Dec 8, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Texas A

Way-Too-Early 2013 Heisman Watch

Johnny Manziel’s name has barely been engraved on the 2012 Heisman Trophy, but it’s not too early to start assessing the 2013 class.

OK, so it is too early. Some qualified candidates might opt for the NFL. Junior Jarvis Jones was among the nation’s best players in 2012, and were it not for Manti Te’o commanding so much defensive attention, might have been an invitee this season. However, Jones is second on Mel Kiper’s Big Board, so he looks like a pretty safe bet for entering.

Let’s also operate under the assumption a player like Tajh Boyd, who filed paperwork to test the waters, will indeed depart the collegiate ranks. Boyd was among the nation’s most prolific passers in 2012, and would be an easy front runner should he return. And he could. We’ll return to this

Others who seem like worthwhile possibilities now will fizzle; anyone remember when Logan Thomas was considered a strong candidate? Last summer, ESPN featured segments that asked if anyone could top Matt Barkley. The foregone conclusion that was a Barkley lasted all of three weeks into the seasons.

Consider this preliminary glimpse at some potential Heisman front runners for the 2013 season a living document.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

As the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Manziel has as many as three opportunities to match Archie Griffin’s feat of claiming two of the bronze statues.

That might seemingly give Manziel a leg up in 2013, but front runners at the beginning of a season are historically at a disadvantage. Such players are targets for competing defenses, and often victims of voter fatigue. Tim Tebow’s production didn’t decreally line after winning the 2007 Heisman, for example, but he also couldn’t duplicate the expectations placed on him.

Andrew Luck is another great example. When a player’s bar is set high, merely meeting the bar may not be enough. Manziel will have to take his two-way production to another level to repeat in 2013.

QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State

The Buckeyes will no longer be serving an NCAA mandated bowl ban in 2013, and could actually be better than this season’s undefeated squad. Braxton Miller worked his way onto the Heisman radar this year, and should be improved next. He fits the characteristics that have defined the past three Heisman winners: accurate passer, more-than-capable rusher and exciting to watch.

Ohio State should factor into the BCS conversation next season, so expect Miller to be front-and-center on Heisman talk.

QB Aaron Murray, Georgia

Dec 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) and running back Todd Gurley (3) celebrate after a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the 2012 SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no guarantee Aaron Murray will be back in Athens. This year’s NFL Draft class of quarterbacks is weak, thus Murray could work his way into a very high pick. However, Murray is likely to be second only to Manziel in preseason Heisman hype should he return.

Murray has passed for over 3000 yards each of his three seasons as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback, and in 2012 he improved his accuracy tremendously. His performance in the SEC championship was outstanding despite Georgia’s loss. He might be the best player in college football for 2013 with the Bulldogs retaining such weapons as tight end Arthur Lynch, and welcoming back Michael Bennett.

Running back Todd Gurley is another key facet of the Georgia offense, who could emerge as a Heisman candidate in his own right.

Tyler Bray, Tennessee

Tyler Bray is another possible NFL Draft entrant out of the SEC. He tossed 34 touchdowns in his first season as the Vols’ exclusive quarterback and exceeding 3600 yards. New head coach Butch Jones has typically used dual threat quarterbacks; Bray most certainly is not that, which could impact his decision to test the professional waters. However, Jones’ teams have also often been some of the highest scoring in the nation.

Should Bray improve his accuracy and a steady option emerge in the rushing game, the Tennessee quarterback could have a stellar 2013.

WR Marqise Lee, USC

Dynamic USC wide receiver Marqise Lee deserved an invite to the 2012 Heisman presentation, and did in fact finish fourth in the voting. Lee caught 112 passes for a staggering 1680 yards and 14 touchdowns as Matt Barkley’s favorite target.

The change at quarterback could impact Lee’s Heisman candidacy next year. He had an obvious rhythm established with Barkley, whereas freshman Max Wittek most frequently targeted Robert Woods in the Trojans’ season finale against Notre Dame. Woods might be a player to have on your Heisman radar, as well. Before Lee’s arrival, Woods was the Trojan passing offense’s premiere weapon and has the Twitter handle @HeismanWoods.

RB De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon

Oregon loses Kenjon Barner, which should present more carries for the lightning quick De’Anthony Thomas. The Black Momba (the good folks at confirmed it’s spelled with an O) averaged 7.6 yards on his 90 carries this season and scored 11 touchdowns.

His aptitude in the passing game gives Thomas an added dimension conducive to producing more statistics. He has 87 receptions for 13 touchdowns in his two seasons at UO. His work in special teams makes him a rare triple threat.

RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

Dec 1, 2012; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears running back Lache Seastrunk (25) stretches for the end zone pylon during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Floyd Casey Stadium. The Bears defeated the Cowboys 41-34. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Lache Seastrunk would have inherited the aforementioned carries at Oregon had problems with the NCAA not surfaced. The Ducks’ loss became the Bears’ gain. Seastrunk came on strong at season’s end, going for 185, 136 and 178 yards in Baylor’s final three games. He also scored three touchdowns in a fourth late season game against Oklahoma.

His 874 yards led BU, yet Seastrunk carried just 115 times. He was one of four Bears with 100-plus carries, joining running backs Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi, as well as quarterback Nick Florence. Martin returns, but Florence and Salubi both graduate. Should Bryce Petty assume quarterbacking duties, that will translate into more rushing opportunities for Seastrunk, who has the talent to shine even with shared workload.

RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama

Another running back sharing duties in a loaded backfield, Eddie Lacy might not get enough opportunities to put up Heisman caliber numbers. He and freshman T.J. Yeldon, another player to keep an eye on, both broke 1000 yards rushing in 2012. The duo combined for 30 touchdowns — 16 for Lacy and 14 for Yeldon — and had similar workloads. Lacy carried 184 times to Yeldon’s 154.

Conventional wisdom is such shared responsibility would keep either from garnering much Heisman attention. Alabama will also have A.J. McCarron returning, who was a Heisman candidate for much of 2012 in his won right. Tide running backs have been Heisman finalists two of the last four seasons, however.

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Another quarterback whose two-way abilities suiting the mold voters are loving in this era, Marcus Mariota is capable of producing eye-popping statistics in Chip Kelly’s high-tempo version of the spread offense (assuming Kelly is still the Ducks’ head coach).

Mariota had a 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his debut season as Duck quarterback. With 30 touchdown passes and four scores on the ground, Mariota nearly matched the scoring output of 2012 Heisman finalist Collin Klein.

RB Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona

Ka’Deem Carey led the nation in rushing as a sophomore, and with Rich Rodriguez injecting a heavy dose of pass into his spread offense. Quarterback Matt Scott departs, so the Wildcats will start a quarterback with limited college experience. That should translate into a heavy workload for Carey while the new snap taker settles into the offense.

RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

Explosive North Carolina sophomore Giovani Bernard was one of the best multifaceted backs in the nation. Like the aforementioned Thomas, Bernard is a triple threat capable of really stuffing stat sheets. He was the nation’s leader in yards per punt return this season, and brought two to the house for touchdowns.

Bernard averaged 6.7 yards per carry — more than Johnathan Franklin, Kenjon Barner or Carey — en route to 1228 in 10 games. He scored 12 touchdowns on the ground and another five receiving, two figures that should improve in season two of the Tar Heels running Larry Fedora’s spread offense.

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

Sophomore Teddy Bridgewater has already shown savvy beyond his years in leading Louisville to the Sugar Bowl, and the best is yet to come. Bridgewater was recruited as a dual threat quarterback, but under offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has morphed into the kind of pocket passer that makes NFL scouts drool. Bridgewater completed 69 percent of his pass attempts for 3452 yards and 25 touchdowns.

DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson

With 2011 Heisman contender (and 2013 player to watch) Sammy Watkins suspended to start the Tigers’ 2012 campaign, DeAndre Hopkins stepped up as Tajh Boyd’s top target. And even after Watkins returned, Hopkins remained Clemson’s primary weapon. He caught 16 touchdown passes and 1214 yards.

Hopkins could still declare for the draft, but will be one of the nation’s leading receivers should he return.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois

Jordan Lynch led Northern Illinois to an improbable Orange Bowl bid this season, and is back for an encore in 2013. A good showing against Florida State next month will give Lynch a national platform to launch a Heisman campaign next season.

Lynch rushed for 19 and passed for 24 touchdowns — the exact same totals as Johnny Manziel. His 1771 yards rushing are actually the most any one player has accrued this season, though 160 came in the MAC championship thus were not applicable to the regular season rankings.

DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

October 20, 2012; Gainesville FL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) rushes against the Florida Gators during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks 44-11. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the most feared pass rusher in the nation would be a top three NFL Draft pick were he eligible this spring. As it stands, Clowney is required one more year of college football. That’s cause for concern among SEC quarterbacks, who have seen the devastation this transcendent pass rusher is capable of in his two seasons at South Carolina.

Clowney had 21.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. And while SEC offensive coordinators are likely to alter blocking schemes to address Clowney’s blitzes, his athleticism trumps most double teams. He’s already predicted that he will sweep the national defensive awards in 2013; don’t be surprised if Clowney makes a push for the Heisman, too.

QB Brett Hundley, UCLA

Helping to pave the Bruins’ road to the Pac-12 championship game was the excellent debut season of quarterback Brett Hundley. UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone relied heavily on running back Johnathan Franklin, who leaves the program. Dual threat Hundley becomes the focal point of a talented corps in 2013, coming off a season with 26 passing touchdowns and 3411 yards on 68.1 percent completions. He rushed for another nine scores. Expect Hundley to get even more opportunities to carry the ball without Franklin.

Tags: Football Heisman Trophy Texas A&M Aggies

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