South Carolina defensive end was one of the stars at SEC Media Day this week. On Tuesday he stated he is not focused on the Heisman Trophy, but he is gearing up for a run at an SEC championship. That’s good news, because there is no way Clowney wins the Heisman Trophy in 2013. None.
Well, that’s a bit harsh. Clowney is the best player in college football but even if that is the case it will be unlikely a defensive lineman is awarded college football’s highest individual honor at the end of the regular season. This just does not happen for defensive players, and that is a trend that has been pretty consistent since the Heisman Trophy was first awarded in 1935. There has never been a purely defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. That is more than a trend folks. That is a track record.
Noted oddsmaker Danny Sheridan opened with Clowney as a 12:1 bet for the Heisman Trophy this season. Those are not great odds, but totally understandable. Who is Sheridan’s favorite? None other than 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Sheridan lists Manziel as a 6:1 favorite for the Heisman Trophy. I say do not waste your money because there is no way Manziel will be posing with another Heisman Trophy this December.
History Against Him No. 1: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M quarterback
Danny Sheridan’s odds – 6:1
Winning a Heisman Trophy may be one of the most rare individual achievements in sports. Considering how many college football players there are in the country, to narrow down the list to one means that player has to be something incredibly special. To do so twice is nearly impossible. Only Ohio State running back Archie Griffin has pulled off a double dip of the Heisman Trophy, doing so in 1974 and 1975. Of course, in Griffin’s era it was unheard of to see an underclassman win the Heisman. We have seen a freshman or sophomore win the award three times in the last six seasons, suggesting that voters are not at all biased against voting for a young face if their game backs their case. Such was the case for Manziel last season.
Perhaps the trend in Heisman voting is evolving, which could help Manziel’s chances of becoming the second player to win multiple Heisman Trophies this season (or next?), but until another player joins Griffin in the club I will count on history holding true to the norm. We can also look to more recent cases for potential multiple Heisman winners and see how difficult it really can be.
Florida’s Tim Tebow was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, doing so in the 2007 season. Tebow played two more full seasons with the Gators. He finished third in the Heisman voting in 2008, behind Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. In 2009 Tebow finished fifth in the voting. When Bradford won the Heisman in 2008 he was also a sophomore. Unfortunately, injuries plagued his 2009 season in Norman and took him out of the running early on for a shot at a second Heisman Trophy. In 2009 the Heisman went to a sophomore for the third straight season, with Alabama running back Mark Ingram edging Stanford’s Toby Gerhart by just 28 total points. Ingram returned to the Crimson Tide in 2010 but injuries slowed him down a bit. After rushing for over 150 yards in his first two games of the season, Ingram never eclipsed the century mark the rest of the year and he was not in the top ten in Heisman voting.
Maybe Manziel runs wild again this season and makes it difficult for anyone to top him in the voting down the stretch. After last season, it will be difficult to duplicate the kind of success Manziel had. A victory early on against September would keep him in the pole position but road victories at Arkansas, Ole Miss and LSU might actually carry more weight as the season progresses.
History Against Him No. 2: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina defensive end
Danny Sheridan’s odds – 12:1
Jadeveon Clowney, without too much of an argument form most, may be the best player in college football this season. There is a reason NFL draft analysts and scouts are pegging him as the top overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft, and if the Philadelphia Eagles want to tank the season to lock him up with a top draft pick I would not be upset. However, history has proven it is incredibly difficult for a defensive player to be honored with the Heisman Trophy and that could be the case once again this fall even if Clowney is the best player on the field every time he lines up for a play.
Last season I, like many, got a bit caught up in the idea of Notre Dame linebacker making a legitimate run at becoming the first defensive-only player to win the Heisman Trophy (as it turns out nothing about Te’o was legitimate… topical jokes!). Te’o had one of the best years you could ask from a defensive player as the Fighting Irish managed their way through a perfect regular season and reached the BCS Championship Game. As a result, Te’o, a media darling at the time, finished second in the Heisman voting. It was the highest a defensive player finished since corner back (and special teams extraordinaire) Charles Woodson of Michigan won the 1997 Heisman Trophy. In a game that has evolved to be led by offense, Clowney is swimming up a fast-faced stream heading in the opposite direction.
Of course, there is precedent for a defensive end to win the Heisman Trophy. Notre Dame end Leon Hart was the last to do so in 1949, although he played both defensive end and tight end for the Irish. Larry Kelley, the second Heisman Trophy winner in 1936, also played end for Yale but was noted for his offensive skill.
Last season I said if there was a year for a defensive-only player to win the Heisman, 2012 was the year. If not for Manziel it may have happened. Now I find myself saying the same thing about Clowney. If ever there is a year a defensive player win the Heisman Trophy, 2013 will be it with South Carolina’s menacing defensive end. But I’ll place my bet using history as my ally here and suggest a Heisman Trophy is not appearing in the crystal ball for Clowney.
Up Against a Lack of Schedule Strength: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville QB
Danny Sheridan’s odds – 10:1
If I had to choose one quarterback to build my offense around this season, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater might be my first pick. I love his toughness and evolving skill and ability to find his receivers and run if needed. He has gotten roughed up in his career but he always finds a way to battle back just when you think it to be improbable. So I like Bridgewater, a lot. The problem will be convincing voters that his level of competition was not a significant factor in whatever he produces this season.
As with anything that involves a voting procedure, bias will come in to play even with the most neutral voters out there. Although I respect the direction of The American and feel they are finding and settling in to their place in this college football landscape, the conference strength overall is a fair and legitimate issue. Louisville aside, the highest power ranked team currently playing in The American in 2013 last season was Cincinnati (30th). Central Florida (37th) held their own and Rutgers (48th) just snuck in to the top 50. Each figures to be a decent road block for Louisville this season as well, but Louisville’s schedule also includes eight games against opponents who ranked 72nd or lower in 2012 according to the overall power rankings from Team Rankings. Louisville should, in theory, handle thee opponents rather easily this season. The problem here is Louisville rarely blew away an opponent in 2012. After a fast start to the year with big wins over Kentucky and FCS Missouri State, Louisville defeated just one opponent by more than ten points (d. Temple 45-17).
Voters are looking for Heisman candidates to have Heisman moments. I agree that it is not fair that a Heisman candidate on offense be punished for a lackluster performance by a defense that may cost a game or two along the way. You might call it the Kellen Moore Theory or Case Keenum Effect. Heisman moments tend to come in big games and while Louisville fans may view some of these games as big games, it is also possible the Cardinals go through the entire 2013 season without playing a ranked team. I don’t think that happens, but without a big game to spotlight, voters will unfairly look past much of what Bridgewater does.
Who Gets Invited to New York?
While I do not expect Manziel or Clowney to win the Heisman Trophy, I do anticipate they will be favorites to be heading to New York City for the presentation. I think both will put together a solid enough season to at least be in the running for the award. I just don’t think either will win it. We also have no idea how many platers will be invited to the Big Apple, as the number fluctuates from year to year depending on how the voting turns out. I think the competition will be even enough to bring in five players from three different conferences. Right now, my five Heisman candidates going to New York are (with Sheridan’s odds to win):
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M QB (6:1)
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina DE (12:1)
AJ McCarron, Alabama QB (15:1)
De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon RB (10:1)
Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB (7:1)
Of those names I am debating between McCarron and Miller as my Heisman favorite. I think McCarron has somewhat flown under the radar when discussing the game’s top quarterbacks. Back-to-back BCS titles does not happen without him, I am convinced. He may not be Alabama’s best player on either side of the football, but his value to the Crimson Tide is unquestionable in my book. Past success should not be a part of the Heisman consideration, as it is a yearly award and not a career award, but I think it has helped build McCarron’s profile enough to help him get to New York. If Alabama happens to run the table this fall, McCarron could become more of a favorite.
Right now I am leaning toward Ohio State’s quarterback, Braxton Miller. He still has some improving to do but Ohio State would not have gone undefeated last season if not for Miller. Ohio State needed to find various ways to pull out games in a variety of different fashions in 2012, but Miller always seemed to play a key role, whether it by passing or running. Miller brings a little bit of everything to the field, from toughness to awareness and instincts. If the Buckeyes can make another run through the Big Ten and return to the BCS Championship Game, I think Miller will evolve as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy in 2013. I say that because if the five players I have listed above do reach New York, the southern votes may be split between Manziel, Clowney and McCarron. If it comes down to Miller or Oregon running back De’Anthony Miller, I’ll give the nod to Miller in the voting.
Your Heisman Favorites
Now it is your turn to name your realistic Heisman favorites. Who do you think gets the invite to New York? Who do you think has a realistic shot and who do you think gets overlooked or snubbed? Let me know in the comments section and we’ll highlight some of the best responses in a later follow-up post.
Photos via Getty Images/Zimbio