Manziel, Clowney among potentials for Heisman - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Heisman Trophy has clear favorites, but field is crowded

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South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has the skills to become the first pure defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. (Source: South Carolina Athletics) South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has the skills to become the first pure defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. (Source: South Carolina Athletics)
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey led the nation in rushing with 1,929 yards last season. (Source: Arizona Athletics) Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey led the nation in rushing with 1,929 yards last season. (Source: Arizona Athletics)
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron leads the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide into the 2013 season. (Source: Alabama Athletics Communication) Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron leads the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide into the 2013 season. (Source: Alabama Athletics Communication)

(RNN) – Last year's attempt at predicting the Heisman Trophy winner was a disaster, and there is a high probability that what follows here will be another one.

Not only did no one expect last year's top two vote getters – Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel – to be in the running for the Heisman Trophy, but a majority of fans didn't even know what team either played for at this time last year.

Barring another breakout season from an anonymous dual-threat QB or a heartbreaking, albeit fake, tale of love and loss, this year's Heisman Trophy candidates should come from the suspects listed below. Included is a brief synopsis of 15 potential finalists (in, more or less, descending order of relevance), who they are, why they have a chance to win and what may cause them to fall short.

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – It all starts with last year's winner. "Johnny Football" earned his nickname by leading the NCAA in total offense and leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing. He also outperformed the numbers put up by a pair of Heisman-winning dual-threat SEC quarterbacks – Tim Tebow and Cam Newton – in his own run to the award.

Why he'll win: He's already won once, and that makes Manziel the only player in college football with a proven track record good enough to take home the Heisman. He'll be more experienced, and Texas A&M will have a better idea of how to maximize his ability in its fast-paced offense.

Why he won't win: He may not even play. Manziel is being investigated to see if he profited off his autograph, which is prohibited by the NCAA and could draw a suspension. Even if he does play, opponents have a better idea of how to defend him, he lost some important teammates – most notably top receiver Ryan Swope – and the circus he created with his offseason antics could prove to be a major distraction.

He broke through a glass ceiling last year by becoming the first freshman to win the award, but history is again working against Manziel. Only one player – Ohio State running back Archie Griffin – has won the Heisman more than once. The list of players who have tried to repeat as the Heisman winner is filled with college football legends like Doc Blanchard, Roger Staubach, Ty Detmer and Tebow, and all failed.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina – If you didn't know who Clowney was last year, you almost certainly do now. He forced his way into Michigan's backfield and into every Heisman discussion with an incredible tackle in the Outback Bowl at the end of last season. If you haven't seen video of the hit, it isn't hard to find. But that isn't the only reason Clowney is being hyped. The 6'6" 274-pound defensive end had 54 tackles (23 for loss) and 13 sacks last season and is widely expected to the best first choice in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Why he'll win: In recent years, defensive players have been getting more respect in Heisman voting than ever before. Te'o, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh have all been invited to the presentation ceremony. Clowney has an advantage over all three of those players because, unlike them, he enters the season as a candidate in nearly everyone's mind.

Why he won't win: Clowney is the only player on this list in danger of being ejected just for playing his position. A new rule subjects defensive players to ejection for illegal hits, but how that rule will be applied isn't yet known. Some officials say Clowney's hit in the Outback Bowl would have drawn an ejection under the new rule despite it not drawing a penalty. He has the potential to repeat that play on every snap, and because of his bone-crushing hits, his play could draw extra scrutiny. Aside from that – or maybe because of it – opposing offenses will likely try to avoid his side of the field and limit his ability to make plays.

History is also working against Clowney. Only one primarily defensive player – Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson – has won the award. Woodson was also a kick returner and occasional wide receiver, neither of which will be done by Clowney.

3. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – According to some, Miller received a bit of a snub last year by not becoming a Heisman finalist. That was largely due to his team being ineligible for postseason play. That restriction is no longer in place, and Miller will try to lead the Buckeyes to another undefeated season and, more importantly, a championship.

Why he'll win: Miller is a dynamic dual-threat player like Manziel and accounted for more than 1,500 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing while scoring 28 total touchdowns and only throwing six interceptions. He plays in an offense designed by Urban Meyer that is ideal for his talent and has a proven track record for producing Heisman finalists (Tebow and Utah's Alex Smith). If you're inclined to bet on this sort of thing, Miller is the current favorite (which, by the way, means he's not a smart bet based on history).

Why he won't win: While his numbers were good, they paled in comparison to last year's Heisman finalists and previous Heisman winners. Ohio State plays a weaker schedule than almost every other major conference team. The Buckeyes' toughest nonconference game is on the road against California. A road game with Michigan to end the season gives the slate a boost, but only slightly.

The weak schedule could help Miller put up big numbers while simultaneously hurting his Heisman candidacy. It's worth noting here that despite his gaudy statistics and lengthy highlight reel, Manziel wasn't considered a legitimate contender for the Heisman until beating Alabama. Miller could suffer a similar fate all season without a marquee opponent to boost his visibility.

4. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson – Boyd leads a pass-happy offense that allowed him to throw for just shy of 4,000 yards last season and toss multiple touchdowns in 10 games, including three games where he threw five. Boyd threw 36 touchdowns (only four players threw more) and ran for 10 touchdowns last season.

Why he'll win: Last season's 11-2 record showed Clemson can play at a high level for the whole season, and Boyd is the main reason why. Wins over Georgia in the season opener and South Carolina in the finale would cement Clemson as a top tier team – provided the Tigers don't stumble against the likes of Wake Forest or Maryland – and catapult Boyd to the top of the discussion.

Why he won't win: Boyd is a trendy selection right now, but trendy picks tend to fizzle as the season wears on because they're made based on hypothesis, speculation and a desire to be different than everyone else. Boyd's penchant for turnovers might be his downfall. Last season he threw 13 interceptions, including one against defense-challenged Auburn, two versus South Carolina and three against Duke.

5. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia – Murray is seen as perhaps the best quarterback in the country and is the only one in SEC history to throw for 3,000 yards in three seasons. He's a virtual lock to do it a fourth time as well. He needs only 19 touchdowns to set the conference's career touchdown record, and he should set the career passing yard mark in Georgia's second game. He'll break the career record for total yards about halfway through the year, and should also take down the career record for completions just as the Heisman conversation reaches its peak.

Why he'll win: Georgia is in the strength of schedule butter zone – good enough to be respected, but not so difficult that it becomes a liability. The Bulldogs play LSU and South Carolina at home and get Clemson and Florida at neutral sites. If Georgia can make a return trip to the SEC championship game and come out on top, that might be the extra push Murray needs to get to New York.

Why he won't win: As said above regarding Manziel's performance against Alabama last season, winning big games goes a long way when competing for the Heisman. The only knock against Murray has been his inability to deliver in those situations. Murray threw 10 interceptions last year and six of them were in Georgia's biggest games (three against Florida, one in the SEC championship and two in the Capital One Bowl). It may take winning a conference championship to earn Murray the award.

6. Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal – Lee had 1,721 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a sophomore, including a 345-yard performance against Arizona, and finished the season second in the nation with 132 receiving yards per game.

Why he'll win: Lee is another trendy pick and the token wide receiver. He plays in a pass-happy, defense-averse conference and will have no shortage of opportunities to fill out his stat line and highlight reel. Only one of USC's toughest games – Notre Dame – is on the road and Lee will be a major part of anything the Trojans' offense tries to do.

Why he won't win: Lee was a trendy selection for the Heisman before last year as well, but USC's 7-5 regular-season record derailed his candidacy before it had a chance to start. It's hard for a receiver to put up big numbers in every game, and Lee is no different. Despite being the No. 2 receiver last year, Lee had disappointing games. He had just two catches and 32 yards against Washington and only 66 yards against Syracuse, despite having 11 catches (three of those, however, were for touchdowns).

And once again, history points a different direction. Heisman voters have not been kind to receivers in recent years. Only two receivers have ever won the award, and no receiver has won the award since 1991. Winners from the West Coast have been scarce throughout the Heisman's history, though Southern Cal is a notable exception to that rule.

7. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon – Mariota passed for 32 touchdowns as a freshman last season against just six interceptions and gained 800 yards rushing. He threw a touchdown in every game, including against Arizona State when he had less than 50 yards.

Why he'll win: Mariota has experience now and plays a fairly easy schedule. If he can lead the Ducks to a road win over Stanford, he should be in good position to cruise to the Pac-12 championship game and have one final chance to impress the voters. Oregon's offense is a quarterback's dream, and the Ducks will likely score at least 40 points in every game they play.

Why he won't win: Oregon has a new coach, and with that comes a lot of uncertainty. Oregon has struggled to finish a season unscathed, and Stanford has been a particularly tough challenge in recent years. As with Murray, Mariota will need to get the team over that hurdle and win a conference title to have a chance.

8. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama – McCarron played his way into the Heisman discussion last season with his blindingly efficient numbers and didn't throw an interception until the Crimson Tide's 10th game. He finished with 30 touchdowns, three interceptions and threw for four touchdowns in four games.

Why he'll win: McCarron is the only quarterback in college football who has won a national championship, and he has two of them. The Tide's toughest road game is its second game of the year against Texas A&M, and it plays LSU at home. Both of those games come after bye weeks. McCarron has more proven weapons at receiver than in either of his two previous years and has answered every challenge he's been given.

Why he won't win: He plays for Nick Saban. Saban's ruthless commitment to offensive balance kept McCarron's passing yards under 200 in half of Alabama's games last year, and the main threat to take passing opportunities away from McCarron is himself a potential Heisman candidate.

9. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama – The next in Alabama's line of running backs may be the best of them all, and that list has two Heisman finalists and one winner. Yeldon rushed for more than 100 yards five times, including the first college game he ever played, and became the first Alabama freshman to top 1,000 yards. He did that despite never starting a game and spent the first few games of the season in a three-man rotation.

Why he'll win: He'll be the starter now and will be the feature back in an offense that won Mark Ingram the Heisman and sent Trent Richardson to the presentation ceremony. Yeldon's biggest games last year were in the Tide's most important games. Yeldon rushed for 111 in the season opener against Michigan, 153 in the SEC championship game, 108 in the BCS championship game and caught a dramatic, game-winning touchdown pass against LSU.

Why he won't win: He plays for Nick Saban. The backfield is still crowded. Despite being 6'2, 218 pounds and possessing a punishing running style, he'll share time with any number of other backs, including Kenyan Drake, Dee Hart, Altee Tenpenny and Jalston Fowler, who has been converted to H-back but could still poach carries at the goal line.

10. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville – Bridgewater tossed 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season and led Louisville to a 33-23 win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. He surpassed 300 yards six times, threw for more than 400 yards twice and threw for multiple touchdowns in 10 games.

Why he'll win: Bridgewater's nickname is "Gump" after Forrest Gump, who himself was quite a football player. Bridgewater isn't known for being able to "run like the wind blows" but he turned it into a backronym that stands for "Great Under Major Pressure." He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes last season and engineered an impressive win over Florida that has everyone buzzing about this season.

Why he won't win: Bridgewater might be great under pressure, but he won't have any opportunities to show it. Looking over Louisville's schedule, it's hard to pinpoint what the Cardinals' toughest game is. It's the kind of schedule that should allow for a 4,000-yard passing year easily. The downside to that is any loss to any team can be pointed to as a reason why Bridgewater shouldn't win. Bridgewater's season will have to be unassailable to win the Heisman against such weak opponents.

11. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia – Perhaps the biggest surprise of last season was Gurley's explosion onto the scene. As a freshman, Gurley ran for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 100 yards or more nine times, including against Alabama's juggernaut defense.

Why he'll win: Georgia's spread offense provides a rare opportunity for running backs in the SEC. Gurley is tailor-made for that type of offense and should not only repeat his rushing performance, but expand on his 16 catches out of the backfield and become a bigger threat in the red zone.

Why he won't win: It will be difficult to take the spotlight away from Murray and break out as the Bulldogs' best player. He'll also share time at running back with Keith Marshall.

12. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA – Hundley threw for more than 3,700 yards with 29 touchdowns and rushed for more than 400 yards and nine TDs.

Why he'll win: UCLA's entire relevance as a football team right now is because of Hundley. If the Bruins pull off any upsets over Oregon, USC or Stanford, Hundley will be the reason why.

Why he won't win: Upsets are not a guarantee and UCLA could just as easily be upset by Arizona, Nevada or Washington, like last year's loss to California when Hundley threw four interceptions.

13. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska – Martinez rushed for more than 1,300 yards and passed for a shade under 4,000 with 33 total touchdowns, and he holds the Nebraska career record for total offense.

Why he'll win: Martinez is a senior and should close his Cornhusker career with a bang. Nebraska plays a schedule on par with Ohio State's, and it doesn't face the Buckeyes until a potential matchup in the Big Ten championship game, which would be one week before Heisman votes are cast.

Why he won't win: Martinez had four games with multiple interceptions and will be working with an uninspiring supporting cast.

14. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona – Carey led the nation last year with 1,929 yards rushing and scored 23 touchdowns on the ground. He added another 300 yards receiving with one touchdown and rushed for 100 yards 10 times, including a monster 366-yard game against Colorado.

Why he'll win: His rushing numbers and 6.4-yard per carry average should continue. Carey has the speed to break long runs and the power to force his way through the line for short touchdowns. Everything Arizona does is built around getting Carey the ball.

Why he won't win: The Wildcats will be weaker on the offensive line and have a lot of uncertainty at quarterback, both of which may put too much pressure on Carey.

15. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor – Seastrunk averaged more than 7.5 yards per carry last season and helped Baylor to eight wins and a 49-26 win over UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, and he'll be a bigger part of the offense now that quarterback Nick Florence, who threw for more yards than Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, is gone.

Why he'll win: After last year, Seastrunk predicted he would win the Heisman this season.

Why he won't win: Same reason.

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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