The 2013 Heisman Trophy race has already begun in college football. Let's discuss Johnny Manziel's competition for next year. Manziel came out of nowhere and set the college football world on fire in 2012.
"Johnny Heisman"—as he is called—was the first freshman to win the Heisman and in doing so he set a high bar for himself in 2013. Let's review the players who have a shot a dethroning Manziel.
1. Braxton Miller—QB—Ohio State Buckeyes
Braxton Miller had an exceptional season and helped the Buckeyes go undefeated in 2012. Miller had over 2,000 yards passing and over 1,000 yards rushing. His confidence and leadership were extremely evident on the field.
Only the NCAA sanctions against the Buckeyes has kept him out of the national spotlight. If Miller can continue his progression under Urban Meyer, he may be poised to bring home BCS hardware as well as the Heisman trophy.
2. Jadeveon Clowney—DE—South Carolina Gamecocks
Mant'i Teo finished just out of reach of the Heisman in 2012. Clowney aims to improve on Teo's strides in the 2013 race for the Heisman. Clowney had 13 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 50 tackles in 11 games this season.
His presence is felt by every opposing quarterback and each opposing offensive coordinator loses sleep about how to add extra protection against Clowney. If Clowney can manage to put the Gamecocks on his back and take them to a BCS game, he might just have to make room on his mantlepiece.
3. A.J. McCarron—QB—Alabama Crimson Tide
Any player who leads his team to back-to-back championship games is formidable. McCarron has been knocked as a game manager, but his statistics speak volumes. He has quietly put together a magnificent season.
McCarron passed for 2,669 yards, a 66.8 completion percentage, 26 touchdowns this season. Remarkably he only threw three interceptions all season which is quite a feat. McCarron will cement himself as a Heisman front-runner with another BCS championship.
4. Marqise Lee—WR—USC Trojans
Marqise Lee burst onto the scene in 2012 with a stellar performance on an under-performing team. Lee had 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns during this year's campaign with the help of Matt Barkley.
Lee pulled together eight 100-plus games and an put up a gaudy 345 yards on 16 catches against Arizona. He will be a marked man in 2013, but if Lee can improve upon these numbers with a new quarterback he may want to keep a suit and tie ready.
5. Marcus Mariota—QB—Oregon Ducks
Mariota put up video-game numbers in 2012 under coach Chip Kelly in his high-octane offense. Mariota showed great presence on the field as a true freshman and never really looked lost on the field.
In contrast, Mariota put opposing defenses to shame while tossing 30 touchdowns against only six interceptions. He also threw for over 2,500 yards en route to leading his team to the Fiesta Bowl. Mariota has his fingers crossed that coach Kelly will stay in Eugene and that they can build upon the dominant season they had 2012.
6. Aaron Murray—QB—Georgia Bulldogs
Aaron Murray has shown consistent improvement at Georgia, but he has always had an amazing supporting cast around him. Murray was not quite as impressive in big games as one would like him to be as seen in his performance at South Carolina and the gaffe at the end of the Alabama game.
Still Murray managed to tally his third 3,000-yard passing season in a row and threw 31 touchdown passes in 2012. With Murray under center, the Bulldogs remain very good. He will have to be great in 2013 for the nation to take notice.
7. Le'Veon Bell—RB—Michigan State Spartans
Bell was another front-runner for the 2012 Heisman. His impressive 2012 campaign was not enough to earn him a trip to New York City.
Bell rumbled for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns, which is quite an accomplishment considering that every opposing team knew that Bell was going to get the ball on the majority of downs. Bell had three 200-plus-yard games and carried a workman's load with 350 carries on the season.
If the Spartans can manage to add a little more balance to the offense in 2013, I would expect Bell to garner some significant attention.
8. Tajh Boyd—QB—Clemson Tigers
The Clemson Tigers were an offensive juggernaut in 2012 with Tajh Boyd leading the charge. Boyd had a strong cast of skill players around him and that will not change in 2013 with Biletnikoff Award contenders Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins returning as well.
Boyd aired the ball out for 3,550 and 34 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions and a 67 percent completion ratio. Boyd could not solve the South Carolina or Florida State defenses adequately enough to lead his team to victory. However, Clemson seems well positioned to move to the next level in 2013. If the Tigers can do so, Boyd will surely be in contention for a statue.
9. Joseph Randle—RB—Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys have been known for their aerial attack during the Mike Gundy administration. This year was quite different with Joseph Randle proving his worth in the backfield.
Randle has a rare mix of speed and strength that is so difficult to find. He scampered for 1,351 yards and 14 touchdowns. The junior from Wichita had eight 100-plus-yard games and has led the Cowboys to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. If Randle can continue his progress in 2013, then Oklahoma State will be a force to be reckoned with in the season to come.
10. Todd Gurley—RB—Georgia Bulldogs
Gurley had a breakout freshman season in 2012 and helped the Bulldog reach the SEC Championship Game. Gurley was a revelation in the backfield for coach Richt and quickly proved himself to be a valuable asset to the Bulldog offense.
He ran for 1,260 yards and 14 touchdowns and managed to protect the ball well in the process. Gurley has adjusted well to the college game. One can imagine the impact he can have from the first snap in 2013.
11. Derek Carr—QB—Fresno State Bulldogs
Derek Carr is the younger brother of the 2002 No. 1 pick David Carr who now plays for the New York Giants. Derek has followed his older brother to Fresno State and has made some waves of his own with the Bulldogs.
Carr threw for 3,742 yards in 2012 with 36 touchdowns and five interceptions. I don't know if Carr could really improve upon those dazzling statistics. If Carr can continue his offensive onslaught, Fresno State could have its eye on a bigger bowl than this year's Hawaii Bowl.
If Carr can take the Bulldogs to even greater heights in 2013, the selection committee will have to consider him for the Heisman.
12. T.J. Yeldon—RB—Alabama Crimson Tide
This true freshman has made a name for himself in Tuscaloosa this season, which is hard to do. Yeldon was impressive in tough games against Michigan and Georgia.
He put up 1,000 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns with Nick Saban using him somewhat sparingly. Still T.J. managed 6.5 yards per carry and must be excited to become a focal point of the toughest team in the land.
If Alabama continues its winning ways, the nation can't help but to take notice of Yeldon's considerable talents.