Critics prognosticated that Texas A&M would have a difficult time adjusting from the defense-optional mentality of the Big 12, to the speed and athleticism that is present on every SEC roster.
Instead, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel took the conference by storm, putting up one of the best seasons any quarterback has ever had. He compiled 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air, and accounted for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground—one of the most remarkable seasons in college football history.
A lot of players can put up gaudy numbers, but what separates the Heisman winner from everyone else is a signature moment—that moment where he puts his team on his back and leads them to victory. Manziel’s moment came in an upset of then No. 1 Alabama on the road. He recorded 345 total yards along with two touchdowns in the game of the year in college football. After this performance, the legend of Johnny Football was no longer confined to College Station.
With teams gunning for Manziel every game, and the pressure of trying to win back-to-back Heisman trophies looming over his every move, a Manziel slip-up in 2013 is not out of the question. If he were to falter, here are three players who could take his place on the stage of the Best Buy Theater next December.
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Miller had a phenomenal sophomore campaign for the Buckeyes. The dual-threat quarterback tallied 3,310 total yards and accounted for 28 touchdowns. Miller finished fifth in the Heisman running in 2012 and, many felt, had the Buckeyes not been on probation and out of the BCS National Championship hunt, he would have finished higher.
Ohio St. will be favored to win the Big 10 in 2013 and are expected to contend for a national championship. Because they will be in the spotlight from the beginning of the season onward, Miller has plenty opportunities to put up big numbers in big games.
In Urban Meyer, Miller also has a coach with great success mentoring dual-threat quarterbacks. When he was at Utah, Meyer coached Alex Smith into becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and also helped Tim Tebow win the Heisman while at Florida.
Few coaches can develop talent like Meyer. If he can get Miller to take the next step, Ohio State could have their first Heisman winner since Troy Smith in 2006.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Had the Georgia offense not mismanaged the clock in the final moments of the SEC Championship Game, Aaron Murray could easily be a national champion right now. Instead, the clock ran out on Georgia, Alabama advanced to the national championship game and doubts still persist throughout the Bulldog faithful as to whether Murray can win the big game.
Throughout his time at Georgia, Murray has put up big numbers, but has had a pension for coming up small in the biggest moments. Against then No. 6 South Carolina in October, Murray threw for only 109 yards, completed just 35 percent of his passes and threw one interception. Performances like this have kept him out of the Heisman discussion.
As with every SEC school, Georgia faces a daunting slate next year, which will provide plenty of opportunities for Murray to prove himself in 2013. The Bulldogs will be tested right out of the gate when they face Clemson on the road and South Carolina at home in their first two games. If Murray plays well, prepare to have his name in the Heisman discussion throughout the season; if he does not, however, Murray and the Bulldogs could be in for a long season.
Many people felt Murray turned a corner in the Alabama game. He threw for 265 yards, one touchdown and also led a valiant last-minute drive against one of the best defenses in the country, but came up five yards short. If Murray can find a way to make up those five yards and lead his team to the national championship next year, Georgia could have their first Heisman winner since Herschel Walker in 1982.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney’s physical prowess is second to none. If he were to enter the NFL Draft this year, he would be the consensus No. 1 pick. Instead, because he is just entering his junior season, he is coming back to school, and offenses everywhere should be scared.
Some people argue that the Heisman Trophy has become exclusive to offensive players. No defensive player has won the award since Charles Woodson in 1997. In recent years, Ndamukong Suh and Manti Te’o have made strong bids, but both fell short. If there is one player who could change this trend, it is Jadeveon Clowney.
The reason defensive players so rarely contend for the Heisman is because it is tougher to quantify their skill. If a quarterback passes for a lot of touchdowns and a lot of yards, the average fan knows they are good. For a defensive player to arrive on the Heisman radar, however, they need to be a constant, disruptive force and make game-changing, highlight reel plays.
Clowney could put up big numbers in sacks and tackles, but those numbers are not as significant as plays like his hit against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. The show-stopping types of plays, that Clowney is capable of on every down, stick in the heads of voters and can prove to be the difference.
Suh’s performance in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game almost single-handedly led an overmatched Nebraska team over No. 2 Texas. For Clowney to win the Heisman, he will need performances like that throughout the season.
Honorable Mention: A.J. McCarron, Tajh Boyd, De’Anthony Thomas, Blake Bell
To win the Heisman, a player needs the perfect storm of hype, clutch performances, and, as this year would indicate, a little bravado does not hurt. Manziel has to be considered the early favorite to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, but, as we learned this year with Matt Barkley and last year with Andrew Luck, the preseason favorite does not always win.
More than likely it will be a player under the radar who emerges to take the 2013 Heisman. How many of you had Manziel on the Heisman ballot before last season?