South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney told reporters that he was coming for the 2013 Heisman Trophy, following the Gamecocks’ Outback Bowl practice on Tuesday. Clowney finished sixth in 2012 Heisman Trophy voting, an impressive feat for a defense-only player; doubly so for a true sophomore. Coming off a season in which a defense-only finalist had the best showing in Heisman history and with Clowney firmly on the nation’s radar, the Gamecock could be considered the preseason front runner.
Were it not for NFL restrictions on experience for players entering the draft, Clowney could very well be a top five pick this April. As it stands, Clowney is coming back to wreak havoc in SEC backfields for another season. He might as well shoot for the apex of the college game if he’s going to be around one more year.
Tabbing Clowney ahead of the field might be premature. The trophy won’t be awarded for about 350 more days, and plenty can unfold in that time. There’s no guarantee Clowney can replicate the superhuman statistics he accrued in the Gamecocks’ 10-2 2012 season. He made 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, both ranking among the nation’s best and despite facing frequent double teams. Double teams could turn into more intricate schemes in 2013.
Furthermore, of the five Heisman finalists who finished ahead of Clowney this season, three will return in 2013: USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and winner Johnny Manziel.
Manziel is an obvious front runner as the reigning winner, and heading into just his sophomore season. He’ll no longer play under the guidance of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who took the head coaching vacancy at Texas Tech, but Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin won’t be changing the scheme with a new assistant.
Unfortunately, South Carolina and Texas A&M are not scheduled to face in the 2013 SEC slate. The Gamecocks draw Mississippi State and Arkansas from the conference’s West division.
Still, there’s a plenty of intrigue to a Clowney candidacy. As mentioned, Manti Te’o was the 2012 Heisman runner-up, marking the best finish for a defense-only player ever. Te’o's finish cracks barriers for future defensive candidates, and Clowney has all the skills to break through. Te’o's candidacy was aided by Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season; a strong finish in the SEC East is obviously key to Clowney make that push to the Downtown Athletic Club.
Perhaps awaiting a South Carolina run to Atlanta will be Manziel and Texas A&M.
Though not applicable to a 2013 campaign, Clowney’s performance in next month’s Outback Bowl can be considered a dress rehearsal for next year’s Heisman run. He has a solid precedent in bowl games. Last year against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Clowney sacked Taylor Martinez twice in a 30-13 Gamecock romp.