In this brave new world of freshmen winning the Heisman trophy and linebackers finishing second, is there room for a 6-foot-6, 260-pound pterodactyl-like defensive end to compete for the most coveted award in sports?
South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney thinks so.
The rising junior already has a Hendricks Award honoring the nation’s best defensive end under his belt. He was also a finalist for the Nagurski and Lombardi trophies and a unanimous All-American selection in 2012.
When it came time for the Heisman, he finished sixth in the vote, landing atop four ballots while totaling 61 points.
His goal for next year? To win the Heisman or at least get to New York as a finalist.
“That’s my next thing to get to, New York,” he said. “So next season I’m going to come here and work harder than I did this season.”
That could be a frightening prospect for SEC offenses. Clowney tied for the national lead in sacks in 2012 with 13 and was second in tackles for loss with 21.5. He also forced two fumbles and deflected a couple passes while making 50 tackles.
Can Clowney improve on those numbers?
He’s going to have to if he wants to make it to New York as a finalist. It definitely helps that he finished sixth this past season and that the success of Manti Te’o, Tyrann Mathieu and Ndamukong Suh has in recent seasons has made defensive Heisman candidates somewhat more palatable.
Clowney might have more Heisman potential than any of these other guys, though. He came into college as the nation’s top recruit, so his name recognition among media is very high. He’s also likely to benefit from buzz about him being the likely No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The last defensive end to make a serious run at the Heisman was Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green. He finished second in 1980 thanks to 17 sacks and 123 tackles (I believe tackle stats were doled out a little more generously back then).
But if Clowney can better his 2012 numbers and help South Carolina duplicate its recent success, he can definitely make it to New York. Can he win? That’s going to be a tough proposition. A lot of unlikely things had to line up this season for a redshirt freshman to win. The Heisman race would have to be even more chaotic in 2013 to pave the way for the first pure defender to take home the trophy.
As we’ve seen in recent years, however, crazy things can — and will — happen in college football.