2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel is now in an ideal situation to become the second Heisman Trophy recipient to win back-to-back Heismans. Ohio State running back Archie Griffin was the first when he won college football's most prestigious award in 1974 and 1975.
The Texas A&M quarterback had an outstanding 2012 and he'll be a redshirt sophomore in 2013. How ironic would it be if the SEC finally equaled what the Big Ten had sole claim over for 33 years, something no one else has touched—having the only player to ever win back-to-back Heismans.
SEC fans would undoubtedly have fun throwing that—as well as their schools' recent domination over the Big Ten—in Big Ten fans' faces. But Manziel will have some outstanding company in 2013, so hold your breaths, Big Ten fans.
Our never-too-early 2013 Heisman candidate projections:
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will be leading a team not only coming out of a 12-0 season, but also no longer serving out an NCAA-sanctioned post bowl season. Miller was a legitimate Heisman candidate this year, but Ohio State's schedule was deemed softer than usual, which probably cost him some votes.
USC receiver Marqise Lee was a bright spot for the USC Trojans. The sophomore finished fourth among Heisman balloting, so he should be another Heisman favorite next year. Lee will have a different quarterback throwing to him since Matt Barkley has used up all of his eligibility at USC.
Who has the best shot of denying Johnny Manziel a second Heisman?
Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas didn't get as many touches this year due to the outstanding rushing by teammate Kenjon Barner, but next year should be his breakout year. The only thing that could possibly prevent him from being included in serious Heisman conversation is the Ducks' schedule.
This season, Oregon played five games at 7:30 local time and one at 6:00 local time—if Oregon wants its players to get more national exposure, it's going to have to do a better job of scheduling games when fans east of the Mississippi can actually watch the games.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will also be a legitimate Heisman contender next year. Mariota destroyed most of the Pac-12 with both his passing and rushing abilities so he may be one of Manziel's biggest threats to winning another Heisman.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is another serious contender. The problem for Bridgewater is that next year, his team will still be in the Big East—Louisville is expected to play in the ACC in 2014, the same year Maryland leaves the Big East for the Big Ten. Louisville is a very good team, but the perception of Big East teams—that of teams which aren't as competitive as those from the SEC, Big 12 or Big Ten—could diminish his accomplishments.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is a prolific quarterback who is considering forgoing his senior season and entering the 2013 NFL draft. According to an ESPN story, Boyd has submitted paperwork to see where he would be projected in the draft. If he stays, he's definitely in the Heisman conversation.
Boyd's teammate, Sammy Watkins, is a great target to throw to, but because of a past off-the-field issue, his status as a Heisman candidate may be somewhat questionable since "integrity" is mentioned in the Heisman Trust's mission statement. Then again, Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman finalist last year, so maybe it won't matter to most voters.
Other candidates: Duke Johnson (Miami), Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona), A.J. McCarron and Eddie Lacey (Alabama), Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois) Robert Woods (USC), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), Taylor Martinez (Nebraska), Devin Gardner (Michigan) and Aaron Murray (Georgia). Note—some of these players may decide to enter the NFL draft.
As always, someone no one considered as a strong candidate will emerge from nowhere and make us all look ignorant for not having him in the preseason Heisman conversation, but for now, these guys are my early candidates.