The 2013 preseason is finally upon us.
Training camps are underway. The first top 25 poll has been released. Every outlet imaginable has put out a preseason All-American team.
All that’s left to speculate on is the race for the most prestigious award in sports.
As with almost everything else in college football, the procedure for determining the Heisman winner can be a bit quirky. Each fall, the Heisman Trust asks 925 voters from six different geographic regions to select the player they deem to be the ‘most outstanding’ for that season.
This subjective criteria has, not surprisingly, produced some rather controversial results over the years, leading some detractors to downplay the validity of the process. Nonetheless, the hunt for the Heisman and the drama surrounding it remains as appealing and enduring (and exasperating) as the race for the team title itself.
That’s because the Heisman is yet another way for college football fans to claim bragging rights. Your team might miss out on a conference title, or squander a national championship, or lose to its rival, but your favorite player can still be called up to that podium at season’s end to take his place alongside an elite group of college football legends. More often than not, the Heisman winner is the player who best captures the zeitgeist of a particular season. He’s the guy we all remember, that grainy, galloping blur on an old highlight reel. In some cases, he can define an era.
This counts for something. The Heisman appeals to our sense of college football history and tradition, which is why most of us still care who takes home the bronze statue.
When it comes to putting together an accurate preseason Heisman list, however, all that matters is what the voters think. I created HeismanPundit.com because I discerned a pattern in past voter behavior that I thought could help determine the players with the best chance of winning the trophy going forward. And so the 10 Heismandments were born. Have a look at them and you’ll see the philosophy that governs our preseason Heisman Watch.
One way to understand how the Heisman race works is to compare it to a Presidential campaign. In politics, if you are a governor or Senator from a big state like California, Texas, New York or Florida, you’ve got a built-in advantage when it comes to running for the White House. Your name recognition is greater, you reside in or near major media markets, you have an easier time fundraising and the act of making decisions on behalf of a large population enhances your experience and overall prestige. You obviously need political talent–and luck–to win the Presidency, but your task is made easier by having all those advantages. Conversely, if you are a politician from a state like South Dakota, or Kansas, you’ve got to work a lot harder to become a viable candidate. In most cases, it will either take extraordinary luck, or skill, to rise to the top of the pack.
It’s the same in the Heisman race. If you are a successful player for one of the elite traditional powers–the USCs, the Ohio States, the Oklahomas–you are more likely to be regarded as a major candidate by the voters. If you play for a non-elite, non-power team, you’ve got to overcome more obstacles to be taken seriously.
Does this mean you must play for a traditional power, or a national-title-contending team to win the Heisman? No. Even one-term governor and former peanut farmer Jimmy Carter became President. Look at Robert Griffin III’s win in 2011 for a prime example of how an upstart candidacy can catch fire. But it’s not a common occurrence. Is it fair? No, but it’s reality.
With all that in mind, here are the 10 players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman heading into 2013. The most effective way to look at this list is to imagine all of the players having huge statistical seasons while leading their teams to an undefeated season. All those things being equal, who would the voters pick and in what order and why?
This list balances my educated guess of the likelihood of these players performing at a Heisman-worthy level with the built-in advantages they already possess with the Heisman electorate. Can a player not on this list win the Heisman or come close? Sure. But a lot would have to happen that would be impossible to predict with any certainty at this point — like, for instance, a freshman quarterback coming out of nowhere to put up 5,100 yards of total offense — which is why we’ll be adjusting this list as the weeks go on. Players will come and go depending on the circumstances.
So without further ado, here is the 2013 Heismanpundit.com Preseason Heisman Watch:
1. Braxton Miller, Jr., QB, Ohio State — Miller had the perfect set up year in 2012, finishing fifth in the Heisman vote as a sophomore as he put up 3,310 yards of total offense and 28 touchdowns while leading his team to a 12-0 record. With another season under his belt in Urban Meyer’s offensive scheme, expect that total to jump considerably, putting him in the realm of recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Beyond his expected production, he’s got other advantages. He is an upperclassman now and he plays for one of the top three traditional Heisman powers. His team is projected to make a run at the national title. He’s got good name recognition, but he’s not at the point of oversaturation with the media. His schedule is favorable and includes two potential marquee matchups at season’s end, with Michigan and his possible opponent in the Big Ten title game to close things out. Finally, there’s a good chance that he’ll be on a a 25-game win streak as a starting quarterback by the time the Heisman vote is due. The combination of these factors allows him to enter 2013 as the candidate with the best shot at winning the trophy.*
2. Marcus Mariota, So. QB, Oregon — The offensive juggernaut in Eugene is bound to produce a Heisman at some point and this could be the year. Mariota is coming off a spectacular freshman season where he produced 3,429 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns. He should be even better in 2013, which means he’s likely to have the kind of numbers we’ve come to expect from recent Heisman winners. Mariota has good name recognition and he plays for a national title contending squad. He’s got early-season games against Virginia and Tennessee to give him some momentum (and some exposure on the East Coast) and late-season showdowns against Stanford and, potentially, in the Pac-12 title game, to help him seal the deal. Mariota should emerge as the Pac-12’s leading Heisman candidate.
3. Aaron Murray, Sr., QB, Georgia — We should know very early on in the process whether Murray has a good shot at winning the Heisman. The Bulldogs open with Clemson in Death Valley before hosting South Carolina the following week. If he leads Georgia to wins over those two top 10 teams, he’ll immediately vault to the top of the Heisman race. A home matchup with LSU comes three weeks later and, if the Bulldogs survive, the schedule becomes quite manageable the rest of the way. By season’s end, Murray should hold every meaningful SEC passing record. Last year, he produced 3,825 yards of total offense and 39 touchdowns while finishing second nationally in passing efficiency, so we know he can put up Heisman-worthy numbers. He has good name recognition and he’s going to be playing in a bunch of high-profile games. If he can get over the hump in some of these matchups, he’ll go down as one of the top quarterbacks in SEC history. The Heisman may be his reward.
4. AJ McCarron, Sr., QB, Alabama — The last quarterback to win the Heisman operating almost exclusively under center was Matt Leinart in 2004. Offenses have changed since then and the last five Heisman-winning quarterbacks have put up mind boggling numbers via various iterations of the spread. McCarron is a throwback to those pre-spread days. Otherwise, he has a lot of advantages heading into the season, namely the fact that he’s a senior quarterback on the No. 1 team gunning for an unprecedented third-straight national title. Last season, he led the nation in passing efficiency while producing an outstanding 30-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If McCarron can somehow improve upon those numbers while leading Alabama back to the BCS title game, he’s a lock to get to New York.
5. Kevin Hogan, So. QB, Stanford — Hogan came on strong the last half of his freshman season to lead the Cardinal to their first Rose Bowl win since 1972. Stanford is now a prime contender for the national title and Hogan’s numbers should explode as a sophomore. The schedule is backloaded and allows for a late-season surge, with high-profile games against Oregon, USC and Notre Dame, plus a potential berth in the Pac-12 title game. Hogan is a first-round talent who carries the mantle of the ‘next great Stanford quarterback’ on his shoulders. It’s a mystique that tends to play well with Heisman voters.
6. Tajh Boyd, Sr., QB, Clemson — Boyd had a monster season in 2012, putting up 4,410 yards of total offense and 46 touchdowns. Those numbers are precariously close to what recent Heisman winners have produced. If he can do that again in 2013 while leading Clemson to yet another ACC title, he’ll be on his way to New York. The schedule sets up nicely, with a huge matchup against Georgia in the opener, a home date with conference rival Florida State in mid-October and the annual grudge match against rival South Carolina to close things out. There is also the ACC title game. Boyd plays in an exciting, wide-open system that is quarterback friendly and he has targets like Sammy Watkins to throw to. He’s got solid name recognition and is set to finish his career as perhaps the greatest player in Clemson history. If he can lead his team to new heights while having another outstanding season production-wise, he’ll make it to New York.
7. Taylor Martinez, Sr., QB, Nebraska — It seems like Martinez has been around forever, but he heads into his senior year with a chance to take his place among the all-time Nebraska greats. He’s coming off a very good junior season that produced 3,890 yards of offense and 33 touchdowns. The schedule sets up nicely for a run at the Heisman, with an early-season matchup against UCLA and late season tilts against Northwestern, Michigan and, potentially, the Big Ten title game against Ohio State. Martinez was very close to having a 3,000/1,000 year for the Cornhuskers in 2012 and if he can get there this fall while leading his team to the Big Ten title, he’ll be in the mix for the Heisman.
8. Teddy Bridgewater, Jr., QB, Louisville — Bridgewater’s Heisman campaign began last season with an impressive showing against Florida in the Sugar Bowl. A lot of that hype has carried over into 2013 and Bridgwater’s name is being prominently mentioned in a lot of preseason Heisman watches. He is an elite talent and is expected to be the first quarterback selected in the next NFL draft. He comes off a sophomore season where he threw for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns while leading his team to an 11-2 mark. Working against Bridgewater is an extremely soft schedule that allows him few chances to showcase his talents. To have a chance to win, the Cardinals need to go undefeated and Bridgewater must put up otherworldly numbers while the rest of the favorites falter.
9. Devin Gardner, Jr., QB, Michigan — Gardner finished strong last year and that should carry over to his first full season as Michigan’s starting quarterback. He’s got the physical tools to put up very good numbers passing and running. An early-season date with Notre Dame gives him a chance to throw his hat into the ring, while the traditional battle with Ohio State at the end could put him over the top. Playing for a traditional power like Michigan helps and if Gardner fulfills his considerable potential, he could develop into a serious Heisman candidate.
10. Brett Hundley, So. QB, UCLA — Hundley had a fantastic freshman season, setting UCLA records while putting up 4,095 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns. He should be even better this fall. An early-season game at Nebraska gives him a chance to enter the race, while back-to-back mid-season matchups against Oregon and Stanford offers an opportunity for him to move into the upper echelon. If Hundley has a monster season and leads UCLA to at least 10 wins, he could be the Bruins’ first Heisman finalist since Cade McNown.
Others to watch:
De’Anthony Thomas, Jr., RB/WR, Oregon
Blake Bell, Jr., QB, Oklahoma
Trevor Knight, Fr., QB, Oklahoma
Jordan Lynch, Sr., QB, Northern Illinois
Todd Gurley, So., RB, Georgia
David Ash, Jr. QB, Texas
Duke Johnson, So. RB, Miami
Bryce Petty, Jr. QB, Baylor
Lache Seastrunk, Jr., RB, Baylor
Marqise Lee, Jr., WR, USC
Johnny Manziel, So., QB, Texas A&M**
Jadeveon Clowney, Jr., DE, South Carolina***
* — Contrary to recent updates from the oddsmakers, Miller has always been the front runner for 2013 and has been mentioned as such on this site since last season.
**– The latest victim of Heismandment No. 9
***– The latest victim of Heismandment No. 1
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