The 2013 Heisman Trophy race will look a lot like it did in 2012. Johnny Manziel, Marqise Lee and Braxton Miller will all be back in the hunt. In fact, all that will be missing is Collin Klein and the media circus of Manti Te’o.
Although this may be Manziel’s race to lose, there is no shortage of electrifying players behind him who have already garnered deserved support for their Heisman campaigns.
They each proved in 2012 that they are able to make the plays necessary to challenge for the Heisman. But each has his own weaknesses he must overcome if he wants to lift the trophy at season’s end.
Where to even begin with Johnny Manziel. A season ago, he threw 26 touchdowns versus nine interceptions, completed almost 70 percent of his passes and ran for another 21 touchdowns.
And perhaps most importantly, he performed well in the most difficult circumstances. Facing the eventual national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Manziel turned in one of his most impressive performances, throwing for 253 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Manziel has the accuracy, the decision making and the speed. And impressively, no moment seems too big for this underclassman.
Manziel showed a year ago that he has what it takes to win college football’s most prestigious award. The question now is whether he can do it with a target on his chest.
Until the end of last season when he entered the very center of the Heisman Trophy discussion, Manziel flew largely under the radar. Instead of a star player teams needed to key on, he was just an intriguing, young quarterback who liked to run a bit.
Well, there are no secrets anymore. The biggest storyline before every Texas A&M game this fall will be how teams are preparing for Manziel. He was able to escape most of the national buzz for the first half of last season. How he handles himself when the eyes of opponents and the national media are on him from day one will determine whether he can capture his second Heisman.
Marqise Lee is everything a team would want in a wide receiver. Standing at 6’1” and weighing just shy of 200 pounds, he has good size. His speed and ability to make defenders miss in the open field are off the charts.
He has great hands, the ability to create space for himself and is as dangerous after the catch as anyone in the nation.
The Trojans are at its best when the ball is in his hands, and their use of Lee on special teams attests to that. He is a rare sort of player who has the ability to score every time he touches the ball.
Unfortunately, the only real weaknesses for Lee are outside his control.
For one, wide receivers have historically found difficulty in collecting the necessary national support for a run at the Heisman (just ask Larry Fitzgerald) because of how few touches they receive.
Heisman Trophy recipients are expected to influence the outcome of each and every game. If he hopes to contend for the award, Lee cannot afford outings like he had against Washington in 2012 when he recorded two receptions for 32 yards. He has to find a way to get his hands on the ball more often, or else he will be lost among the quarterback candidates like many receivers before him.
And secondly, Lee’s chances for the Heisman will largely hang on the development of USC’s starting quarterback. Be it Max Wittek, Cody Kessler or Max Browne, whoever is delivering passes to Lee this fall will have little experience and may not provide the passes Lee needs to tally Heisman numbers.
Braxton Miller provides a great combination of efficient passing and electrifying rushing.
Ohio State does not rely too heavily on the air attack, but when they do, Miller makes sure it is worth their while. He completed almost 60 percent of his passes in 2012 while only throwing six interceptions in 12 games. His decision making allows him to effectively manage the game, and he rarely puts his team in a bad spot.
However, Miller is most dangerous in the run game. His combination of size, speed and elusiveness make him a terror for defenses to get their hands on, nevertheless bring to the ground. Frequently creating large gains out of seemingly dead plays, Miller will have no shortage of highlights for his Heisman resume.
Oftentimes, the Heisman Trophy comes down to numbers. And in 2012, Miller just did not have them.
Despite limiting his interceptions, Miller never surpassed 250 yards in the 2012 season, and only ran for 100 yards in six of his twelve games.
To win the Heisman Trophy, a player’s statistics must jump off the page. But within the Buckeye offense, it is difficult to imagine Miller finding the mind-boggling numbers that Johnny Manziel or Tajh Boyd can produce.
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is a walking highlight reel. While throwing 36 touchdown passes and running for 10 more, he also led the nation in completions over 25 yards with 48.
But Boyd is not just a big play machine. He also commanded the Tiger offense with efficiency. A season ago, he completed 67 percent of his passes and threw roughly three times as many touchdowns as interceptions.
In the high-octane Clemson offense, there is no doubt Boyd will have the opportunities he needs to make big plays and place himself right in the thick of the Heisman discussion.
If there was one red mark on Boyd’s 2012 Heisman campaign, it was his performance in the year’s biggest contests.
In an early season trip to Florida State, which had the billing of a potential play-in game for the National Championship Game, and Clemson’s season finale against rival South Carolina, Boyd turned in his two worst performances of the season.
The Seminoles held him to 237 yards passing and 55.6 percent completion percentage. Meanwhile, he threw for 183 yards, two interceptions and 45.8 percent against the Gamecocks.
If Boyd hopes to make a push for the Heisman Trophy in 2013, he needs signature moments against the Tigers’ toughest opponents.
Jadeveon Clowney has the potential to make it two straight years where a defender legitimately challenges for the Heisman.
Since arriving at South Carolina, he has had it all: the size, the speed, the agility, the game sense. A potential top pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, Clowney already has the tangibles necessary to excel on the professional level.
He was third in the nation in sacks in 2012, and second in tackles for loss despite not playing a full season. And his playmaking ability speaks for itself.
Clowney may be the most dominant player in college football this fall. Yet even so, he will need to overcome injury and voters’ bias to actually lift the Heisman Trophy.
Look at Ndamukong Suh’s Heisman campaign or Luke Kuechly’s lack thereof. There is clearly a bias toward offensive players in the Heisman Trophy voting. Should Clowney challenge for the award, he must be more impressive than every other candidate.
But his first step is to get healthy. After missing a large portion of the spring with a sprained neck, he needs to make sure he is 100 percent when the season starts and hope he can stay that way.