Power Ranking The Elite 11 SEC Heisman Candidates
Power Ranking the SEC's Elite 11 Heisman Candidates
The recent success of the SEC fielding Heisman winners is not as impressive as the seven-straight BCS Championships, but with three of the past four coming from the conference, little doubt remains which conference is the nation’s premier conference.
With a reputation for ferocious defenses producing some of the biggest, fastest and nastiest defenders in the country, the stereotype facing the SEC was that quarterbacks putting up prodigious numbers were just not feasible. Three of the past six Heisman winners were quarterbacks (Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel) who produced record-breaking seasons, despite the presence of the nation’s top defenses.
Each of these three quarterbacks and running back Mark Ingram in 2009 put to rest the old myth that the SEC was a league of elite defenses and opportunistic offenses. The conference has the deepest crop of quarterback talent in the country this year, and features three sophomore running backs that will make for an interesting conversation about who is the best in the conference.
The best conversation is who will represent the conference in New York at the Downtown Athletic Club this winter for the Heisman trophy presentation. Last year, only three were invited, but I can make a case for five not only being invited, but actually hoisting the hardware.
Here are the elite 11 Heisman candidates ranked in order of likelihood of winning the award from the conference. I will update this list every week during the regular season leading to the award’s presentation in December.
11. Zach Mettenberger-QB-LSU
If you're looking for the ultimate dark horse or long shot, look no further than LSU's Mettenberger. He has significant arm talent and put together a mini-stretch in November last year where it looked like he was turning the corner. His best game of the year came in the loss vs. Alabama when he threw for a career-high 298 yards on 68.6 passes. However, the goodwill he earned in those games was diminished when he nearly threw the Ole Miss game away with two interceptions. I think Mettenberger will thrive under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and if he can get his team to the SEC Championship Game with the turnover they endured on defense, he could be the in the mix come December.
10. Bo Wallace-QB-Ole Miss
Every list has to have a dark horse or surprise candidate, and Wallace qualifies as that. After all, did anyone have Sam Bradford, Cam Newton or Robert Griffin III on their preseason lists when they won the Heisman? The answer is no, and we know how it worked out for them. A considerable amount of buzz surrounds this Ole Miss team, and Wallace has one of the best receivers in Donte Moncrief at his disposal. Along with a brilliant offensive-minded coach in Hugh Freeze and a veteran offensive line, he can put up some big numbers. To receive legit Heisman buzz, he will need to lead upsets over two of the top three teams in the SEC west. Anything is possible.
9. Amari Cooper-WR-Alabama
Cooper is the top receiver in the conference, and the top challenger to Marqise Lee for the Biletnikoff Award. However, his chances of winning the Heisman are about as great as Kentucky winning the SEC. Wide receivers just don't win the Heisman. Only three receivers have taken home the honor, and none since 1991. Furthermore, Johnny Rodgers, Tim Brown and Desmond Howard all had great success on special teams, and Rodgers was a jack-of-all-trades player, having also rushed for 10 touchdowns. Cooper will get some run on special teams, but is primarily a wide receiver. In the minds of the Heisman voters, that will hurt his case.
8. Matt Jones-RB-Florida
Jones, if healthy, will be the featured back for Florida this year, and his understudy has have done little to make it hard for him to get his starting job back. It was assumed prized freshman Kelvin Taylor would come in and take the job, but he's in the dog house and behind a freshman walk-on and a converted safety. Mack Brown is Jones' primary backup, but he doesn't project as more than a 10-12 carry-per-game back. If Jones comes back strong after the opener and and take the Gators to the SEC Championship Game, he's going to garner some Heisman buzz.
7. Jeremy Hill-RB-LSU
You can make the argument that Hill doesn't even deserve to wear the LSU helmet after his legal troubles, but the troubled running back is as talented as they come. Tigers head coach Les Miles left the door open regarding a possible suspension to the redshirt sophomore, but Hill has done a ton of damage in limited time before. If the suspension is longer than two games, you can cross him off the list; but in his seven starts last year, he averaged 97.7 yards per game and had 10 touchdowns in that span. Troubled? Yes. Talented? You bet.
6. Aaron Murray-QB-Georgia
It was Murray who actually led the conference in passing touchdowns last year with 36 scores, and it's the second year in a row he's accomplished the feat. He also led the conference in yards with 3,893 and average passing yards per attempt at 10.1. If he can get Georgia past the SEC Championship Game this year, he may finally start to get some much-deserved attention outside of Athens, Ga. However, I wonder if one of his backfield mates has a better chance at the trophy.
5. T.J. Yeldon-RB-Alabama
Alabama is quickly turning into "Tailback U", and Yeldon is the next model to roll off the assembly line in Tuscaloosa. After rushing for 1,108 yards on a mere 175 carries and 12 touchdowns as a freshman in a backup role to Eddie Lacy, he should easily approach the 1,400-yard mark and 15-17 touchdowns. He could be the third Crimson Tide running back to be a Heisman finalist in the past four years (Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson), but will his backfield mate take votes away from him?
4. Johnny Manziel-Texas A&M-Quarterback
Last year's Heisman winner made history, but since hoisting the statue , Manziel has made a mess of his reputation. Nothing short of a 50-touchdown season and a berth in the national championship game will result in Manziel winning a second Heisman trophy. Frankly, I don't think the voters will want to see him win and wouldn't be shocked if he isn't invited to the Downtown Athletic Club. Does he have the talent to be there? Absolutely. However, the odds are stacked against him.
3. Jadaveon Clowney-DE-South Carolina
I would love to see a pure defensive player win the award for the first time in the award's history. If Clowney can approach 20 sacks (he had 13 in 2012), force five fumbles, make a few highlight-reel tackles and get in the end zone once or twice, then he'll get my vote. If South Carolina can make it to the SEC Championship Game, his odds of winning will be even higher.
2. Todd Gurley-RB-Georgia
With apologies to Yeldon, it's Gurley who is the best running back in the SEC. The difference is razor thin, but heading into the season, I give the nod to Gurley after a freshman season that saw him rush for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. If not for the magic act of Manziel, he would have led the conference in both, a remarkable feat considering he was a freshman in college football's toughest conference. Gurley can approach 1,750 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
1. A.J. McCarron-QB-Alabama
The two-time defending national champion at Alabama has plenty of team awards, but thus far has not received much individual attention despite a season in which he passed for 30 touchdowns to only three interceptions. What can McCarron do for an encore in 2013? How about 35 touchdowns and less than five interceptions and capping it off with an undefeated season and a third-straight BCS championship? This is an award given to quarterbacks the majority of the time, and he's the best one on the best team.