Top players of 2013 preview
A bow has only recently been wrapped around the 2012 college football regular season. There were, of course, surprises and stalwarts -- some teams came out of the blue to compete and others, like Alabama, managed to overcome the immense weight of national championship aspirations to once again reach the promised land.
More to the point, while there were several big time surprises on the individual level, one young man came out of absolutely nowhere to captivate the imagination of the entire nation.
Virtually unheard of outside of Kerrville, Texas prior to the season's kickoff, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M became the first freshman in the history of the Heisman to be voted the Trophy winner. He won the award over two seniors in Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Kansas State's Collin Klein that were expected to at least be in New York City, dressed to impress. On the other hand, preseason favorites such as Matt Barkley and Denard Robinson were nowhere to be found, either in NYC during the presentation ceremony or really at any point in the 2012 regular season.
Can Johnny Football cement his status as a college football legend by repeating as the nation's top player? Will an upperclassmen dedicate the rest of his life to the game in order to overcome the odds and take down the defending Trophy winner?
Of course, could there be another freshman who appears out of nowhere to dominate the game in a fashion we have never seen before?
Based on performances over the last few seasons -- or just one in the case of Manziel and others -- we here at Gamedayr have comprised a list of four groups of players, some featured to win the award, others darkhorses. There are many quarterbacks, some running backs, and a few wide receivers. All are at schools that currently hold either conference or national championship aspirations.
The players listed here are grouped, as mentioned, into either a select group of ‘favorites’ or a larger pool of '2nd-tier guys', ‘darkhorses’, and 'young gunners'. Further, we are assuming a few juniors are going to stick around for their final, senior seasons. Beyond those categorizations, feel free to formulate your own rankings and opinions.
Without further ado ...
Best of the Rest: Guys that will make a splash
This group of players are expected to put up big numbers in 2013. However, there are so many hopefuls each and every year -- and so many big-time quarterbacks -- that it will take a massive effort to get these guys to New York City. As talented as they are, it felt like a shame to leave them off, but after this list we will break into individual categorizations and players.
Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs -- set the NCAA freshman record with 27 touchdowns.
TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama Crimson Tide -- averaged 6.5 yards per carry and rushed for 1,000 on the dot while splitting carries with Eddie Lacy.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia Bulldogs -- may break out for 1,500 yards as a sophomore if he doesn't split touches with roommate Keith Marshall.
Kain Colter, QB/RB, Northwestern Wildcats -- Passed for 796 yards and rushed for 820 more as a junior while leading a resurgence in Evanston.
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virgina Mountaineers -- Caught a silly 23 touchdown passes as a junior; might go pro.
De'Andre Hopkins, WR, Clemson Tigers -- Caught 16 touchdowns on 1,214 receiving yards, but his quarterback, Tajh Boyd, will in all likelihood steal the Heisman spotlight in Death Valley.
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall Thundering Herd -- Only a sophomore, Cato finished fifth nationally averaging 352.7 total yards per game.
Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida Gators -- Starting as a true sophomore, Driskel broke Tebow's school record for rushing yards in a single game with 177 on 11 carries against Vanderbilt.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA Bruins -- Threw for 3,411 yards and 26 scores, but will have to cut down on his 11 interceptions to lead the Bruins to the next level.
Dark Horse Candidate: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Carr's brother, David, was selected No. 1-overall by the Houston Texans in the NFL Draft out of Fresno State. Don't think players at slightly smaller schools can't make big waves.
The younger Carr did exactly that in leading his Bulldogs to a tie for the 2012 Mountain West Conference title along with powerhouses San Diego State and Boise State.
As a junior, Carr finished eighth nationally in throwing for 311.8 yards per game. He tossed 36 touchdown passes while only throwing to the other team a meager five times, giving him a solid 160.6 quarterback rating.
Granted, a lot must happen for Carr to find himself amongst the greatest of the great and standing up on that podium, but that's why he's a 'dark horse'; if he increases his yards per game and touchdowns while keeping his interceptions to a minimum, he will keep his Bulldogs in a lot of ball games, and he will keep himself in the Heisman conversation.
Dark Horse Candidate: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina Gamecocks
The South Carolina superstar is a large, fast, infinitely scary man.
He has already made two promises regarding his 2013 season: First, it will be his third, and final season under head coach Steve Spurrier. Second, Clowney has vowed to take home the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player.
After 2012's Heisman candidates included a defensive player and a freshman as two of the three finalists, why shouldn't Clowney start thinking even bigger himself?
In just his sophomore season, Clowney dominated the SEC, racking up 13 sacks, tied for second in the nation and only one-half behind the country's leader. He also finished second in the nation with a dominant 21.5 tackles for a loss, while repeatedly butting heads with the nation's premier offensive linemen in the SEC.
If Clowney can keep clownin' on offenses in 2013, it might just finally be time to show an exclusively defensive player a little Heisman love.
Dark Horse Candidate: James White, RB, Wisconsin
Standing at 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds, this Florida native braved the cold of Wisconsin expecting to star for years in an offense that lives and dies by its running back.
Then Montee Ball spent a summer shedding thirty pounds, building enough speed and agility to set the all-time college football scoring record.
Ball's massive amount of carries does not mean White is without talent, however, and the junior showed it off countless times in 2012, breaking the 100-yard barrier in four of the team's final seven games without ever garnering more than 16 carries in any one game.
The dude has all the quickness and little-guy power in the world. Whomever takes over as the Badgers' head coach is not going to deviate too far from the power run game the Cheeseheads up north have become known for. As the team's senior leader and featured back, White should have no problem rushing for at least 1,000 yards, and if he can really pile up some numbers, he may follow Ron Dayne (who won it) and Ball (who was a finalist in 2011) to New York.
Second-tier guys: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Martinez and the entire Cornhuskers program got tooled by the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game, but one game does not make a season -- even one of the most embarrassing loses in school history.
As a junior, Martinez still captained the Big Ten's most explosive offensive unit in 2012. Individually, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound dynamo passed for 2,667 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for another 973 yards and 10 more scores.
To have a shot at the Trophy after showing three years of all the promise in the world, Martinez -- and his teammates for that matter -- are going to have to cut down on the turnovers that turn close games into blowout losses. Martinez threw 10 picks on the season. Cannot have that from someone who wants to be known as the nation's most outstanding player.
Second-tier guys: De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon Ducks
Not a single player on this list -- or in all of college football for that matter -- possesses the rare type of speed and agility that makes Thomas a scoring threat every time he steps onto a playing field.
However, it became blatantly obvious over the course of the 2012 season that the Ducks' coaching staff did not trust him, for whatever reason, to touch the ball very many more than a dozen or so times on any given Saturday.
While the sophomore came into the year as a Heisman hopeful, coach Chip Kelly preferred to go with Kenjon Barner as the team's feature back. While of course, Barner also will star in the NFL after putting up spectacular numbers for Oregon, the fact remains: The coaching staff sees Thomas and the rest of the team on a daily basis, and if they do not think Thomas is the best running back or wideout on their team, how can he be the most outstanding player in the country?
The road to increased touches gets no easier in 2013, with dual-threat star quarterback Marcus Mariota looking forward to an ever larger role offensively himself.
It may be a big 'if', but if Thomas gets the ball as often as a man of his talent deserves, there may be a well-deserved seat for him in NYC.
Second-tier guys: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville Cardinals
Bridgewater, another fantastic sophomore, led his Cardinals to a 9-0 start and a top 10 BCS ranking before slipping near the finish. However, the squad still finished 10-2 overall, and when the Cardinals needed him the most, Bridgewater was literally willing to give up his entire body for the betterment of the team.
With his team down against Rutgers in a season finale that had become the de facto Big East Championship game, Bridgewater limped out onto the gridiron with a broken foot and a broken left hand and led his team to an improbable -- and really, really exciting -- comeback victory. On three rushing attempts, the normally fleet-footed Bridgewater rushed for negative-25 yards. However, he proved that he is far more than simply an athlete playing the game's most important position as he completed 20-of-28 pass attempts for 263 yards and two scores.
Bridgewater should be all healed up for the Cardinal's Sugar Bowl matchup with Florida and its elite defensive unit. If he and his teammates can show the type of heart and will to win they displayed against Rutgers, expect plenty of Heisman talk over the offseason.
Second-tier guys: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona Wildcats
In no way is Carey's talent second-tier, and neither were his numbers in 2012.
The 5-foot-10, 203-pound sophomore led all running backs nationally with 1,757 rushing yards. He averaged 6.4 yards per attempt, piled up 20 touchdowns, and with coach Rich Rodriguez calling the shots, Carey won't be slowing down anytime soon.
Carey -- yup, this is the pun we're going with -- carried his Wildcats from a 4-8 overall record in 2011 to a strong 7-5 regular season finish in 2012.
If Arizona can continue that upward trend in 2013, with Carey leading the way, both he and his program should garner some real national publicity.
The Heisman is not all about numbers, or else the nation's top running back would have been there this year. Thus, if the team can capture the attention of the nation, Carey might just be able to capture the spotlight on Broadway.
Second-tier guys: Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois Huskies
The 6-foot, 216-pound Chicago native shattered mid-major ceilings in his junior season in Dekalb.
After leading his Huskies to their second consecutive Mid-American Conference championship and an 11-1 record, NIU became the first MAC program to ever earn a BCS bowl berth.
Lynch led the nation with 1,771 rush yards while averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per rush. He also threw for 2,962 yards, 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions all year. This was no gimmicky, triple-option offense he was running in 2012.
However, his coach of the last two seasons, Dave Doeren, flew the coop for NC State literally one day after the MAC championship game.
Any and all Heisman momentum Lynch will be hoping to carry into 2013 will ride on how he and his teammates respond to an interim in the Orange Bowl against ACC Champion Florida State. If Lynch can rack up the yardage with his arms and his legs in front of a national television audience, his numbers as a senior will garner a serious look from Heisman voters.
Second-tier guys: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson Tigers
Very rarely do quarterbacks lead their teams to 10-2 finishes while piling up 3,550 passing yards and coming in at fourth in the nation in passing efficiency without getting any Heisman love whatsoever.
However, such was the case for Boyd, who racked up some serious numbers against a pathetically weak ACC slate.
The dual-threat junior racked up a silly eight touchdowns against NC State, but he and his Tigers lost both of their true tests on the season, suffering deflating defeats against both Florida State and hated in-state rival South Carolina.
If Boyd can continue to rack up the touchdowns and the yardage -- and manage to win a big game -- he will have made a solid case for himself for a trip to New York.
Favorites: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon Ducks
Mariota, the same age and of the same redshirt freshman status as the Aggies' Johnny Manziel, put up huge numbers in leading the Ducks to a Fiesta Bowl berth in his first year under center.
No matter who is coaching way out in Eugene -- whether it be current coach Chip Kelly or if he bolts to the NFL as is currently rumored -- the opportunity will be there for Mariota to build some undeniable Heisman credit as a redshirt sophomore. In 2012, Mariota completed just a hair under 70-percent of his passes while piling up 2,511 yards and 30 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions.
Like Manziel, he also inflicted massive Pac-12 damage with his legs, averaging seven yards per carry en route to 690 yards and four more scores.
Mariota was overshadowed by another, far larger, Hawaiian in this year's Heisman vote, but 2013 should be his chance to wear his traditional lei to the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Favorites: Marqise Lee, WR, USC Trojans
Lee, in just his sophomore season, proved he can make plays against anybody, and with anybody throwing him the ball.
In the team's season finale, with preseason Heisman darling-big whiny baby Matt Barkley on the sidelines, Lee caught five balls for 75 yards. While such totals seem modest, they came against Notre Dame. Yes, that Notre Dame, who finished 12-0 and sent a linebacker, Manti Te'o, to the Heisman presentation in what was practically as unprecedented as sending a freshman.
Lee led the nation with 112 receptions in 2012, and with an entire offseason to work with incoming passer Max Wittek, he should be able to put up similarly monstrous numbers.
He is going to have to if he wants to earn an all-expense paid trip to New York City as a wide receiver. Oh yeah, that, and probably play some defense. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound super duper athlete was recruited as a defensive back and in all likelihood will play on both sides of the football (as well as return kickoffs) in 2013. Doing absolutely everything for a team that always nabs national headlines should be enough to get him to Broadway.
Favorites: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Crimson Tide
Only a junior, McCarron has not only guided the Tide to consecutive BCS National Championship games, but he seems to be improving his personal game by the day.
After merely hopping under center as a 'game manager' in his sophomore season, McCarron made significant strides in 2012, leading the nation with 173.1 quarterback rating.
McCarron has everything traditional Heisman voters are looking for in turnover-free, ever-improving game play combined with successful and sustained team play.
The Tide is not expected to compete for anything less than yet another SEC and national title in 2013. If the junior sticks around Tuscaloosa as expected, then should be in the Heisman conversation as soon as his team opens the year as the nation's No. 1-ranked team.
Favorites: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M Aggies
Archie Griffin of Ohio State is the only player to have won the nation's oldest Trophy twice and it might just be an OSU man who takes it from Johnny Football in 2013 (more on that later).
Some would argue that Tim Tebow, after becoming the first sophomore in the history of the award to win it in 2007, actually had better numbers in 2008, but the voters for the Heisman showed obvious reluctance in choosing not to present him with his second Trophy.
Thus, while Manziel may once again put up spectacular numbers, the odds are going to be against him from the start.
Not to mention the playing field, which will be skewed against him in a number of ways.
Everyone in different-colored jerseys will be out to end his campaign for a Heisman repeat. Manziel is not exactly the biggest guy out there and he will be losing his best offensive lineman, Luke Joeckel, who's predicted to be a top five NFL Draft pick. Programs do not simply replace mega-talents of the caliber of Joeckel.
Those are, of course, the reasons why he can't win the Trophy.
However, he was not supposed to win it as a freshman, now was he?
Leader: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes
Sorry Johnny, but there may just be a new dual-threat signal caller at the top of the heap in 2013.
Miller finished fifth as a true sophomore (the same year academically as Manziel) in Heisman voting, and he is primed to put up huge numbers in his third season for the Buckeyes.
More to the point, he is primed to lead Ohio State to more huge wins. The program was not allowed to play in a postseason game in 2012 due to violations taking place before Miller's time in Columbus. Had his 12-0 squad been in the running for a national championship, however, there is no doubt we would have at least seen Miller in New York City recently.
His coach, Urban Meyer, helped nurture the Heisman development of Tim Tebow at Florida, and Meyer believes Miller is more talented than his former star with Florida. Miller broke the 100-yard rushing plateau six times over the course of the season.
If he can improve upon the 2,039 passing yards and 1,271 rushing yards next season, not only will the Buckeyes find themselves atop the Big Ten dogpile yet again, but Miller may just find himself sitting pretty atop the Heisman heap as well.
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