Who Will Challenge Johnny Manziel for the 2013 Heisman Trophy?

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An Early Look at the 2013 Heisman Trophy Contenders

2013 Heisman Preview
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never too early to start planning ahead, and now that the 2012 Heisman Trophy has been awarded, it’s time to get a jump on the predictions for next year’s Heisman race.

Texas A&M’s redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel made history this year, becoming the first freshman to ever win the Heisman.

Three of this year’s top five vote-getters are underclassmen, and there’s a slew of up and coming prospects who’ll vie for the award in 2013

Manziel was the only underclassman to travel to New York City for the award ceremony – runners up Manti Te’o from Notre Dame and Collin Klein out of Kansas State are both seniors – and he’ll have at least two, maybe three, chances to become just the second repeat winner.

(Ohio State’s Archie Griffin is currently the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, taking home the award in 1974 and 1975.)

USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, finished a distant fourth in the Heisman Trophy race, but he’ll have another chance at scoring an invite to NYC next season.

Behind Lee, at fifth-place in the Heisman voting, was sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, who led the Ohio State Buckeyes to an undefeated finish this season.

Many players who have moved in and out of the Heisman conversation over the last few years will move on after this season – Klein, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball,Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel – and they’ll make way for new faces to emerge in the Heisman race.

Can Manziel repeat? Has he opened the door for another freshman to follow in his footsteps? Will a defensive player take the award home in 2013? Or will the Heisman return to its traditional roots and go to a proven upperclassman?

We have a whole year to speculate, but here’s an early look at some of 2013’s potential Heisman contenders.

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Marqise Lee, USC

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Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Lee put together one of the best seasons in college football. He set new Pac-12 records for single-season receptions (112) and receiving yards (1,680), and he was a dangerous kickoff returner. Before the season, he wasn't even the top Heisman candidate on his own team, but he emerged as one of the top players in the nation. His numbers - and his Heisman chances - could be hindered without senior quarterback Matt Barkley next season, but as usual, USC has a slew of talented quarterbacks in the pipeline, and Lee made lots of big plays this season despite Barkley's struggles.

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Braxton Miller, Ohio State

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Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

How often does the quarterback for an undefeated team in a BCS conference miss out on both a Heisman invite and a trip to the BCS title game? Miller may have been the victim of his team's NCAA sanctions, but he proved he was one of the most talented athletes in the nation this season, and the Buckeyes wouldn't have been 12-0 without him. Urban Meyer has already put together a stronger program at OSU than many thought he'd have this season, and Miller should only improve over the next two seasons.

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Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois

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Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

If Lynch played for a different program in a different conference, he might've been in New York this year. He led the nation in rushing yards (1,771) and total yards of offense (4,753), and he set a new FBS quarterback rushing record by rushing for 100+ yards in eleven straight games (the previous record was five). Lynch needs just one more rushing touchdown to join Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick as the only quarterbacks in history to have more than 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns in a single season, and he'll get a chance to join that elite group - and show the nation what he can do - when the Huskies take on Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl.

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Marcus Mariota, Oregon

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Mariota was as much of a factor in the Ducks' success this season as running back Kenjon Barner, and if Oregon hadn't stumbled against Stanford, Mariota would've had a solid chance of taking a chunk of Heisman votes. He was the top quarterback in the Pac-12 and he had the fifth-best pass efficiency rating in the nation. His touchdown to interception ratio, 30 TDS to 6 INTs, was incredible, especially for a freshman; his 30 touchdowns set a Pac-12 freshman record and earned him Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, and first-team All Pac-12 honors. Will next season end with even bigger and better awards?

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Todd Gurley, Georgia

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A true freshman running back, Gurley led the SEC in rushing yards per game (96.9) and became the second freshman in Georgia history to break 1,000 yards rushing. Gurley, who rushed for 1,260 yards and 17 touchdowns, was named 1st team All-SEC. With quarterback Aaron Murray likely to enter the draft, Gurley might get even more work - and more chances to mount a Heisman campaign - in 2013.

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Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

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Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Another season, another preseason Heisman list with Logan Thomas' name on it. The Hokies' junior quarterback announced earlier this season that he will return for another year at Virginia Tech, but he'll have a lot of work to do to make it back into the Heisman conversation after this season's struggles. Thomas has immense physical gifts, but those will have to translate into wins for him to end up in New York. He started 2012 with a group of relative unknowns at tailback and receiver, and having an extra season of familiarity and rapport with those units could help him move back into the race.

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Giovani Bernard, UNC

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Bernard was a freshman phenom in 2011, but a sprained ankle, and the Tar Heels' sanctions, put a damper on his production and his national visibility. If head coach Larry Fedora continues building a winning program at UNC, and Bernard stays healthy, he'll again be one of the best rushers in the nation, and will be a candidate for the Heisman in 2013.

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Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For all the love Manti Te'o received this season, many thought there were other defensive players who were equally, if not more, deserving of a trip to the Heisman Awards Ceremony. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney posted 13 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for loss and won this year's Hendricks Award for the nation's top defensive end. He'll be a junior in 2013, and if the Heisman committee wants another defender among the finalists, Clowney deserves a share of the votes.

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Brett Hundley, UCLA

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Brett Hundley might've been the best thing former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel ever did for the program. New head coach Jim Mora elevated the redshirt freshman to the starting role over two experienced players, and Hundley proved he was worthy of the responsibility. Hundley led the Pac-12 in passing yards and was second in completion percentage. He threw for 26 touchdowns and ran for nine more, and his future with the Bruins, and with college football awards ceremonies, looks bright.

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Brendan Bigelow, California

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Jody Gomez-USA TODAY Sports

Cal fans didn't get to see enough of Bigelow, but what they did see was very promising. The sophomore is incredibly explosive, and while it's unknown how he'll grow in new coach Sonny Dykes' offense, he could potentially have a huge breakout season in 2013.

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Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

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Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of talented players who'll contend for the award next season, but there's only one Johnny Football, and with one Heisman under his belt, he'll be a potential candidate for the rest of his college career. As many players have found, it's hard to replicate that level of success from year to year, and Manziel's 2012 season was one for the ages. He already broke the freshman barrier; will he become the next repeat winner?

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