NCAA Football

The Top 10 Heisman Trophy Candidates For 2013

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The Top Heisman Trophy Contenders For 2013

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel came out of nowhere early in the season to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy this year, and with that has a chance to become just the second two-time winner of the award next year. Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the other two-time winner, taking home the award in 1974 and 1975.

It’s remarkably early to begin predicting who will be among the contenders for the Heisman Trophy in 2013, and Manziel certainly belongs at or near the top of the list as he looks to repeat his record-setting freshman campaign. But repeating will certainly be hard, as opposing defensive coaches now have a full season of game tape as a reference point to break down his strengths and weaknesses. Not to mention the challenge Manziel will have of ending this season strongly in the Aggies’ bowl game, as many past Heisman winners have struggled on that stage after winning the award.

For my personal list of the top 10 Heisman Trophy contenders for 2013, I have purposely left Manziel out since winning the award again will be such a challenge even if you take potential injuries out of the equation. Perhaps then my list should be called “Top 10 Heisman Trophy Challengers For 2013” or something similar, but I’ll stick with contenders. It is a virtual certainty there are players out there that are nowhere on anyone’s radar right now, but will emerge as viable Heisman Trophy candidates during next season.

With that, here are my top 10 contenders to win the Heisman Trophy in 2013

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10. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois

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Lynch had a big season in his first season as a starter in 2012, as he set the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,771) and accounted for 43 touchdowns (24 passing) in leading the Huskies to a berth in the Orange Bowl. His running ability is obviously noteworthy, but he also completed nearly 63 percent of his passes with just five interceptions and further progress as a passer is possible next season. Playing against lower-level competition in the MAC will certainly hurt him in the eyes of voters, but Lynch has a chance to at least be a finalist with a second straight big season.

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9. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

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Martinez made progress as a passer this season, making significant jumps in completion percentage (62.2 percent), yardage (2,667) and touchdown passes (21) over his sophomore season. He remained a threat on the ground as well, setting a career high in rushing yards with 973 along with 10 more scores. Many of his top targets will be back next season, including wide receiver Kenny Bell, who averaged 17.5 yards per catch and had eight touchdowns this season. Martinez may be overlooked among the flashier Heisman candidates next season, but his numbers are likely to be hard for voters to ignore.

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8. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

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Boyd finished the regular season very strongly with 24 total touchdowns (19 passing) and 1,642 passing yards (two 400-yard games) over the final five games, making his overall numbers look very good to go along with 43 total touchdowns. With two straight seasons with more than 3,500 passing yards and over 30 passing touchdowns under his belt now, a step up in production next season would put him among the elite players in the country. If the Tigers perform better against good teams in 2013 (0-2 against Top 25 teams this season), Boyd has a real chance to emerge as a legit Heisman candidate.

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7. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

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Seastrunk had a productive first season at Baylor after transferring from Oregon, as he lead the team in rushing with 874 yards despite having just 115 carries. He did not see a lot of action early in the season, with just 29 carries over the first seven games, but over the final five games he had 86 carries for 693 yards and five touchdowns. The former five-star recruit may not get the amount of early buzz others on this list will get, but Seastrunk has a very good chance to emerge during the season as a potential Heisman finalist in 2013 if he can maintain and perhaps even build on his late season momentum.

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6. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona

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Carey had a breakout season in 2012, finishing second in the country with 1,757 rushing yards along with 20 touchdowns (seventh in the nation). He also finished in the top 10 in the country in carries (275-seventh), and that workload is unlikely to go away next season with how he performed this season and a bump close to or over 300 carries is not out of the question. Playing against some defensively-challenged teams in the Pac-12 will certainly help anyone’s Heisman resume, and Carey could be a top dark horse candidate in 2013.

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5. James White, RB, Wisconsin

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White had a productive 2012 season despite limited opportunities, rushing for 802 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 119 carries. The graduation of Montee Ball will open up a chance for him to take over as the Badgers’ top ball carrier in 2013, and however a new coaching staff takes shape for next season the team’s offense should remain very run-heavy. It’s scary, at least for defenses in the Big 10, to think what White could do with a workload similar to Ball’s (300-plus carries in each of the last two seasons). As long as he is able to hold up physically, the results should show next season as he gets his opportunity.

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4. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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With Isaiah Crowell being dismissed from the Bulldogs’ football program prior to the season, the door was open for Gurley to have an impact as a freshman. He came through with a big season, leading the SEC in rushing yards (1,260) and finishing tied for second in the conference in rushing touchdowns (16). Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray could declare for the 2013 NFL Draft at some point, making a run-heavy offense with an inexperienced signal caller a real possibility for the Bulldogs next season. Gurley’s upside is limited some by backfield mate Keith Marshall (723 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season), but a strong early part of the season in 2013 will put him firmly on the Heisman radar.

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3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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Lee led the nation in receptions with 112 this season, and he also finished second in the country in receiving yards (1,680) and third in receiving touchdowns (14). Losing quarterback Matt Barkley will hurt a little, but new starter Max Wittek is plenty capable and should keep Lee’s production at an elite level in 2013. Wide receivers don’t often win the Heisman Trophy, as the last one to win was Desmond Howard in 1991 and he had the added element of returning kicks. Lee is also a capable return man, as he finished second in the Pac-12 this season with 802 kickoff return yards, but it will be his production as a pass catcher that keeps him on the Heisman radar all season next year.

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2. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

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Thomas had a very productive sophomore season, with over 1,000 combined yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns (11 rushing, four receiving, one punt return). Backfield mate Kenjon Barner will be gone next season, and Thomas gave a glimpse of things to come against Oregon State in the regular season finale with 122 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. Thomas is not a quintessential workhorse running back due to his lack of size (5'9", 173 lbs.), but he should get far more than this year’s 90 carries next season and his opportunities as a pass catcher (41 receptions this season) are unlikely to go away. Highlight reels already love the “Black Mamba”, and around this time next year Heisman voters should feel the same.

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1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

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Miller looked perfectly suited to head coachUrban Meyer’s spread offense as a sophomore, passing for over 2,000 yards (2,039), topping 1,000 rushing yards (1,271) and accounting for 28 total touchdowns (15 passing, 13 rushing) as he earned Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year honors. The schedule looks favorable next season, with four of the first six games at home, and Meyer’s solid history with quarterbacks (Alex Smith, Tim Tebow) suggests improved production next year. Miller is a popular early favorite to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, and as long as he stays healthy his chances of fulfilling that promise are very good.