Johnny Manziel is college football's premier playmaker for 2013
For the first time in a long time, the most talked-about player of the college football offseason isn't going to be an offensive skill-position player. Instead, it will be South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney.
No other player in the sport will receive as much hype and publicity as Clowney will this offseason, and it's hard to argue that he doesn't deserve it.
Nevertheless, just because a defensive standout is going to receive the most attention over the next few months, that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of offensive stars worth getting excited about as well.
Here's a look at college football's 50 best offensive playmakers for the 2013 season.
Going into the 2012 season, no one knew quite what to expect from Johnny Manziel. Not only was it Manziel's first year as a starter; it was also his first year playing in new coach Kevin Sumlin's offensive system.
As it turned out, Manziel became the biggest breakout star of the season. He threw for more than 3,700 yards, ran for more than 1,400 yards and accounted for 47 touchdowns, as he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Johnny Football is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and explosive players in all of college football. It should be fascinating to see what he has in store for an encore in 2013.
After leading the nation with 118 catches for 1,721 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns this past season, USC's Marqise Lee has solidified his status as the premier pass-catcher in college football.
Though his production may take a hit in 2013, since the Trojans will have an inexperienced first-year starter at quarterback, Lee should continue to make plenty of awe-inspiring highlight-reel plays.
The supremely gifted junior receiver has the look of a future top-10 NFL draft pick.
Teddy Bridgewater followed up an impressive freshman campaign with a sensational sophomore season in 2012.
Bridgewater threw for more than 3,700 yards and 27 touchdowns, as he led the Cardinals to 11 wins, a Big East championship and a shocking upset victory over Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
The highly productive passer has turned out to be the savior that the Cardinals desperately needed. Bridgewater now seems ready to make a legitimate run at a Heisman Trophy, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him lead Louisville into the race for a BCS championship in 2013.
Many Georgia fans are already mentioning Todd Gurley's name in the same breath as Herschel Walker, one of the most legendary players in school history, even though Gurley's played just one season for the Bulldogs.
The performance that the beastly 6'1'', 218-pound rusher put together in 2012 is one of the best we've seen from a freshman running back in years. Gurley burst onto the SEC scene, rushing for 1,385 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns.
Star quarterback Aaron Murray may get all the glory and publicity this offseason, but Gurley will be the key to Georgia's run at an SEC championship in 2013.
Tajh Boyd entered this past season with a lot to prove after finishing the 2011 season in disappointing fashion. He quieted his critics, however, by putting together a tremendous campaign from start to finish.
Boyd may not have been able to lead the Tigers to another ACC championship, but he did show that he has the skills to be one of college football's elite quarterbacks. The dynamic dual-threat signal-caller threw for more than 3,800 yards, ran for more than 500 yards and accounted for 46 touchdowns.
After forgoing the chance to be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2013 NFL draft, Boyd has returned to Clemson to chase a Heisman Trophy and a national title.
Going into the 2012 season, LSU's backfield was loaded with talented returning running backs such as Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue. However, it was an unproven freshman who turned out to be the team's most effective rusher in 2012.
Jeremy Hill gained the trust of the coaching staff and started to get more opportunities to prove himself as the season wore on. He scored a touchdown in six of his last seven games and had four 100-plus yard efforts on the ground during that time, finishing with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average and 12 touchdowns.
The big, fast and physical 6'2'', 235-pound sophomore is a prototypical SEC-style runner, who has all the tools to become a star in 2013.
Rich Rodriguez helped turn RB Steve Slaton into a star when he coached at West Virginia. Now, it looks like he's going to help Ka'Deem Carey do the same thing at Arizona.
This past season, Carey looked like a perfect fit for Rodriguez's spread offense. He turned out to be the most productive running back in college football, as he totaled 1,929 yards on the ground, caught 36 passes for 303 yards and scored 24 touchdowns.
The junior speedster has had to deal with some off-the-field issues this offseason. However, if he can maintain his focus, he has the chance to be a truly special player in 2013.
We know Braxton Miller has the speed and athleticism to be one of college football's most explosive rushing threats. He proved that this past season when he ran for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Now, it's time to see if Urban Meyer can turn the junior signal-caller into a truly dynamic dual-threat quarterback who can beat a defense with his arm just as often as his legs.
Miller proved to be a perfect fit for Meyer's spread offense, as he led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season. Following that breakout performance, he'll now have the spotlight shining on him in 2013.
You won't find many other players in college football who are as versatile and dangerous as Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas.
The explosive junior averaged 7.6 yards per carry, caught 45 passes for 445 yards, averaged a whopping 17 yards on punt returns and scored 18 touchdowns in 2012.
At 5'9'', 176 pounds, Thomas may not have the desired size to be an every-down back. But he makes up for it with his game-breaking speed and his knack for coming up with huge home-run plays as a runner, a receiver and a returner. He's a true triple-threat.
Miami has been home to plenty of outstanding running backs such as Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James, Frank Gore, Lamar Miller and Clinton Portis. Now, Hurricane fans are fawning over Duke Johnson.
He arrived in Coral Gables as a highly touted 5-star recruit from nearby Miami Norland High School. He immediately managed to live up to the hype, compiling more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and scoring 14 touchdowns.
The star sophomore rusher is an electric must-watch player.
Sammy Watkins was the biggest breakout offensive star of the 2011 season.
After putting together that fantastic freshman campaign, in which he caught 83 passes and scored 13 touchdowns, many were expecting Watkins to be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy this past season. However, he endured a surprising sophomore slump and failed to come close to meeting sky-high expectations.
Still, if he can put his sophomore struggles behind him and return to his freshman form, Watkins and QB Tajh Boyd have the potential to be the top passing tandem in the country in 2013.
If you watched a Kent State game in 2012, it was hard not to feel bad for the poor defenders who had to try to tackle Dri Archer in the open field.
Archer embarrassed plenty of would-be tacklers on his way to putting together one of the most productive seasons of any player in the country.
The senior speedster ranked fourth in the nation with 2,577 all-purpose yards and tied for sixth in the country with 23 touchdowns.
He should continue to make opposing defenders look foolish in 2013.
Marcus Mariota had never even played in a college game, much less started one, before the 2012 season. But you certainly wouldn't have been able to tell that from watching the first-year signal-caller this past season.
Mariota looked like a poised veteran running Oregon's fast-paced spread offensive attack. He had more than 3,400 yards of offense and accounted for 38 touchdowns, as he led the Ducks to a 12-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
The Hawaii native may not have the running ability of 49ers' signal-caller Colin Kaepernick, but he seems to have similar physical attributes and playmaking instincts.
Vanderbilt hasn't produced many All-American candidates in recent years, but that will change in 2013, thanks to the return of budding star receiver Jordan Matthews.
He helped lead the Commodores to one of their most successful seasons in school history in 2012, turning in a fantastic individual performance. He led the SEC with 94 catches for 1,323 yards, scored nine touchdowns and made plenty of critical big plays.
The 6'3'', 205-pound senior has the size, athleticism and sure hands that you look for in a top-tier wide receiver.
Aaron Murray averaged more than 10 yards per pass attempt in 2012. You know how many other quarterbacks in college football accomplished that feat?
Zero. Murray was the only one.
The senior signal-caller created plenty of explosive passing plays this past season. He had 62 passes of more than 20 yards, 33 passes of more than 30 yards and 19 passes of more than 40 yards.
After leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back SEC East titles, Murray will now be looking to lead Georgia to an elusive conference championship in 2013.
Alabama has produced plenty of great running backs in recent years such as Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy. However, there's a good chance that T.J. Yeldon, the Tide's latest budding star rusher, could be better than all of them.
During his first season in Tuscaloosa, Yeldon was forced to split carries with Lacy, but any time he did get the ball in his hands, he always seemed to make something special happen.
The powerfully built 6'2'', 216-pound sophomore rushed for more than 1,100 yards on just 175 carries (6.3 average yards per carry) and scored 13 touchdowns in 2012.
T.J. Yeldon wasn't the only freshman on the Alabama offense who made an immediate impact in 2012. WR Amari Cooper also played a crucial role in the Tide's championship run.
Cooper led the team with 58 catches for 999 yards and ranked second in the SEC with 11 receiving touchdowns.
The 6'1'', 198-pound sophomore has the same outstanding physical skills as difference-maker Julio Jones, his predecessor in Tuscaloosa.
Josh Stewart had big shoes to fill, replacing star WR Justin Blackmon as Oklahoma State's op receiving threat in 2012. But Stewart ended up handling the role better than anyone could have expected.
The 5'10'', 178-pound junior put together a brilliant breakout campaign.
After catching just 19 balls in 2011, Stewart became a much bigger part of the offense this past season, catching 101 passes for 1,210 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.
The explosive speedster is a big-play threat who will cause plenty of stress for opposing secondaries in 2013.
Stefon Diggs gave Maryland fans a thrill when he chose to play for his home-state team instead of for several of the country's top power programs. It certainly didn't take long for the former blue-chip recruit to make a huge impact in a Terrapin uniform.
As a true freshman, Diggs hauled in 54 passes for 848 yards, averaged 28 yards on kickoff returns and scored eight touchdowns.
If hot-seat head coach Randy Edsall wants to keep his job, he'd be wise to get the ball in his stud sophomore's hands as much as possible in 2013.
Jim Mora raised a few eyebrows when he announced that inexperienced redshirt freshman Brett Hundley would be UCLA's starting quarterback for 2012, instead of experienced seniors such as Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut.
Hundley turned out to be the perfect choice, however, as he became one of the biggest breakout stars in the Pac-12.
The athletic dual-threat quarterback had more than 4,000 yards of offense and accounted for 38 touchdowns, as he guided the Bruins to nine wins, a Pac-12 South title and a huge win over crosstown rival USC.
With Hundley now leading the way, there's finally a reason for Bruins fans to be excited about the future.
Cody Hoffman didn't get the most solid and consistent play from BYU QB Riley Nelson this past season. However, that didn't hamper his production, which is a true testament to his ability.
Hoffman was one of just 10 receivers in the country who finished the 2012 season with at least 100 catches, and he tied for 13th in the nation with 11 receiving touchdowns.
The athletic 6'4'', 215-pound senior is truly a matchup nightmare for any opposing defensive back.
Taylor Martinez managed to quiet his critics in 2012 by leading Nebraska to 10 wins and a Big Ten Legends Division title.
Martinez proved that he was one of the top running quarterbacks in the country, as he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, he also finally showed that he could beat defenses with his arm, completed 62 percent of his passes while averaging 7.8 yards per pass attempt.
The senior took a major step forward this past season. Now, he'll be looking to take that all-important final step and rise to an elite level in 2013.
Ka'Deem Carey isn't the only Arizona player who put together a breakout performance in 2012.
WR Austin Hill also flourished in his first season playing in Rich Rodriguez's offense.
Hill emerged as QB Matt Scott's go-to target, catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 211-pound junior is a big, fast and strong wide receiver. He possesses the type of sure hands, toughness and natural route-running skills that you look for in a true No. 1 receiving target.
Jordan Lynch went from being one of college football's hidden gems in the regular season to being one of the biggest busts during bowl season. Lynch's terrible performance in a blowout loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl left a lot of new fans with a negative perception of him. Let's just say the Twittersphere was not kind to the quarterback that night.
What many of those fans didn't see, however, was the way the talented junior signal-caller put the Huskies on his back and carried them to 12 wins and a MAC title.
Lynch, who finished fourth in the nation with 1,815 rushing yards, threw for more than 3,100 yards and accounted for 44 touchdowns.
Ryan Swope may have been the Texas A&M receiver who everyone was talking about before the 2012 season began. However, it didn't take long for Mike Evans to emerge as star QB Johnny Manziel's favorite target.
Evans played a key role in Manziel's run to a Heisman Trophy. He led the team with 82 catches for 1,105 yards and scored five touchdowns.
The 6'5'', 218-pound sophomore is a huge receiver who is capable of reeling off a ton of yards after the catch. Evans proved that last season, catching 18 passes of more than 20 yards and seven passes of more than 30 yards.
Lache Seastrunk was expected to be Oregon's next great running back when he first arrived in Eugene as a heralded 5-star recruit in 2010. However, after transferring back to his home state of Texas after just one year in the Pacific Northwest, it now looks like he's going to become Baylor's next star offensive weapon instead.
Seastrunk was mostly a non-factor in the first half of the 2012 season. But he looked like a completely different player in the second half of the year, as he put together 100-plus yard rushing efforts in five out of his last six games.
The explosive junior possesses the type of rare speed and burst to create a huge game-changing play any time he touches the ball.
The Texas offense is going to feature one of the deepest and most talented backfields in the country in 2013.
Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are all starting-caliber backs, who are all worthy of receiving a ton of touches. Nevertheless, the back that will likely get the most carries is Gray.
The former Texas high school football legend is one of the most naturally gifted and instinctive runners in college football. Now that he's had a year to adapt to playing against college defenses, there's no telling how good Gray could be in 2013.
This past season, Fresno State had the 12th-ranked passing attack in the nation, averaging 325 yards through the air per game. WR Davante Adams was the player who made the passing game so potent.
Following the departure of Jalen Saunders, Adams formed a cohesive partnership with QB Derek Carr, and he quickly developed into Carr's reliable go-to receiving weapon.
Adams finished the 2012 season as the most productive freshman pass-catcher in the country, totaling 102 catches for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Going into the 2012 season, Penn State had to replace RB Silas Redd and WR Justin Brown, its two most talented offensive players who transferred during the offseason.
Luckily, the Nittany Lions found a new star playmaker in WR Allen Robinson.
He took his game to another level in 2012, catching 77 passes for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 201-pound junior is the type of reliable receiving weapon that coach Bill O'Brien will try to build his offense around in 2013.
After transferring from Nevada after one year and spending a few seasons at Monterey Peninsula Junior College, David Fales finally got his shot to be a starting quarterback at San Jose State in 2012.
What Fales did was nothing short of incredible. He led the nation with a 72-percent completion percentage, threw for more than 4,100 yards and 33 touchdowns and guided the Spartans to their first double digit-win season in more than two decades.
The 6'3'', 220-pound senior is arguably the best pure passer in college football, and he's one of the most talented quarterback prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
Though Denard Robinson made dazzling highlight-reel runs during his three years as the starting quarterback at Michigan, the exciting athlete never developed into a complete quarterback, and he never truly lived up to his enormous hype.
Robinson's replacement, Devin Gardner, has the chance to be a true dual-threat quarterback, who can throw and run with equal effectiveness, that his predecessor never became.
Gardner, who is a former 5-star recruit from Detroit, showed tremendous flashes of his potential late in the 2012 season when Robinson was injured. If he can improve his accuracy, he has a chance to be one of the most dynamic players in the country in 2013.
Receivers who are 6'6'', 220 pounds aren't supposed to be as fast as Brandon Coleman.
Not only is he one of the most physically imposing players in the country, but he's also one of college football's most naturally gifted athletes.
The former 4-star recruit used his rare combination of size and speed to overwhelm plenty of opposing defensive backs in 2012, as he hauled in 43 passes for 718 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
Coleman's the type of receiver who sends shivers down the spine of any cornerback.
All Chuckie Keeton did in 2012 was lead Utah State to the best season in school history, while putting together some mighty impressive individual numbers.
The athletic dual-threat quarterback totaled more than 3,900 yards of offense and accounted for 35 touchdowns, as he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record, a WAC championship and the school's second bowl victory.
Keeton may not play for a big BCS school, but he deserves plenty of national attention after the season he put together.
Since Nebraska's top running back Rex Burkhead was slowed by injuries and appeared in just eight games in 2012, the Cornhuskers needed Ameer Abdullah to be a much bigger part of the offense.
Abdullah had no trouble replicating Burkhead's production, however, as he thrived in his new role as the team's featured back. The 5'9'', 185-pound junior rushed for 1,137 yards, caught 24 passes and scored 11 touchdowns.
Though QB Taylor Martinez will receive most of the publicity this offseason, Abdullah could easily emerge as the offense's key weapon in 2013.
Florida State may have a hole to fill at quarterback following the departure of EJ Manuel, but the Seminoles will feature one of the most talented wide-receiver corps in the country in 2012.
The face of that group will be Rashad Greene, who's coming off a strong sophomore campaign. He caught 57 passes for 741 yards, averaged 15 yards on punt returns and scored nine touchdowns.
Florida State's new starting signal-caller, whoever that may be, will be lucky to have the talented junior pass-catcher as his top target in 2013.
When starting RB Jesse Callier went down for the year with an injury in Week 1 of the 2012 season, Washington needed Bishop Sankey to carry the rushing load.
He proved that he was up to the challenge, accounting for 1,688 yards of offense and 16 touchdowns, as he became one of the Pac-12's biggest breakout stars.
Though the 5'10'', 200-pound junior may not be all that big, he showed that he's tough and durable, finishing ninth in the country with 289 carries this past season. The Huskies will need him to be a workhorse rusher once again in 2013.
Oregon State may have lost Markus Wheaton, its most productive wide receiver from 2012. However, the Beavers bring back another receiver, Brandin Cooks, who has the potential to be even more dangerous.
Cooks displayed tremendous speed and playmaking ability in 2012, averaging a whopping 17.1 yards on 67 catches.
Whoever ends up taking over as Oregon State's starting quarterback, whether it's Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz, is going to love having Cooks as a field-stretching vertical threat next season.
Louisiana Tech's offense, which ranked third in the country in passing yardage this past season, will look much different in 2013 after the departure of head coach Sonny Dykes, QB Colby Cameron and WR Quinton Patton,
The Bulldogs won't have as powerful of a passing attack as they did last season. Nevertheless, that just means that RB Kenneth Dixon will have more opportunities to show off his skills, which is a frightening thought, considering how good he was last season.
As a true freshman, Dixon led the nation with 28 touchdowns and averaged nearly six yards per carry.
Northwestern had the 19th-ranked rushing attack in college football in 2012, thanks in large part to the stellar play of RB Venric Mark.
Mark was one of the most underrated players in the country, However, he should start to finally gain the recognition he deserves in 2013 if he can put together a repeat performance of what he did this past season.
The 5'8'', 175-pound senior made plenty of big plays, racking up more than 1,300 yards on the ground, catching 20 passes, averaging an astounding 18.6 yards on punt returns and scoring 15 touchdowns.
Texas Tech had the second-ranked passing offense in the nation in 2012, averaging 355 yards per game.
WR Eric Ward played a major role in that attack, hauling in 82 passes for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Ward will miss QB Seth Doege in 2013. But he should still be able to put together a strong senior season.
New head coach Kliff Kingsbury will look for ways to get the ball in his best receiver's hands as often as possible next season.
Wisconsin's passing game fell apart in 2012 following the departure of QB Russell Wilson. Due to the inconsistencies at quarterback, the team's top receiving threat, Jared Abbrederis, saw his production suffer.
Though Abbrederis only caught 49 passes, he did do his best to make things happen when he did get the ball in his hands. He averaged 17 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns, and he finished ranked third in the Big Ten with 16 catches of more than 20 yards.
If he can get more consistent play from his quarterback, Abbrederis should have a big bounce-back campaign in 2013.
Tulsa is shaping up to once again be one of the best non-BCS teams in the country in 2013. One of the reasons the defending Conference USA champs should be so good is because they'll have Trey Watts, one of the most versatile and valuable players in the country.
He proved to be a jack of all trades in 2012, rushing for more than 1,100 yards, catching 34 passes for 343 yards, averaging 27.9 yards on kickoff returns and accounting for six touchdowns.
The former walk-on has developed into a true impact player over the last three years. He'll now be looking to finish off his career with his best season yet in 2013.
North Carolina is going to have to replace RB Giovani Bernard, who was one of the most productive players from the 2012 season. Luckily, though, the Tar Heels' offense has an emerging star to build around in WR Quinshad Davis.
He showed spectacular skills as a true freshman this past season, hauling in 61 passes for 776 yards and five touchdowns.
What's so scary is that the athletic 6'4'', 185-pound sophomore has only just begun to tap into his true potential.
Justin Hardy was not a sought-after commodity when he was a senior at North Carolina's Vanceboro High School. After not receiving a single scholarship offer from an FBS school, Hardy decided to walk on at East Carolina.
He's proven to be a perfect fit for the Pirates so far, and he's made all the big BCS teams in the region regret not giving him a chance to play for them.
Hardy was one of the most productive receivers in the country in 2012, catching 88 passes for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's already solidified his status as one of the best players in Conference USA. Now, he'll be looking to become a true national star in 2013.
Since LSU averaged just 27 pass attempts per game in 2012, the team's most explosive pass-catcher Odell Beckham didn't get many opportunities to show off his big-play ability.
That will likely change in 2013, however, since the Tigers will likely air it out more often now that QB Zach Mettenberger is more comfortable in the offense.
Beckham, who ranked sixth in the SEC with an average of 16.6 yards per catch in 2012, possesses the speed and burst to be a reliable deep threat for Mettenberger next season.
Incredible highlight-reel catches such as this one from last year's Ole Miss-Texas game give you an indication of the superb skills that Donte Moncrief possesses.
He made plenty of other impressive plays in the passing game in 2012, hauling in 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 216-pound junior has a distinct height advantage over almost every defensive back he faces, which is why his outstanding leaping ability makes him even tougher to defend.
Connor Shaw hasn't put up eye-popping stats during his first two years as a starter at South Carolina. But what he has done is lead the Gamecocks to consecutive 11-win seasons, which is certainly an impressive feat in its own right.
Shaw is an athletic and mobile quarterback who displayed great touch and accuracy in 2012, completing 67 percent of his passes for more than 1,900 yards and 17 touchdowns.
If Steve Spurrier can surround his senior signal-caller with a strong supporting cast, Shaw should lead the Gamecocks into contention for an SEC title in 2013.
Adam Muema performed sparingly in Ronnie Hillman's shadow during his first season in 2011, carrying the ball just 42 times for 253 yards. But once Hillman departed for the NFL, the door opened for Muema, and the junior made the most of the opportunity in 2012.
He was one of just 11 players in the country who carried the ball more than 200 times and still managed to average more than six yards per carry. He finished with more than 1,600 total yards of offense and 17 touchdowns.
Like his former teammate Hillman, the 5'10'', 205-pound Muema isn't the biggest back, but he always seems to find a way to come up with big, explosive plays.
Tyler Lockett made many of his big plays on kickoff returns in 2012. He ranked fourth in the nation, averaging 32.7 yards per return, and was one of only 15 players in college football who returned multiple kickoffs for touchdowns.
Now that Chris Harper is gone, Lockett will be expected to take over as the team's No. 1 receiver. He'll be expected to make an even bigger impact after catching 44 passes for 492 yards and four touchdowns in 2012.
The 5'11'', 175-pound junior has the type of elite speed that will strike fear in the hearts of opposing secondaries in 2013.
Now that Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz have moved on to the NFL, the title of best tight end in college football is up for grabs. It seems the most deserving candidate is Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
He has incredible athleticism for a player who's 6'6'', 266 pounds.
The former 4-star recruit is coming off a terrific 2012 campaign in which he caught 69 passes for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. He has a chance to put up even better numbers in 2013, as he looks to compete for All-American honors and win the prestigious John Mackey Award.