Johnny Manziel: Stars with Best Chance to Dethrone Heisman Winner in 2013

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M University Aggies poses with the Heisman Memorial Trophy after being named the 78th Heisman Memorial Trophy Award winner at a press conference after at the Marriott Marquis on December 8, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel made history by becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Next fall, he will likely set an unofficial mark for the highest expectations a sophomore has ever dealt with.

It makes his path to another Heisman triumph all the more difficult. He will need to improve on already gaudy numbers to gain the support of voters again. He will also have to deal with competition from some extremely talented players from around the country.

Manziel should enter next season as the Heisman favorite, but let's take a look at some college football stars with the best chance of making sure he doesn't go back-to-back.


1. Marquise Lee (USC)

It's surprising Marquise Lee didn't receive an invitation to the Heisman ceremony this season. He finished the regular season with 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the country in catches and was second in yards.

One of the major reasons he didn't get overwhelming Heisman support was the Trojans' disappointing season. They were a popular pick to make the national title game and ended up in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. That vast difference hurt Lee.

Those expectations should be markedly lower heading into next season. It should help voters recognize Lee's remarkable ability without it being overshadowed by USC's struggles. Regardless of who takes over for Matt Barkley, Lee will put up monster numbers.


2. Braxton Miller (Ohio State)

Miller made strides both as a passer and as a rusher during his second season with the Buckeyes. But he just wasn't able to keep up with "Johnny Football," who rode a wave of momentum to the Heisman after beating Alabama.

Like with Lee, Miller's team also played a role in his lack of support. Since Ohio State wasn't eligible to play in a bowl game, the amount of attention the program received was far less than in a normal season, especially considering the Buckeyes' undefeated record.

When you combine what should be further improvement from Miller in his third season and Ohio State's return to the national spotlight next season, he should be able to make a stronger overall case. He's already one of the most important players in the nation.


3. Marcus Mariota (Oregon)

While Lee and Miller are both widely expected to make strong Heisman cases, Mariota would be the top dark-horse candidate. He had a strong freshman campaign of his own, totaling over 3,200 yards of offense and 34 touchdowns.

An argument will surely be made that the Oregon system is conducive to huge numbers. That's true, but it takes a special player to run the offense efficiently and Mariota proved he could do that by completing 70 percent of his passes.

Even though his fellow freshman stole the Heisman spotlight, Mariota gained a year of experience and should be able to put up even more astounding stats next season. At that point, it will become impossible for the voters to ignore him, regardless of the system.