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Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Preview: Entering his third season as Clemson’s starting quarterback, Boyd isn’t receiving as much preseason hype as Teddy Bridgewater or Braxton Miller. Make no mistake about it, though, the Clemson signal caller could wind up winning the prestigious award in the end. He has 69 touchdown passes over the last two seasons with just 25 interceptions. Despite losing receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL, he still leads one of college football’s most explosive offenses, which also features Heisman contender Sammy Watkins. A potential run at the BCS championship plus an offense that is sure to receive national exposure, places Boyd among the preseason’s Heisman favorites.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Preview: Considered an elite 2014 NFL Draft prospect, Bridgewater led Louisville to an 11-2 record, including a 33-23 upset over Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. While I suspect NFL scouts will have no problems finding holes in Bridgewater’s portfolio, especially regarding his scrawny frame, his path to the Heisman is rather simple. Louisville’s schedule is far in away the easiest among the preseason contenders. The Cardinals actually don’t have a preseason top 25 team on their schedule, so there’s a good chance that Louisville will either run the table or lose just one game. A December 5 tilt against Cincinnati could decide the Big East championship, and possibly give Bridgewater a major setting to cement his Heisman status.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Preview: Last year, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o made the biggest push yet for a defensive player (other than Charles Woodson) to win the Heisman trophy. He came up short, but his run signifies the progress the media has made in recognizing the achievements of defensive players. A non-conference battle with rival Clemson and a potential SEC Championship could lead to Clowney -- the current favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2014 NFL draft -- becoming the first player in history to win the Heisman on defensive credentials alone.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Preview: Perhaps no non-quarterback is as vital to the success of a team as Lee is to Southern California. The USC receiver is coming off an explosive season, where he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. It’s no wonder as to why head coach Lane Kiffin intends to center the offense on the junior receiver‘s skills. The Trojans have two marquee road games against Notre Dame and Oregon State that could make or break their season. Both games are in primetime, which gives Lee a large audience to highlight his abilities. He’ll need every opportunity he can get, as a receiver hasn’t won the Heisman since Desmond Howard did in 1991.
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
Preview: The longest of long shots, Lynch enters ‘13 fresh off an appearance in the Orange Bowl. The appearance was controversial, and the NIU quarterback didn’t enhance his status much completing just 15 passes on 41 attempts in a 31-10 defeat to Florida State. Nevertheless, playing for a BCS buster can keep you in the hunt, and some expect Northern Illinois to challenge for an undefeated season. The Huskies first major test is right out of the gate against Iowa, who’s the only team to defeat them in 2012. A win (and a productive showing) positions Lynch well in any early-season Heisman conversation.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Preview: Looking to become the second two-time Heisman trophy winner, Manziel has a long road ahead of him. His talent on the field is immense and it’s very likely he could have the production to garner enough interest. However, he’s made poor decisions off the field, which has cast a negative shadow around the redshirt sophomore. The most recent is an autograph scandal alleging that the 2012 Heisman trophy winner accepted money for autographs. Such an action may seem trivial, but the NCAA takes these things seriously, and Manziel faces a potential suspension. A September 14 showdown against Alabama could be on the line. If Manziel plays, the contest will be the most anticipated September game in recent memory. A victory over eventual champion Alabama last year propelled him to the Heisman. A win this year could alter college football‘s landscape, but if he were to sit out because of suspension or self-imposed punishment (something I find unlikely), it would be a major setback in his quest to match the legendary Archie Griffin.
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
Preview: It’s going to be difficult for McCarron to win the Heisman trophy. His 30 touchdown passes with only three interceptions was astonishing a year ago, but Alabama prides itself on running the ball. As a result, sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon could emerge as the Crimson Tide’s Heisman candidate. Still, the preseason edge goes to McCarron because of his name recognition and winning pedigree. He’ll need Alabama to open up the offense more, if he’s able to sustain his candidacy throughout the season.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Preview: Playing for Urban Meyer (and in the lowly Big Ten) gives Miller perhaps the easiest path forward among preseason hopefuls. Meyer’s system is tailor made for generating Heisman contenders, which was on display last season when he threw for 2,039 yards and added another 1,271 on the ground en route to becoming a Heisman contender. Despite leading Ohio State to a perfect 12-0 record, Miller’s Heisman campaign didn’t really take flight, largely because the NCAA banned the Buckeyes from bowl season. That’s not a concern in 2013, as Ohio State’s postseason eligibility has many picking them to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl or possibly play in the BCS championship. Those are lofty expectations, but if met, it could lead to the school’s second Heisman trophy in eight seasons.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Preview: With 71 touchdown passes the last two seasons, Murray’s already an established college quarterback. The only thing missing from his college career is a championship. He came up five yards short of delivering Georgia an SEC championship a year ago, thus guaranteeing them an opportunity to play for a national title. We’ll know about the 2013 version of the Bulldogs early. They start their season with Clemson and South Carolina in the first two weeks. Both teams feature Heisman contenders (Boyd & Clowney) of their own, so the pressure is on Murray to make an early-season statement.
De’Anthony Thomas, RB Oregon
Preview: Losing head coach Chip Kelly to the NFL will definitely have an impact on Oregon’s program. How much of an impact, however, remains uncertain. Kelly left the program in outstanding shape and the Ducks will compete for a Pac-12 title once again. Thomas is among the toys Kelly left behind for new head coach (and previous offensive coordinator) Mark Helfrich. Thomas is an all-purpose back, so he’ll get his touches in a variety of ways, but the junior running back has yet to carry the ball 100 times in a season. This year would be a good time to surpass that mark. Otherwise, the junior running back will have difficulties sustaining any momentum.