2013 Preseason Award Projections: Heisman Trophy

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Heisman Trophy is given to the best player in college football, even though it never goes to linemen and has hardly ever gone to a defensive player. Last year’s winner was Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Heisman Trophy Finalists:

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

There are so many deserving candidates to be the defensive finalist, but even projecting one defensive player to be a finalist is somewhat of going out on a limb. Unfortunately the Heisman has a blatant bias against defensive football players. In past years players like Ndamukong Suh have been the best player in college football, but were not awarded the Heisman. It wouldn’t surprise me if that is the case this year. There are many candidates including Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy and Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney is a complete player who is a good run-defender while being a monster pass-rusher. The 6-foot-6, 272-pounder has a rare skill set with elite speed, strength and athleticism. Clowney has incredible explosion off the snap. He is lightning fast coming off the edge and has natural power to shed blocks. Clowney already has a developed arsenal of pass-rushing moves.

Clowney was one of the best players in college football last year. The sophomore amassed 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, two passes batted and 13 sacks. He finished sixth for the Heisman Trophy. Throughout the season, Clowney was an overwhelming force at the point of attack. He destroyed offensive game plans and mandated double-teams all year long.

Clowney was the SEC Freshman of the Year and a Second-Team All-SEC selection in 2011. He totaled 36 tackles with eight sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles.

The Gamecocks have a tough schedule and Clowney will see some quality left tackles in North Carolina’s James Hurst, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and Florida’s D.J. Humphries. Clowney could see more single blocks when going against those linemen. However all the double- and triple-teams that will be sent his direction could cause his numbers to decline. If Clowney produces close to what he did last year, he should be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. The junior could easily be the best player in college football but not win the award like many defensive players in years past.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

No defenses are going to be taken by surprise by Manziel in 2013. Last year as a redshirt freshman, he burst onto the scene as a prolific dual-threat quarterback. Manziel had huge production as a runner and passer to win the Heisman Trophy, the first time it ever was awarded to a freshman.

Manziel completed 68 percent of his passes last year for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 1,410 yards (1,571 net) with 21 touchdowns on the ground. Defenses really struggled with how to defend him considering his ability to burn them for big plays with his arm or feet.

With Manziel, the off-the-field distractions have to be a concern. There are questions about his focus on football. He has spent time this offseason working with a quarterback guru in California, but he also has indulged in his celebrity status in the months since winning the Heisman.

The entire SEC will be gunning to stop Manziel this year, plus he plays in the toughest division of the hardest conference in college football. Manziel has a good supporting cast coming back, but the Aggies did lose a lot of talent from last year’s team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel, No. 2 receiver Ryan Swope and running back Christine Michael have all moved on to the NFL.

I think Manziel is going to have a good season, but I think his numbers could be down from last year. Even if they stay the same, the Heisman has avoided giving it to the same player twice, even if they deserve it like Tim Tebow in 2007 and 2008. Other Heisman winners have returned to school with good years but weren’t given the Trophy a second time. Only Ohio State running back Archie Griffin (1974 & 1975) won it twice. Like Tebow, I think Manziel will have another good season, but will be a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.

T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

It is crazy to think that Alabama has only had one player win the Heisman Trophy – running back Mark Ingram in 2009. There have been more Heisman winners from Army (3), Navy (2) and Yale (2) than the Crimson Tide. Maybe college football sticks it to Alabama on the Heisman because other teams struggle to stop the Crimson Tide from winning National Championships. The Heisman has gone away from players who have a lot of talent around them. Between that and the Alabama bias, I think Yeldon will be a finalist, but not the winner.

Yeldon helped contribute to the Crimson Tide’s National Championship last year. The freshman occasionally outshined starter Eddie Lacy. Yeldon received only 175 carries, but totaled 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 131 yards and a score.

While Lacy was a large, downhill runner, Yeldon has some explosiveness. He ripped off a number of big gains with his mismatch speed. Yeldon’s first-step quickness is phenomenal. The sophomore is now listed at 218 pounds at 6-foot-2, but didn’t look that heavy as a freshman. With Lacy in the NFL, Yeldon figures to be the featured player in Alabama’s offense this fall.

The Crimson Tide offense is a ground-based system that beats teams with the talent of its running backs and offensive line. There are some who believe that Yeldon could be more talented than other recent Alabama running backs including Trent Richardson and Ingram (both first-round picks). Some observers feel that Yeldon could turn out to be the best of the bunch.

If Yeldon can maintain his speed at a heavier weight, he could be the rare back who has the ability to rip off long touchdowns runs while also being big enough to pound the ball between the tackles. Yeldon figures to be the focal point of Alabama’s offense in 2013 and is currently a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Heisman Trophy Runner-Up:

Tajh Boyd, Clemson

The Heisman Trophy has favored quarterbacks, so Boyd has a good a shot. I think he will produce a huge season statistically, and production is a driving force for the Heisman. Surprisingly, no player from Clemson has ever won the Heisman, so Boyd would make history for the Tigers.

Boyd (6-1, 225) elevated his play to another level last year. The junior had a dominant season and was a force through the air. He carried Clemson to an 11-2 record and a last minute comeback win over LSU in the season finale. Boyd completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards with 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also ran well with 769 yards (514 net) and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Boyd was a dominant play-maker for the Tigers at times in 2011. The first-year starter completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards with 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Clemson could be in a lot of shootouts in 2013, so Boyd could rack up big numbers again. He also has one of the most talented receivers in college football to work with in Sammy Watkins. Boyd should post big numbers as a senior and light up the ACC. I don’t think there are any observers of college football who would be surprised if Boyd wins the Heisman Trophy.

Heisman Trophy Winner:

Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Projecting a Ohio State player to win the Heisman isn’t a reach. The Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish are tied at seven for the most winners in the history of the Heisman. The voters also have an inclination to go with players who are clearly one-man teams or carry the offense on their back. That was the case with other recent winners like Robert Griffin III in 2011 and was also evident with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Alabama running back Mark Ingram. Miller fits the mold with unique physical ability and being a player without a highly touted supporting cast. Boyd or Miller look like the safest projections as the winner.

Miller’s a runner and a thrower in a spread-option offense, and could put up staggering numbers in 2013. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer has produced massive years for signal-callers in the past at Utah with Alex Smith and at Florida with Tim Tebow. Miller has the skill set and the easy schedule to produce a dominant year with a huge stat line.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Miller is a great athlete with play-making ability. His completion percentage last year rose to 58 percent as he threw for 2,039 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. The sophomore also picked up 1,271 yards and 13 touchowns on the ground. Miller saw his first action as a freshman in 2011 and completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,159 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He ran for 951 yards (715 net) and seven touchdowns, too.

Everyone expects Miller to build on his sophomore year performance in 2013. The junior could produce a season of around 4,000 total yards and 40 all-purpose touchdowns. Ohio State should make it to the Big Ten Championship game and that will give Miller an extra outing to add to his stats before the final Heisman vote. Those numbers would be similar to recent quarterback winners. It wouldn’t be surprising if Miller carries Ohio State to another undefeated season and wins the Heisman Trophy.

Honorable Mentions:

Offense: Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, San Jose State quarterback David Fales, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

Defense: Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Alabama linebacker Adrien Hubbard, LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson and Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.

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