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How One Play Put Jadeveon Clowney in the Top Three of Next Year's Heisman Race

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 06:  A fan holds up a sign about Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 6, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterJanuary 2, 2013

That wasn't an earthquake that struck Tampa, FL., on January 1, 2013—that was South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney destroying Michigan running back Vincent Smith eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.

The ensuing aftershock—when Clowney reached out and recovered the fumbled ball with one giant hand—was the icing on the cake for No. 10 South Carolina in its 33-28 victory over No. 18 Michigan in the 2012 Outback Bowl.

The Hit of the Year happened midway through the fourth quarter with Michigan leading South Carolina 22-21. Michigan was awarded a fresh set of downs despite instant replays showing its previous fake punt attempt on 4th-and-4 on its own 37-yard line was clearly short of a first down.

That's when Clowney went into Clowney mode; he ended Michigan's drive and also gave South Carolina the momentum to score a go-ahead touchdown. That hit—and it was an absolute monster hit—also put Clowney near the top of the list of candidates in the 2013 Heisman race. 

Can he win it?

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o came close in the 2012 Heisman race finishing second, but Clowney's hit already has college football nation drooling over his next—and most likely final—season with the Gamecocks and more importantly, his prospects of winning the 2013 Heisman. 

The Heisman is traditionally won by an offensive player, but after Te'o's superior defensive performance last year, more and more voters are softening up their stances and taking a harder look at defensive players. Give them a reason to put a defensive player in the first spot on their ballots and they'll do it—Te'o came close, but he lacked a couple of scale-tipping factors which Clowney has in his favor and those advantages may catapult him over the top.

Clowney plays in the SEC and the conference's network ties to CBSSports and ESPN will give him a lot more exposure than NBC—the network that airs Notre Dame's home games—gave Te'o.

Four of Notre Dame's games were aired by ESPN on ABC last year, so that certainly helped Te'o's exposure, but imagine what would have happened if the majority of Te'o's games were aired by ESPN, CBSSports or ESPN on ABC?

Clowney will have that "marketing" advantage this year. He'll also carry the memory of that hit into the 2013 season. Te'o made some great plays in the 2012 season, but there wasn't that one Heisman moment that made Heisman voters say, "Yep, that defined his season." Te'o's body of work as well as his sportsmanship and character were Heisman-worthy, but defensive players need to do more to impress Heisman voters—just as non-SEC teams need to do more than SEC teams to impress pollsters. 

What a way to end a season. What a way to go into the next season. 

Jadeveon Clowney, what a way to kick off your 2013 Heisman campaign. 

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