By Ralph D. Russo
The Associated Press
To win the Heisman Trophy, a player needs the right combination of numbers and narrative, highlight plays and signature victories.
Johnny Manziel’s Heisman run last season was fueled by dizzying stats, a brilliant performance in Texas A&M’s upset victory against Alabama, complete with a couple of ‘did-you-see-that?’ plays, and the fact that he was trying to become the first freshman to win college football’s most prestigious individual award.
Here are six (or so) Heisman contenders and what has to happen for them to win the big bronze statue.
1) Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Assuming Johnny Football plays the entire season, he should put up more video-game numbers in a potent offense. Even so, it’ll be hard for him to top last season and anything less won’t have the same wow-factor. There is room for improvement in one category: victories. The Aggies went 10-2 in the regular season last year. Make that 13-0 or 12-1, with a Southeastern Conference title and a berth in the BCS championship game, and Manziel could join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman winners.
2) Marqise Lee, WR, USC. Heisman voters are generally not impressed by wide receivers. Only two (Tim Brown in 1987 and Desmond Howard in 1991) have won it. Lee is coming off the most prolific season (118 catches and 1,721 yards) by a receiver in Pac-12 history. It was good enough for a distant fourth in the Heisman voting, despite USC’s disappointing fall from preseason No. 1 to 7-6. Far less is expected of the 24th-ranked Trojans this season and Lee will have a first-year starting quarterback getting him the ball. If Lee has another huge year and USC can reach the Pac-12 title game — and maybe knock off Notre Dame along the way — the story will be how he carried the new QB(s). At the least that makes him a Heisman finalist.
3) Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson and Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia. Boyd’s eighth-ranked Tigers host Murray’s fifth-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday to open the season. The winning quarterback in what figures to be a high-scoring game between two of the best offenses in the country likely shoots to the top of the Heisman watch lists. How much does that matter in September? Generally, as Denard Robinson and Geno Smith can attest, not much. Though Georgia’s front-loaded schedule (South Carolina on Sept. 7, and LSU on Sept. 28), gives Murray a shot to get a huge jump on the competition. Boyd has three big tests to pass (Georgia, Florida State, Oct. 19, and at South Carolina, Nov. 30) in an otherwise ho-hum schedule. Clemson needs to go at least 2-1 in those games and win the Atlantic Coast Conference for Boyd to win the Heisman.
4) AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama. The Crimson Tide are almost too good to have a Heisman winner. With so much talent surrounding McCarron (receiver Amari Cooper, tailback T.J. Yeldon, etc.) it’s hard for him to stand out. And his raw numbers will always lag behind other top quarterbacks because of Alabama’s balance and ability to easily dispatch so many opponents. To separate himself from the pack, McCarron will need more moments like he had at LSU last season, when he led the Tide to a last-minute, game-winning touchdown. Another trip to the BCS title game is also a must for a McCarron Heisman.
5) Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. If Clowney is going to be the first defensive player to win the Heisman, he’ll need to put up a huge sack total. The official NCAA record is 24 by Terrell Suggs of Arizona State in 2002. The late Derrick Thomas had 27 for Alabama in 1988 before sacks became an official stat. The magic sack number for Clowney? Twenty sounds about right. Also, he’ll probably need to score a touchdown and/or pick off a pass. And lead the Gamecocks to the SEC title game. Despite all the hype, realistically, Clowney is a long shot to win the Heisman.
6) Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Mariota’s problems are similar to McCarron’s. As good as Mariota is, the Ducks are loaded. Do-everything-back De’Anthony Thomas might be the most dynamic and dangerous player in the country. The Ducks’ propensity to pound their opponents provides plenty of fourth-quarter rest for Mariota. And anything less than a trip to the BCS title game for Mariota and the Ducks, will seem like a disappointment. Oregon will need to be just about perfect to have its first Heisman winner.
Six more prime Heisman contenders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville; Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford; Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois; Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State; Casey Pachall, QB, TCU; Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor.