an unblemished regular season, and get some help from other teams losing, then the Cardinals could defy all odds and make it to the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena. If that happens, it’ll be hard to see anyone but Bridgewater taking home the Heisman.
Tajh Boyd (QB/Clemson)
2012 Statistics: 67.2 CMP%, 3896 Passing Yards, 36 TDs, 13 INTs, 165.6 QB Rating; 514 Rushing Yards, 10 TDs
Tajh Boyd had a spectacular season in 2012, and his return to Death Valley has Clemson fans thinking national championship. Expectations and Clemson rarely go well together, but it’s hard to be pessimistic with Boyd under center. Boyd, much like Bridgewater, had his coming out party in the bowl game. Against SEC power LSU in the Chick Fil-A Bowl, Boyd led Clemson to an improbable 25-24 win over the Bayou Bengals.
Boyd was magnificent with 346 yards on 36-of-50 passing and two touchdowns passing to go along with another one rushing. Boyd will have plenty of opportunities on the big stage to impress voters, including the season opener against No. 5 Georgia. Boyd will have to press forward without leading receiver DeAndre Hopins, but there is still plenty of firepower at the skill positions led by the electrifying Sammy Watkins.
T.J. Yeldon (RB/Alabama)
2012 Statistics: 1108 Rushing Yards, 6.3 Yards Per Carry, 12 TDs
As Eddie Lacy’s backup in 2012, T.J. Yeldon enjoyed an impressive true freshman season in Tuscaloosa as he ran for over 1100 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also scored a touchdown receiving, in what was one of the biggest plays of the season to beat LSU. He was also at his best on the biggest of stages. He ran for 153 yards on 25 carries against Georgia in Atlanta, and ran it for 108 more yards on 21 carries against Notre Dame in Miami.
Yeldon will be the featured back now with Lacy moving on to the NFL, but he’ll still be splitting time in the backfield because of Alabama’s ridiculous depth at the position. The likes of Dee Hart, Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry, and Altee Tennpenny will steal some carries. Yeldon will likely see an increase from the 175 rushes he saw last season, but it’ll be tough for him to get enough touches to make a serious push for the Heisman.
Todd Gurley (RB/Georgia)
2012 Statistics: 1385 Rushing Yards, 6.2 Yards Per Carry, 17 TDs
As impressive of a freshman campaign as T.J. Yeldon had, Georgia’s Todd Gurley was even more impressive. He was the less heralded freshman running back in Athens with teammate Keith Marshall being the more highly rated prospect among the recruiting services. The two split carries for most of the year, but it was Gurley who got the majority of the touches when it mattered most.
In the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, Gurley rushed 23 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns against the best rushing defense in the country. Marshall will more than likely steal enough carries to prevent Gurley from winning the Heisman, but he should garner consideration if he improves upon his spectacular freshman season.
Aaron Murray (QB/Georgia)
2012 Statistics: 64.5 CMP%, 3893 Passing Yards, 36 TDs, 10 INTs, 174.8 QB Rating
Aaron Murray led Georgia to within five yards of the BCS Championship Game a year ago as the Bulldogs’ final drive ultimately came up short. Still, Murray had a strong junior season in Athens, and was voted to the Coaches’ All-SEC first team ahead of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Only AJ McCarron was a more efficient passer than Murray a year ago.
Murray must shed the moniker of always coming up short in big games in order to make it to New York for the Heisman presentation. In Georgia’s three biggest games last season, Murray had his three worst performances in terms of passing efficiency. He was a pitiful 11-of-31 passing in their loss to South Carolina; threw three interceptions in their win over Florida; and had a 125.9 passer rating against Alabama. Murray could help himself early in the season opener against Clemson which could work as a Heisman elimination game between him and Tigers QB Tajh Boyd.