Only 76 players in the history of college football have earned the designation of Heisman Trophy winners. First awarded in 1935, the Heisman Trophy is considered the sport’s pinnacle of individual achievement.
SaturdayBlitz.com is tracking the race to the 78th Heisman Trophy throughout the 2013 college football season via the Heisman Top 25. Every week throughout the season, we are tracking the progress of the contenders, both their on-field impact and media presence.
The norm in Heisman Trophy voting is out the window and that’s a great thing for South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney. Few will argue the 6-foot-6, 274-pound Clowney, almost assuredly the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft barring injury, is the most talented player in the nation. The question is will he be the most outstanding player this season.
If Clowney does prove on the field that his disruptive presence makes him the best player in the nation, however, he will bring home the sport’s most coveted award. And there have been many years in which that wasn’t the case. Recent votes have provided the Heisman Trophy winners club with its first sophomore (QB Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007) – starting a run of three consecutive sophomores (QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma; RB Mark Ingram, Alabama). Auburn QB Cam Newton became the first junior-college transfer to hoist the Heisman in 2010 and, last year, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the award. Manziel edged out Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o for the Heisman.
In other words, Heisman voters have never been more open to considering different players for the award.
Only one defensive player has ever brought home the Heisman – Michigan CB Charles Woodson in 1997. Woodson, however, also played receiver and won the award in part because of his outstanding special teams play.
LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu more recently made a run at the award when he finished fifth in 2011, but he also benefitted from outstanding special teams play.
Clowney looks to become the first full-time defensive player to ever win the award. He finished sixth in the voting last year despite missing time with injuries – the best finish for a defensive end since DEs Dwight Freeney (Syracuse) and Julius Peppers (North Carolina) finished ninth and 10th in Heisman voting in 2001.
This 24-hour news cycle, social media generation only helps Clowney’s candidacy. He has already turned in the Play of 2013 and has thus propelled himself into Must-Watch status.
Once upon a time, the Heisman Trophy focused almost exclusively on the nation’s most outstanding offensive skill player. Evolution of the Heisman voter has changed that perception, giving Clowney a chance to become the first defensive lineman to ever win.
How Jadeveon Clowney Wins The Heisman
This conversation doesn’t even start unless Clowney shows up big in all of his nationally televised games. As Tennessee (um, and Michigan; see above) can attest, though, it takes just one play to completely change the game. The Volunteers did a great job neutralizing Clowney for the first 59 minutes of the game and were driving toward the game-winning score when it happened. The defensive end sacked Tennessee QB Tyler Bray from the blindside and, in the process, stripped the ball. The Gamecocks recovered to clinch the victory.
South Carolina needs to stay relevant in the national picture as well. However, it probably doesn’t need to be in the national championship race for Clowney, arguably the second-highest player profile in college football this season behind Manziel, to be a finalist. Beating Florida, Georgia and Clemson would go a long way toward putting Clowney in the best possible light.
• 54 tackles (40 solo), 23.5 TFLs, 13 sacks, 5 QBHs in 2012
• 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery in 2012
• 90 tackles (57 solo), 35.5 TFLs, 21 sacks, 11 QBHs, 8 forced fumbles in career
Compared To Past Heisman Contenders
- Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 2009: A dominating defensive presence, Suh out-muscled double teams and ran down scatbacks on his way to a fourth-place finish in Heisman voting in 2009. During the Big 12 Championship Game, Suh’s disruptive performance in a near-upset of BCS National Championship Game-bound Texas provided a persuasive final argument that he was the nation’s best player. Ultimately, though, voters sided with Alabama RB Mark Ingram, who led his team to face the Longhorns in Pasadena, rather than the beastly defender from a four-loss team.
The biggest difference is probably that Clowney has far more preseason Heisman hype than Suh did entering the football season. Suh recorded 85 tackles – 52 of which were solo – with 24 TFLs, 12 sacks, 10 passes defended, one interception and a forced fumble. The Cornhuskers’ standout also posted 28 quarterback hurries and blocked three kicks.
- Hugh Green, Pittsburgh, 1980: Of all the dominating defensive figures to which Clowney can be compared, Green might be the best. Green came as close as a defensive end has ever come to winning the Heisman Trophy, finishing second in the voting. As a senior, he recorded 123 tackles, 11 TFLs and 17 sacks (at the time TFLs and sacks were apparently separate statistics). He also forced seven fumbles, recovered four, deflected six passes and tallied 17 quarterback hurries. Only a loss at Florida State kept the Panthers from playing for a national championship that season.
Coincidentally, South Carolina RB George Rogers gave the Gamecocks their lone Heisman that season – and Green’s team thumped South Carolina in the Gator Bowl, 37-9.