The 2013 season in college football should provide a wide array of candidates to take home the Heisman, and let's be honest...it's never too early to make projections.
With defending recipient Johnny Manziel sticking around for the foreseeable future, there will be a large and talented class waiting to knock him off of his throne.
Winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman, sitting courtside at Heat games, kickin' it with LeBron James, model girlfriends...what else could Johnny Football ask for?
Perhaps another Heisman.
Manziel had a magical season at quarterback for Texas A&M in their inaugural SEC campaign. He took down mighty Alabama en route to amassing 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns. The year culminated with a 41-13 obliteration of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl where he accounted for over 500 total yards and four touchdowns in a masterful performance.
On offense, the Aggies will be losing receiver Ryan Swope and phenom left tackle Luke Joeckel, but they have the talent to replace them somewhat seamlessly. There is little doubt Manziel will regress enough to keep him out of consideration for Heisman Trophy #2.
In his second full season as a starter, junior quarterback A.J. McCarron led the Tide to their second consecutive BCS National Championship. Not bad, huh?
Coach Nick Saban really opened the playbook for him this past year, allowing him to truly flourish. He evolved from a game manager into a legitimate Heisman contender. McCarron shredded defenses to the tune of 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season, and will only look to improve upon those numbers in his senior season.
Despite losing O-line staples D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones, as well as running back Eddie Lacy, nobody can re-up their talent like Alabama. There is no doubt they will not miss a beat, and McCarron is due for another monster season that could result in an invitation to New York.
Michigan running back Vincent Smith is likely still having nightmares after experiencing just what the best defensive player in the nation had to offer during the Outback Bowl.
Before Jadeveon Clowney leaves and very likely becomes the number one pick in the draft next year, he has admitted that he has his signts set on the Heisman. After punishing SEC quarterbacks to the tune of 13 sacks this year, the once-in-a-generation defensive end will only get better after playing much of the season with an undisclosed foot injury.
The biggest losses on defense for South Carolina will be defensive end Devin Taylor and safety D.J. Swearinger. Clowney will be relied upon very heavily and there is little doubt he will deliver. A Heisman Trophy for a defensive player is a tall order, but Clowney's massive 6'6" frame just might be big enough to do it.
"Is every SEC quarterback going to be on this list!?!" - average reader
No, just a few. Truth is, the SEC is absolutely loaded at the quarterback position with pro-level talent. Aaron Murray had a phenomenal year for Georgia. He collected 3,893 yards with 36 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions for a stellar Bulldogs team.
The knock on Murray was that he came up short in the big games. Half of his 10 picks were thrown in the Alabama, Florida and South Carolina games. He accounted for only 2 touchdowns in those 3 games as well against the cream of the crop in the SEC.
If Murray can come up big against the powerhouses of the SEC, he may very well find himself in the running for the Heisman.
"Black Mamba" will get to be the featured back for the Oregon Ducks this upcoming season with the departure of Kenjon Barner. Watch out, Pac-12.
The diminutive Thomas chewed up 701 yards on only 92 carries for an astounding 7.6 yards yards per carry in 2012 after averaging an unreal 10.8 in his freshman season. He has also gone off for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns in two years as a receiver out of the backfield, to go along with his 18 rushing touchdowns. As for the kick returns? We're all familiar with those.
Even without Chip Kelly, Thomas will still have every opportunity to prove that he is the most explosive back in college football this season. Quarterback Marcus Mariota will not miss a beat with Thomas as the number one back.
Following in the footsteps of LaMichael James and Barner, Thomas has big shoes to fill. However, he has the ability to steal the Heisman, which is something those two fell just short of accomplishing.
Talk about explosive. Sheesh.
Marqise Lee was expected to play second fiddle to Robert Woods in USC's high octane passing game, but that was never the case. Lee led the nation with 118 catches in 2012 for 1,721 yards. His 14 touchdowns landed him third in the nation in that category. For good measure, he even tossed in over 100 rushing yards.
The dynamic receiver's success will very much depend on how well USC can move on without quarterback Matt Barkley. While his ballistic abilities in the open field are unquestioned, much of his Heisman hope will reside on the shoulders of the new quarterback and how well he adapts to Lane Kiffin's system.
Unquestionably the best receiver in the country, it wouldn't be a shock to see Lee take home some hardware next offseason.
Bridgewater led a surprising Louisville team to an 11-2 record, a Big East title and an upset Sugar Bowl victory over the Florida Gators this year. He threw for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. Quietly, Bridgewater put together a stellar season.
Now that Louisville has turned some heads, the spotlight will be on Bridgewater to improve upon an outstanding season for the Cardinals. In a subpar conference, he will not have a ton of resistance to put up gaudy enough numbers to earn a trip to New York.
It's as if no one realized Ohio State went undefeated last season.
Yes, they were bowl ineligible. However, that does not discount Braxton Miller quarterbacking this team through the Big Ten and stomping every opponent along the way.
Miller made big improvements in every aspect in his sophomore season. He has dynamic playmaking ability, but will need to put up bigger passing numbers to likely have a shot at the Heisman. However, if the Buckeyes run the table again, it will be hard to look away.
In addition, all of his top weapons will be returning, making Miller a slight dark horse, but very legitimate, Heisman threat.
Boyd is returning to Clemson for his senior season after a monstrous junior campaign. Boyd greatly improved his accuracy and efficiency this past year, as his completion percentage rose from 59 percent to 67 percent. He was also fourth in the nation in quarterback efficiency.
His 46 total touchdowns were remarkable, leading Clemson to an 11-2 season and a victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
His number one target DeAndre Hopkins has foregone his senior season for the NFL, but the dynamic Sammy Watkins is ready to step up.
If Boyd can step up and exercise his demons, namely beating Florida State and South Carolina, he will find himself right in the hunt for the ultimate hardware.
Easily the most surprising name on this list, Carey was an absolute beast in Rich Rodriguez's system for Arizona.
The Wildcats faced questions on their offensive line heading into the season: they had first-year starter Matt Scott under center replacing Nick Foles, and also had the task of replacing big-play wideout Juron Criner.
Carey just stepped up to the plate and led the nation in rushing with 1,929 yards. He scored 23 touchdowns, scoring in each game except the blowout against Oregon.
The Wildcats have somewhat of a favorable schedule in 2013, especially out of conference. Although they will face more questions with another new quarterback, it will just add up for more opportunities for Carey to strut his stuff. Don't be surprised to see the Wildcats' speedy back to capitalize and run away with the trophy.