Good,Better,Best:The Heisman Race

2011 Heisman Trophy Winner Portraits

Every year, there’s a player that takes over college football and shines above the rest.  It’s hard to predict who will be best player in college football this year. After all, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton weren’t even on the preseason radar in the years that each of them won. The Heisman Trophy is one of the most exclusive fraternities in sports, and if you are deemed to be the best college football player, your name will forever be followed by “Heisman Trophy winner” (unless you’re Reggie Bush).

One can’t help but notice though that eight of the last 10 winners in the past decade have been quarterbacks, with the other two being running backs. So, is the award really given to the best player in college football? You can’t dismiss the argument that the Heisman has turned into a popularity contest given to the player marketed best on the best team. There is no way that in the history of the Heisman Trophy that the best player in college football was not a pure defensive player. Hell, I remember how dominant Ndamukong Suh was in 2009. He won the AP Player of the Year, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy Award, but finished decisively fourth in Heisman voting. Now Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart and Colt McCoy were all good and dominant players, but you can’t say that they were decisively better football players than Suh. This might be the year the bias against defensive players changes. If young Jadaveon Clowney can perform like he did last season and match the hype, we may have our first pure defensive player win the award.

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Jadaveon Clowney, South Carolina

Position: Defensive End

2012 Statistics: 54 total tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles

I don’t know if there has been a pure defensive player ever more poised to snag the Heisman Trophy than Clowney, who should be considered the best college football player hands down. Clowney’s hit against Michigan’s Vincent Smith during the 2013 Outback Bowl has gone viral and served as a coming out party to the world. Only a sophomore last year, Clowney wrecked opposing offensive lines, having half of his tackles go for a loss and recording 13 sacks. Clowney blew through double teams and may have been the No. 1 overall pick if he was able to declare for the 2013 NFL Draft. Even more impressive is the fact that he is setting sights on Derrick Thomas’ 27-sack single-season record and no one is doubting that it’s within possibility. If Clowney can have another highlight like he did against Michigan, he very well may get the hype to overcome the bias towards offensive players.

Heisman Make or Break Game:

Sept 27: South Carolina at Georgia

Clowney has a steep enough hill to climb by becoming the first ever purely defensive Heisman winner. If he stumbles out of the gate early against the No. 5 team in the country, that hill might just become impossible.

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Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Position: Quarterback

2012 Statistics: 3706 passing yards, 1410 rushing yards,  47 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 155.5 QBR

Manziel may have had some off-season issues but don’t doubt that the guy will be able to play come September. Manziel led the Aggies to an 11-2 record and became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman trophy. Manziel has the Aggies carrying a No. 7 preseason ranking and in talks of a national title. So long as Manziel can avoid “Manziel disease” (a reference by other players such as Florida State QB Jameis Winston to the off-the-field issues) he could retain his Heisman belt.  So long as Manziel can avoid taking pictures with money, getting drunk the night before he has to do something and getting filmed signing autographs while talking about cash, he should be fine.

Heisman Make or Break Game:

Johnny Manziel at the bar

Manziel’s biggest opponent this year is going to be himself and his off-the-field issues. If Manziel can keep his name in the headlines for his football performance rather than his off-field antics, he’ll have a chance at back-to-back Heismans.

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Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Position: Quarterback

2012 Statistics: 2039 passing yards, 1271 rushing yards, 28 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 140.5 QBR

In case you didn’t notice because of their bowl ban, the Buckeyes went undefeated last season. That record has given them the No. 2 preseason ranking. Miller may not have the greatest arm but he thrived under Urban Meyer’s system. If Meyer has shown us anything, it’s that he can make a Heisman Trophy winner out of a quarterback who can’t even throw. Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow still can’t throw but was one of the most dominant college football players of this generation. He may have turned Patriots preseason camp into a game of Survivor with everyone wondering when Bill Belichick will vote him off the island, but the guy could play college ball. If Meyer can have Miller lead Ohio State to back-to-back undefeated seasons, he’ll be a marquee name come Heisman time.

Heisman Make or Break Game:

November 30: Ohio State at Michigan

If Ohio State rolls into Michigan undefeated with Miller at the helm, this game will be enormous for his Heisman considerations. If Miller has a huge performance in prime-time, against a ranked Michigan team, in one of the most difficult places to play in college football, and with national championship implications, you can put his name on the Heisman.

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A.J. McCarron, Alabama

Position: Quarterback

2012 Statistics: 2933 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 175.3 QBR

McCarron officially lives every man’s dream.  He has a smoking hot girlfriend, two national championship rings and is quarterback for the No. 1 team. People may say Alabama’s running game and defense wins its championships, but McCarron has played well during his time at Alabama. If you look at the 30 touchdowns to 3 interceptions you cannot ignore his skill and success within the system he plays. If McCarron keeps the Tide rolling and gets his third national championship, no one will say that he isn’t integral to that team.

Heisman Make or Break Game:

September 14: Alabama at Texas A&M

Last year, Manziel made his Heisman highlight when he single-handedly manhandled Alabama in its own house.  McCarron will need to establish himself early and return the favor to Manziel as the Crimson Tide head to A&M. If McCarron outguns Manziel, not only do the Tide knock off the No. 7 team in the nation, but McCarron knocks Johnny Football down in the Heisman standings early.

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Marqise Lee, University of Southern California

Position: Wide Receiver

2012 Statistics: 118 receptions, 1721 receiving yards, 856 kickoff return yards, 14 receiving touchdowns, 1 kickoff return touchdown

If one positive thing can be taken out of USC’s season last year, it’s the play of Lee. Lee emerged as one of the most dangerous players in all of college football, snagging the Biletnikoff Award as college’s best receiver. Lee has more potential to score than Ryan Gosling in a sorority house. Lee’s only disadvantage though is that he can’t get snapped the ball, and USC plans to play two quarterbacks in its opener against Hawaii. Lee can make a strong argument for being the best player in ALL of college football, and if he doesn’t win the award, it may be more the fault of his QB than his own.

Heisman Make or Break Game

November 16: USC vs. Stanford

USC gets to play Stanford in the Coliseum during mid-November. Stanford enters the season as the No. 4 team with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. If Lee is high in the Heisman polls and can dominate against a stout Stanford defense, the voters will have to pay attention to the wide out. Stanford coach David Shaw will have his defense keyed on Lee as Shaw has referred to Lee as the best receiver he’s seen since scouting Randy Moss. The Trojans will get him the ball, it will be up to Lee to perform.

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Other Contenders: Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Tahj Boyd (Clemson), Aaron Murray (Georgia)

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