In the same way that it’s never too early to start working on filing your tax return, it’s never too early to start projecting the Heisman Trophy candidates.
Seriously, it’s fun to start talking about who might win the next Heisman even before the guys in New York City have mounted the podium to award the current bronze prize.
In honor of this proactive approach to college football’s most coveted individual award, the following slideshow power ranks the top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates for 2013.
In taking a look ahead at next season’s short list, it’s important to remember that winning the Heisman isn’t just a simple matter of being the best player in the game, it’s all about timing and big wins.
Indeed, you can be a guy on the short list or the longer list, but if you don’t play for a team that has won some big games or lots of them, then your Heisman campaign is likely to end before it even gets started.
To illustrate, it’s pretty safe to say that if Texas A&M Johnny Manziel hadn’t have led the Aggies to a win over then-No. 1-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10, then he more than likely wouldn’t have become the first freshman Heisman winner in history.
You’d be hard-pressed to draw up a plan that provided more momentum for Louisville’s QB Teddy Bridgewater going into his junior season in 2013 than what actually occurred.
Indeed, Bridegwater leading the Cardinals in an unlikely 33-23 drubbing of Florida in the Sugar Bowl is about as sweet of a bridge between two seasons that could be built for a guy from a small school with Heisman aspirations.
Bridgewater was 287-of-419 (68.5 percent) for 3,718 yards, 27 TDs and eight INTs in 2012 and his passer rating of 160.5 is currently No. 7 among FBS QBs.
What is a huge plus for an unlikely Bridgewater Hesiman run is the fact that regardless of which teams actually compete in the Big East next season, the Cardinals will be a favorite to run the table in 2013 which will be their final season before fleeing for the ACC.
As a sophomore Arizona’s RB Ka’Deem Carey led the nation in rushing with 1,929 yards and 23 TDs on 303 carries.
If Carey’s numbers can continue to soar in his junior campaign in 2013, then the validity of a Heisman run will come down to whether Arizona can hit double-digit wins for the first time since going 12-1 in 1998.
The good news is that the Wildcats made huge strides towards concrete improvement with an 8-5 mark in 2012, and the outlook is even brighter given the still somewhat wide-open nature of the Pac-12 South race.
More glad tidings for Carey and company come via the fact that as of now the only nonconference foes on their 2013 slate are UNLV and UTSA, acronyms that often equal a big, tasty W.
Though only once since the Heisman kicked off in 1935 has a player captured the bronze prize twice, it’s almost impossible to leave Johnny Manziel out of the mix in 2013.
Yes, the odds of repeating as the Heisman winner are nearly impossible as are the prospects of another double-digit Aggie run through the SEC, but every time you watch Johnny Football play, it seems ridiculous to count him out of any race.
Manziel was 295-of-434 (68 percent) for 3,706 yards, 26 TDs and nine picks as a freshman earning him a passer rating of 155.3 which ranks No. 16 among FBS QBs.
Of course what makes Manziel even more spectacular are his additional 1,410 yards and 14 TDs as a rusher which make him the No. 19-ranked rusher in the FBS.
If Manziel can be as fearless in 2013 as he was in 2012 but avoid the temptation to let his head swell due to his well-earned accolades, the first freshman Heisman winner in history could become only the second guy in history to win it twice.
Though many folks might have QB Aaron Murray as Georgia’s Heisman front-runner coming into 2013, don’t be surprised if incoming sophomore RB Todd Gurley isn’t the man once the dust settles next season.
Gurley racked up 1,385 yards and 17 TDs as a mere freshman in 2012, and if the Bulldogs contend again in 2013, he will likely be the offensive headliner especially given the fact we’re talking about the SEC where running backs, not QBs win the prize most often.
What may slow a Gurley Heisman campaign is either a Georgia defense that can’t get nearer to its 2011 level of play or a schedule that will be more difficult than the 2012 slate.
Featured in 2013 is an opening trip to Clemson (a team that should also contend next season) and rather than Ole Miss and a downtrodden Auburn from the SEC West, the Bulldogs have drawn LSU and an Auburn team that ought to look a bit tougher.
In the same way that you can’t count Johnny Manziel out of the 2013 Heisman race, you can’t count Alabama out of the SEC and national title races.
And if the Tide do return to the top of the heap, again, in 2013 look for senior QB AJ McCarron to be a top Heisman candidate.
What’s important to remember about McCarron is that he more than just a sideshow to a winning production dominated by a stifling superstar defense.
Indeed, the 2012 Alabama offense ranks No. 13 in scoring in the FBS and with a passer rating of 173.1 McCarron ranks No. 2 among QBs nationwide.
This means that the Tide have scored more average points per game than Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Nevada and that McCarron has a better QB rating than Geno Smith, Tajh Boyd and Johnny Manziel.
Now that a freshman has captured the Heisman Trophy you have to figure that the time has come for a purely defensive player to win the highest individual honor in college football.
This brazen statement leads directly to South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney who is arguably the best defender in college football, as a sophomore.
After posting a 2012 campaign that included 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles, five QB hurries and two broken-up passes, Clowney is set to become one of the best players in the nation in 2013.
And he’s set to do it in the super-competitive SEC.
But, can Clowney actually launch a viable Heisman campaign?
Well, it will likely depend on two key elements.
First, South Carolina will need to win 10 or more games in the regular season and secondly no overwhelming dominant offensive player with gaudy stats needs to emerge in the Heisman race.
Simply put, for a defensive end to win the Heisman, you can’t have a guy setting records as a QB or RB on a 10-win BCS team during the same season.
Even though Oregon was a run dominated team in 2012 to the tune of finishing the year ranked No. 3 in rushing yards vs. No. 72 in passing yards, the Ducks have one of the best young QBs in college football on their roster.
As a freshman this season, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota went 230-of-336 (68.5 percent) for 2,677 yards, 32 TDs and only six picks earning him a passer rating of 163.23 that ranks No. 6 in the FBS.
Throw in an additional 752 yards and five scores as a rusher and you begin to get the picture that Mariota is a special kid who could easily be a legit Heisman contender as a sophomore in 2013.
Challenges for a Mariota campaign include the looming possibility of Chip Kelly leaving Oregon for the NFL and this threat remains regardless of reports of Kelly being out of the mix for the Cleveland Browns job.
Regardless of the prospects for the 2013 season for Oregon as a program, if Mariota continues to mature and improve on his impressive statistical resume from this season he is likely as realistic finalist for the Heisman as anyone at this early date.
With a schedule that didn’t dazzle and an ACC which tanked as an overall football product in 2012, Clemson’s QB Tajh Boyd didn’t get near the national press that his stats warranted this season.
After the loss to Florida State in September, Boyd’s star seemed to dim regardless of how well he played and this situation was exacerbated by the loss in the finale to South Carolina.
But, Boyd was stellar this season going 287-of-427 (67.2 percent) for 3,896 yards, 36 TDs and 13 picks earning him a passer rating of 165.6 which ranks No. 4 in the FBS.
What really helps Boyd in terms of reaching the Heisman short list going into 2013 is the tremendous momentum provided by Clemson’s blockbuster win over LSU in Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Beyond that, you’ve got to like Boyd’s campaign for the bronze prize next season as a senior even more due to the fact that his top two targets (DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins) are set to return to the collegiate grid in 2013.
Even USC’s epic free-fall from the preseason No. 1 slot can’t diminish the fact that USC WR Marqise Lee is one of the most exciting, talented and potentially explosive players in college football.
Lee amassed 2,683 yards of total offense in 2012 as a sophomore a number that consisted of 1,721 yards of receiving, 856 yards as a kickoff returner and 106 yards rushing.
His totals earned him, as a sophomore, the No. 3 slot in all-purpose yards this season finishing behind No. 1 Antonio Andrews from Western Kentucky (3,166 yards) and No. 2 Tavon Austin from West Virginia (2,917 yards).
The key to a solid “Lee for Heisman” campaign in 2013 will be the Trojans not winning the BCS or even the Pac-12 but instead USC reaching double digits and cashing in on the huge stockpile of talent it has oozing from its roster.
The guy with the best chance of being the Johnny Football of the 2013 season is Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, who is clearly the offensive MVP of his team in the same way Manziel is to the Aggies.
To illustrate, Manziel accounted for 5,116 of Texas A&M’s 7,261 total yards of offense in 2012 which means he was an integral part of 70 percent of the Aggies' output this season.
Similarly, Braxton Miller was responsible for 3,580 of the Buckeyes’ 5,085 total offensive yards in 2012 giving him a direct participation rate in 70 percent of Ohio State’s yards this year.
If Miller stays healthy and Ohio State can get back over the 10-win mark, look for Miller to be the next Buckeye to win a Heisman at the close of the 2013 season.
Ironically, it could be the necessary tweaks to the Ohio State defense that could decide whether Miller can capture the bronze prize.
Either way, Miller offers the perfect combination of team success, brand name, big conference and gaudy stats to take home the Heisman.