Who in the SEC might make a run at the Heisman Trophy in 2013?
Following the footsteps of recent SEC greats Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy following his stellar 2012 campaign.
Johnny Football has plenty of eligibility remaining to try to become just the second player ever to win the award twice, and the first to do so since Archie Griffin in 1974 and '75.
However, heavy lies the crown, and an entire nation's worth of superstars are headed into the offseason using Manziel's spectacular season as motivation to get better.
In the SEC alone, where the conference championship team plays for the national title, there are several offensive players gearing up for the nation's most coveted award. Further, there are countless defenders out there busting out the bench press reps and thinking about breaking Manziel's bones. One of the those defensive superstars is on this list.
Who are the four others who might challenge Manziel for a seat under the spotlights in New York City?
5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia Bulldogs
The two-headed monster, better known in Athens as 'Gurshall', captured the imaginations of Bulldogs' faithful and struck fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. What was most surprising was the fact that Gurshall was and is comprised of two true freshmen: Toddy Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Despite sharing the spotlight with his frosh running mate and record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, by the time all was said and done it was Gurshall standing alone amongst all SEC running backs.
Basically, Johnny Football was not the only first year player to dominate the nation's most dominant conference. Gurley led all SEC running backs with a whopping 1,322 yards. He also scored 17 touchdowns and averaged a silly 6.22 yards per carry.
Some might say his chances at winning the nation's most coveted award might be hindered due to splitting reps with so many other elite options. However, he already proved he can dominate, and he will only be bigger and stronger in Year 2 of his collegiate career.
4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia Bulldogs
Aaron Murray set the Georgia all-time career record with 95 career touchdown passes and with his uber-successful junior campaign he became the first ever SEC quarterback to tally 3,000 yards in his first three seasons.
However, despite the numbers, and despite the back-to-back appearances in the SEC title game, Murray still has a lot of unfinished business left to take care of, both in Athens and on the national stage.
First and foremost, of course, is getting his Bulldogs back in the conference title game, where a win would, in all likelihood, send Georgia to the BCS National Championship game.
Secondly, and in terms of individual accolades, Murray only needs 19 touchdown passes to tie Danny Wuerffel's all-time conference record of 119 for his career. Former Georgia quarterback David Greene holds the SEC career passing yardage record with 11,528 yards, just 1,437 ahead of Murray’s three-year total. With 696 career completions, he is 199 away from Florida quarterback Chris Leak’s record of 895. And with 1,131 career attempts, Murray trails Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen’s SEC record by 383 passes.
If Murray manages to break all of these records, one would be hard-pressed to find a reason to keep him off the podium come this time next year.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Crimson Tide
AJ McCarron is the only quarterback in BCS history to lead his team to two national championships. As he has gotten older, his game has evolved from a mere game manager, handing the ball off to the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, to a game winner.
McCarron led the nation in passer efficiency in 2012 with a QB rating of 175.28 and he only offset his 30 touchdown passes with a puny three interceptions.
Very rarely is such an elite passer and champion kept off the list of Heisman finalists, but such was the case a season ago.
Not that McCarron minds -- he's got the real trophy. That said, should the Tide roll once again, it will be hard keeping one of the most successful players in college football history out of the spotlight of Broadway, even if some people inevitably see it as a team vote.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina Gamecocks
You try telling this ferociously-built pass rusher that he can't win a Heisman Trophy as a primarily defensive player, because we're not going to.
Clowney enjoyed the feature moment of the entire bowl season when he absolutely slaughtered Michigan running back Vincent Smith, popping Smith's helmet into the air, causing him to fumble and then even recovering it himself. It was truly a Heisman highlight sort of play.
The 6-foot-6, 256-pound mauler will enter his junior year as the nation's premier defensive player and one of the top overall players in the nation. If he can improve upon the single-season school records of 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13.0 sacks he recorded as a mere sophomore, the sky is the limit for Clowney.
And that includes the Heisman Trophy, where there is still a glass ceiling for defensive superstars after Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o finished second in 2012. The senior Hawaiian took home runner-up honors to the same slippery little speedster Clowney will be going up against in 2013 ...
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M Aggies
Johnny Football had plenty of reasons to celebrate in his first season running coach Kevin Sumlin's Stun Gun offense (and if you've been keeping up with the tabloids, you'll see that, indeed, the dude has been celebrating). Not only did he break the SEC record for total offense in a single season, but he shattered it, going off for a mind-boggling 5,116 yards combined through the regular season and Cotton Bowl.
Whereas many fretted over whether Manziel might suffer a 'Heisman hangover' (or a real one, for that matter -- ok, that's the last little zinger) against the big, bad Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12, that just did not happen.
Manziel proved there was a new big man on campus, both all season long and in Cowboys Stadium. The redshirt freshman capped off his year with an absolutely historic performance. He passed for 287 yards and two scores and rushed for a bowl game record of 229 yards on only 17 carries with two more touchdowns.
He loses All-American left tackle Luke Joeckel to the NFL Draft, as well as A&M career receptions leader in Ryan Swope. However, those two leaving aren't a big enough reason to knock Johnny Football off of his comfy perch.