Heisman Watch 2013: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups

Carl Stine@@CFBAllDayCorrespondent IAugust 29, 2013

Heisman Watch 2013: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups

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    Johnny Manziel came out of nowhere last year to take the college football universe and the Heisman Trophy by storm.

    It is very possible that another as yet unidentified talent could do that in 2013, but until it happens, the players on this list are the favorites to make a run at the coveted trophy.

    The players on this list all have reasonable shots at taking home some major hardware this fall, including the Heisman, and we preview their Week 1 matchups here.

13. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

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    Week 1 Opponent: Virginia Tech Hokies

    Alabama and running back T.J. Yeldon have a more difficult task ahead of them than most folks seem to anticipate.

    Virginia Tech has been successful for several years now under head coach Frank Beamer by virtue of a stout defense.

    Even with stud cornerback Antone Exum out against the Tide, the Hokies are hitting the field with plenty of experience. Eight players who started in 2012 will face the Tide and Yeldon on defense.

    This is significant, as VT was able to finish 2012 in the top 30 rushing defenses in the nation, allowing only 134.08 rushing yards per game.

    Yeldon plays for the best team in America, however, and the Tide offense, loaded with talent, will put up some points.

    Prediction:

    Yeldon rushes for 134 yards and two touchdowns as the Tide rout the Hokies 42-17.

12.De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

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    Week 1 Opponent: Nicholls State Colonels

    There is not much progress to be made here for De'Anthony Thomas against Nicholls State.

    Huge numbers against such a weak opponent are not going to prove anything, and if Oregon puts up a ton of points in a hurry, he won't see the field past the second quarter.

    The Colonels went 1-10 last season, including a game against Oregon State in which the defense allowed 230 yards on the ground, or roughly what Oregon is likely to have by halftime.

    The offensive numbers will be great in this one for the Ducks, but if Mark Helfrich is anything like Chip Kelly when it comes to pulling players early, Thomas is not going to make much headway in this game.

    Prediction:

    Thomas returns a kick for touchdowns and rushes for one more while gaining 87 yards on the ground. Oregon wins 70-20. 

11. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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    Week 1 Opponent: Clemson Tigers

    Clemson's defense allowed 156.15 yards on the ground last season.

    That puts them at 58th in the nation in this category.

    But don't be fooled by this number. The Tigers are entering their second year under defensive coordinator Brent Venables and will return five players in the two deep that made at least five starts last season.

    The defensive line emerged late in the season, and with Venables given time to implement his system, Georgia and Todd Gurley are going to have a tougher time than might be expected.

    Gurley's punishing style coupled with Georgia's talent on offense will help make this a shootout, but if Clemson's defense picks up where it left off last season, the Dawgs are going to have a tough time securing the "W."

    Prediction:

    Gurley struggles, gaining only 67 yards on 18 carries, but he finds his way into the end zone on a four-yard rumble. Tigers pull the mild upset 38-31.

10. Dri Archer, RB/WR/KR, Kent State

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    Week 1 Opponent: Liberty Flames

    There are some games in which Kent State will look outclassed in 2013. Not many, but there will be some.

    Week 1 against Liberty should not be one of them.

    Dri Archer will make sure of it. The speedy RB/KR/WR is one of the most versatile players in the game and will have the opportunity for a warm-up against poor Liberty during Kent State's Week 1 cakewalk.

    Archer, one of the most electrifying players in college football, finished last season with three kickoff returns for touchdowns, 14 rushing touchdowns and four more receiving.

    Expect a fast start against the Flames, who, though solid last season on defense, achieved their success due to a week slate of opponents.

    Prediction:

    Archer returns the opening kick for a touchdown and then proceeds to score two more times in the first half. Liberty falls 42-17.

9. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

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    Week 1 Opponent: Ohio Bobcats

    Ohio's pass defense barely finished in the top half of the rankings for 2012.

    The Bobcats checked in at No. 56, and though they appear to be set in the secondary and at linebacker heading into this season, the entire defensive line is gone.

    Starting the season against Bridgewater and company is no easy proposition.

    Bridgewater's Heisman hopes rest on his ability to put up huge numbers in every game he plays due to the weakness of the Louisville schedule.

    Expect the Cardinals to have little to no difficulty moving the ball with a balanced offense, as Bridgewater carves up the Bobcat defense.

     

    Prediction:

    Louisville gets in a groove early, beating the Bobcats 34-10. Bridgewater throws for 312 yards and three touchdowns.

8. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

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    Week 1 Opponent: Clemson Tigers

    The Clemson passing defense was brutal last season, giving up an average of 240.3 yards per game.

    With questions at the cornerback positions again in 2013, the Tigers are not looking like they will be much improved in pass defense this season.

    Venables is something of a genius and will be in his second season running the Clemson defense, but even with some significant improvement on the defensive line, Clemson has a long way to go.

    Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is going to have opportunities in the opener against Clemson but will not be able to put up enough points to keep up with Tajh Boyd and the Tigers.

    Prediction:

    Murray tosses two touchdown passes and throws for 289 yards, but the Dawgs fall 38-31.

7. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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    Week 1 Opponent: Nicholls State Colonels

    Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is going to be a Heisman finalist in 2013 and will start off his campaign with a bang against Nicholls State.

    There is almost no way he plays the whole game, as the Ducks are going to blow the doors off, but Mariota, as he did in 2012, will make the most of limited time.

    He's capable of changing a game with his legs or his arm, and he put up 37 total touchdowns last season.

    Against a week non-FBS opponent, Mariota is going to get some great warm-up time under his belt.

    Prediction:

    Mariota throws for two touchdowns and rushes for another as the Ducks blow out Nicholls State 70-20.

6. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Week 1 Opponent: Rice Owls

    Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel will start the 2013 season as an onlooker.

    Manziel will sit the first half of the Aggies opener against Rice, per ESPN.

    While this will not really have a lasting impact on what Manziel can do in the Heisman race, starting the season on the bench is never a good look for a contender.

    If A&M runs away in the first half, Kevin Sumlin would be wise to sit him the whole game and avoid any chance of injury when he's not needed.

    Prediction:

    Manziel directs two drives, only signs four autographs and stops at one party en route to the locker room. A&M wins 54-21.

5. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

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    Week 1 Opponent: North Carolina Tar Heels

    The time for hype is over. The time for accomplishment has arrived. And when Jadeveon Clowney takes the field against North Carolina Aug. 29, it will be time to prove that all this offseason noise was warranted.

    Clowney must live up to the hype, and maybe even surpass it, if he has any hope of approaching the top of the Heisman race.

    Starting with North Carolina gives him an opportunity to make a statement on national television against a BCS conference opponent, but it also means that the pressure is on immediately to perform.

    UNC offensive lineman James Hurst is no pushover, and you better believe he has heard as much about Clowney during this offseason as the rest of us.

    Hurst has the strength to neutralize Clowney, if he can keep up with his footwork.

    Prediction:

    Clowney emerges with one sack and two hurries, and the Gamecocks start the season off with a 24-17 win.

4. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama

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    Week 1 Opponent: Virginia Tech Hokies

    A.J. McCarron has the chance to win a third consecutive BCS title as a starting quarterback this season.

    Let that sink in for a minute.

    Against Virginia Tech, he has a challenge, but no head coach prepares his team like Nick Saban, and McCarron has tons of talent surrounding him on offense.

    McCarron is one of the most underrated college football quarterbacks in the game, quietly earning 10 touchdowns to every interception last season and finishing the year with a second BCS title win.

    Against Virginia Tech, there is no reason to expect him to falter.

    Prediction:

    McCarron completes 10 of 12 attempts for 175 yards and two touchdowns as Alabama tears down the Hokies 42-17.

3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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    Week 1 Opponent: Hawaii Warriors

    Hawaii fans should be concerned about Marqise Lee.

    He went off last season against the Warriors for 197 yards, his second largest total of the season, on only 10 receptions.

    He's the best receiver in the game and will be going up against a passing defense that, while finishing in the top 11 in the nation last year, could not contain him.

    The Trojans are going have a big game, starting with Lee.

     

    Prediction:

    USC scores early and often in a 54-13 rout. Lee catches eight balls for 124 yards and a touchdown.

2. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

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    Week 1 Opponent: Georgia Bulldogs

    This is the biggest game of the weekend—the game that will cement one of these two teams as a title contender and all but eliminate the other.

    And Tajh Boyd is going to own it.

    Yes, Georgia has talent on defense, including linebacker Jordan Jenkins.

    But this is a quarterback who faced everything LSU had to throw at him in the finale last season and came through with 346 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

    Boyd's arm is deceptively accurate, he's athletic enough to extend plays and he was successful last season against one of the speediest defenses in the SEC, so speed shouldn't bother him.

    There will be some rust to knock off in Game 1, but it won't take long.

    Prediction:

    Mark Richt loses control of Boyd, Clemson sneaks out the 38-31 win and Boyd throws for three touchdowns and 294 yards.

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

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    Week 1 Opponent: Buffalo Bulls

    Braxton Miller has it easy in Week 1, or so it would seem.

    However, Buffalo is fielding one of the most underrated linebackers in the game, Khalil Mack, who will help contain Miller and the Buckeye rushing attack.

    That doesn't mean Miller won't start out his Heisman campaign with a bang.

    He will have to score if the Buckeyes are going to succeed, he is the most talented player on the roster and he's the one Urban Meyer needs to succeed the most.

    Buffalo had a solid defense in 2012, checking in at 37th nationally in total defense, and the team returns seven starters, but the talent differential is just too great, as Miller is able to make things happen and pull out a big win for Ohio State.

     

    Prediction:

    Miller rushes for more than 100 yards, throws for more than 200 and scores three touchdowns as the Buckeyes win 35-13.