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NCAA Football

Top 8 Sleeper Candidates for the 2013 Heisman Trophy

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Top 8 Heisman Sleepers

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Jerry Lai-USA TODA Sports

The Heisman Trophy has become something of a popularity contest in recent years. What is supposed to the award that goes to the most outstanding player in all of college football has instead become the award for the best player on the best team in many cases. And in some it’s all about the best quarterback playing best at the end of the season on a good team.

But, that’s not to say we know who is going to win, because there’s no doubt that we do not. There are some obvious choices, and in a quick scan of some of the preseason watch lists floating around the internet it’s a lot of the same names. And that makes perfect sense, but if recent history is any indicator of future success, being off the radar at the start of the season doesn’t mean you can’t win the award.

So, let’s look at some sleepers for the most overrated award in all of sports. There are obviously some things that have to fall just right for one of the players on this list to be in the mix at the end of the season, largely late season performances. You can look no further than last season’s Heisman winner Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. You flip a couple of the Aggies' games on their schedule and he’s likely not even a finalist. It’s more than just being talented, and it’s more than just winning. It’s about a proper media campaign as well as a lot of luck.

With that, let’s take a look at eight guys I think have a real chance to finish the season as Heisman Trophy finalists.

Curt covers the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL draft, and college football for Rant Sports. Connect with Curt on Twitter @nfldraftboard.

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8-Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska

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Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Abdullah showed real flashes of what he is capable of in 2012. In 2013 the Cornhuskers just need to hand over the offense to him and let him use all those physical gifts. The Nebraska schedule lines up well for them to finish strong, and it's those big game performances that could push Abdullah to a finals invitation.

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7-Duke Johnson, RB Miami

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson is in a similar situation as Abdullah. He has immense talent, but he's going to share the stage with a talented quarterback on an underachieving team. Johnson wasn't highlighted in the Miami offense last season, but I fully expect to see him as a full time feature back in 2013.

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6-Devin Gardner, QB Michigan

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The keys to the Michigan offense have been turned over to Gardner. The future for the Michigan football program looks bright with Gardner in charge, and with his team's success, he's going to get plenty of pub. But make no mistake, Gardner has an impressive skill set and should put up huge numbers in a full season as a starter.

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5-James Franklin, QB Missouri

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Franklin is a man on a mission. Injuries turned the 2012 season into a nightmare, but he's coming back to 2013 with a vengeance. The talent is there, but it's going to take a supreme effort by the rest of his team to keep them competitive enough for Franklin to be successful.

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4-Brett Hundley, QB UCLA

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Hundley is an interesting case because he had a huge season in 2012 but got almost no recognition for it. If he can have a repeat performance in 2013 the country will have to take notice. After nearly winning the PAC-12 last season, Hundley and the Bruins have a shot to have an even better 2013. But to do that it'll take a big year from their young quarterback.

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3-Ka'Deem Carey, RB Arizona

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Andrew Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

The odds are long for Carey to have a great enough impact to win the Heisman. But after a quiet 2,200 yards of offense and 24 touchdowns, you have to think voters have him firmly in their sights. It'll be up to Carey to stay out of trouble and for the Wildcats to turn all those gaudy stats into more wins and challenge for a PAC-12 title to keep him there.

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2-Jameis Winston, QB Florida State

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Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Before you get in an uproar about putting a quarterback who is a virtual unknown this high, I give you Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. Neither of those young men were on anyone's Heisman watch list in the preseason of the year they won and had no body of work. But like them, Winston is an amazing athlete who's going to have an offense tailored to his skills. I expect big things from him in 2013.

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1-Blake Bell, QB Oklahoma

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Tim Heltman-USA TODAY Sports

If you have watched Sooner football the past two seasons you got a taste of what Bell can do. But after watching Bell and the Sooners offense very closely this spring, it's clear that he, along with a tremendous group of skill players, is going to usher in a new dynamic and more balanced offense in Norman. You pair that up with a very winnable conference and everything lines up for Bell to be in the mix for the Heisman late into the season.