Early 2013 Heisman Trophy Contenders

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Athlon Sports is already looking ahead to 2013 with an in-depth Heisman Trophy preview.

<p> Early 2013 Heisman Trophy Contenders</p>

Johnny Manziel set the college football world on fire this year and it led to the first redshirt freshman winning the award. Johnny Heisman confirmed his amazing season by putting on a record-setting show in the Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma. But is the redshirt sophomore-to-be the front-runner to win Heisman considering only once in 77 years has someone won the stiff-armed trophy a second time. And that was in 1975 (Archie Griffin).

That said, two second-year players (Manziel, Tim Tebow) and a third-year sophomore (Mark Ingram) have won the award in the last six years. Additionally, three defensive players have found themselves in New York as finalists since 2009 and linebacker Manti Te’o nearly won the award this fall. It appears the antiquated tendencies of the Heisman voting populous are beginning to fade.

And it means a defensive end could be crowned as the best player in the game next fall:

The Heisman Finalists:

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Few players posted numbers comparable to Johnny Heisman, but Boyd was one of them. He led the ACC in passing efficiency (165.59) and total offense (339.2 ypg) and was fifth and seventh in each category nationally. He scored 46 total touchdowns (36 pass, 10 rush) and has a host of elite weapons returning. More importantly, this team should be the preseason favorite in the ACC with Boyd under center and Chad Morris calling the plays.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carey was the most underrated player in the nation this fall. He led the nation in rushing (148.4 ypg, 1,929 yards), set the Arizona single-season rushing record and the Pac-12 single-game rushing record (366 yards). He scored 24 times and helped turn the Wildcats from a four-win team in 2011 to an eight-win zone read monster this fall. And he did all of this as a sophomore. With spread guru Rich Rodriguez calling the shots, the tough-nosed workhorse has a chance to post huge numbers once again in 2013. Although Carey's on-field performance merits inclusion, the running back is facing domestic violence accusations.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There is little doubt that Clowney is the most physically gifted player in the nation. He is a near lock as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And because he plays a stat-heavy position on defense, he has a great chance at landing in New York. The monster defensive end finished third in the nation in sacks (1.08 pg) and second nationally in tackles for loss (1.96 pg). He enters his third year with 21.0 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 35.5 tackles for loss. Winning the SEC East might be a must if Clowney wants to become just the second true defensive player to ever win the award.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
What else is there to say about Manziel? His numbers speak for themselves and his Cotton Bowl performance will go down in Aggie lore as one of the greatest postseason performances by a Heisman winner of all time. But Tim Tebow couldn’t repeat. Neither could Mark Ingram, Matt Leinart or Sam Bradford. All were elite talents like Manziel, but the odds of repeating are 1-in-77.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Manziel gets most of the love as a redshirt freshman, but Mariota wasn’t far behind. He rarely played in any second halves and led the nation in road passing efficiency. Overall, he led the Pac-12 in passer rating and scored 37 total touchdowns. As the leader of arguably the nation’s top offense, the supremely gifted 6-foot-4, 200-pounder should be destined for at least one trip to NYC in his career.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
The Buckeyes' quarterback was easily the biggest finalist snub this season, finishing fifth in the voting. As the leader of an unbeaten Ohio State squad, Miller single-handedly carried the Bucknuts to victory week after week. He was fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (105.9 ypg), second in passing efficiency and second in total offense. His electric play-making ability, raw toughness and perfect fit in Urban Meyer’s spread scheme make him a virtual lock as a Heisman contender next season.

The Top Challengers:

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
An elite big-play machine, Thomas’ biggest weakness is actually one of his biggest strengths. The Oregon scheme lends itself to huge numbers but it also distributes the football. Simply put, he needs more than 137 touches on offense to get to New York.

Marqise Lee, WR, USC
With a proven commodity at quarterback coming back, Lee would be in the “Finalists” category. But with Matt Barkley — and counterpart Robert Woods who drew plenty of defensive attention — leaving for the NFL, Lee’s numbers will almost assuredly go down.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
The Dawgs' signal caller will make a push to rewrite the Georgia and SEC record books with another big year in Athens. He led the nation in passing efficiency and has 77 total touchdowns in the last two seasons. He needs to finish a season in Atlanta with a win, however.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The hot name du jour is the Cards' signal caller after his electric performance against Florida’s nasty defense in the Sugar Bowl. The numbers have to get bigger and better and Louisville likely needs to run the table for the junior-to-be to land in NYC.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Few players make the eye-popping plays in the backfield like Martinez. He showed marked improvement in efficiency and decision making this fall, leading the Big Ten in total offense and passer rating. A pair of potential showdowns with Braxton Miller will likely determine T-Magic’s Heisman fate.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
The Bruins finally found a quarterback. The redshirt sophomore-to-be threw for three 300-yard efforts in his first four career games. He led his team to the Pac-12 title game and scored 38 total touchdowns. The show will be all his in Westwood now that Johnathan Franklin is gone.

TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama
Looking for another true sophomore to win the award? Look no further than the extremely gifted Yeldon. He rushed for 1,000 yards and 10 scores as a backup this year and Nick Saban’s offense is a proven Heisman commodity for running backs.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
A big part of why Yeldon will be successful will be the return of McCarron. The O-Line will be rebuilt (to some extent), but the talent at the skill positions could be better than Saban has ever had at the Capstone. The biggest issue is his system will never allow for big numbers from the quarterback.

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
The De’Anthony Thomas of the East Coast, Johnson led the ACC in kickoff returns and was third in all-purpose running as just a freshman. As the season went on, Al Golden trusted Johnson more on offense and he topped 100 yards three times in his last four games. Look for big things from the sophomore speedster.

Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The offensive system will allow Carr to air it out all season long. He has 7,648 yards and 63 touchdowns against only 16 interceptions over his last two seasons. An unbeaten record and BCS bowl bid would be key for the Bulldogs' starter.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
When it comes to raw upside and physical talent, Watkins is second to none nationally. But staying healthy and focused has been an issue for the electric play-maker, causing him to miss four games in his first two years. Consistency will be the name of the game for the junior-to-be.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
It will be tough for Gurley to top his freshman numbers in the brutal SEC. He led the league in rushing by a running back and scored 17 times. Only Trent Richardson has ever scored 20 rushing TDs in SEC history as a running back and Murray will be throwing plenty of touchdowns. The UGA vote will likely be split between two (maybe three) elite players.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Many people, myself included, were massively disappointed by the 260-pound quarterback. He rallied the Hokies late and the offense should be improved in 2013, but Thomas needs to show growth as a passer (18 TD, 16 INT) to get to New York.

Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
For Lynch to get to Manhattan next December, he would have to improve on what could be considered the best single-season in MAC history. A BCS bowl bid, nearly 2,000 yards rushing, over 3,000 yards passing, 44 total touchdowns and just six interceptions will be tough to reproduce.

The Long Shots:

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Huskers love to run it and the explosive back will be top complementary piece to Martinez.

Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
He will score plenty of touchdowns, but can he complete passes consistently?

Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Percy Harvin-esque player will be used all over the field on improved Terps team.

Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida
Must improve consistency and needs help on offense, but is only a junior and has loads of upside.

Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
Showed marked growth over the season and Irish could once again be a top 5 team.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
James White will factor in as well, but Gordon is best bet to be Badgers' new workhorse.

Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
Sneaky-good athlete in an excellent offense with host of electric supporting athletes.

Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
Big-play star as a runner, receiver and return man for what could be best offense in school history.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
Third-year starter at tailback could be leading candidate from Big 12 in elite offense.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Coach Sark has proven he loves tailbacks, but Keith Price has to improve to help the offense.

The Best of the Rest:

Antonio Andrews, RB, WKU
Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech
Kolton Browning, QB, UL Monroe
Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
Kenneth Dixon, RB, La Tech
Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Keith Price, QB, Washington
Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Austin Seferian-Jenkin, TE, Washington
Rushel Shell, RB, Pitt
Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss

The Defensive Names to Watch:

Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Is a terror off of the edge and will push for nation's lead in sacks.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Big-play machine has All-American type talent and upside on a national title contender.

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Elite recruit produced All-Big 12 season as just a freshman. The sky is the limit.

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Legacy talent needs to stay healthy all year to prove how dominant he can be.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Elite leader is one of few major defensive stars who elected to return to college.

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Redshirt junior to be is already a star and could be nation's top returning coverman.

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Will lose a lot of talent around him, but no one hits harder and bigger than Shazier.

Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State
Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year back on a team that could push for a division title.

Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
Elite playmaker who should blossom into an All-American as just a sophomore.

Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
Supremely gifted athlete could pass Louis Nix as top Irish defender next fall.

Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Sturdy, dependable star returns for final season in Provo.

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