The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 24, 2013

Real battle for Heisman Trophy begins

by Tom Lindley
CNHI News Service

— The race for the Heisman Trophy is like a political campaign. There’s jockeying for position among the pretenders and contenders and then after a few early rounds -- where the dreamers fall to the wayside -- the real battle begins.

That’s where the race to be named college football’s best player stands today. Teams are four weeks into the season and individual statistics should have been burnished by picking apart lesser competition. They now turn to about two months of conference face-offs where Saturday showdowns will become more intense and survivors live to fight another day.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. He lost a great opportunity to pad his stat sheet when he watched OSU destroy Florida A&M, 76-0. Then there’s South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, who needed huge numbers to stay in the discussion. But 10 total tackles in three games, only two of which were sacks, have hushed much of the early Heisman talk in Columbia.

So where do we stand? If you’re a quarterback and the pro scouts are still checking you out, you remain a front-runner. Other position players remain in contention but need some good fortune on the backstretch if they have any hope of dashing home a winner.

Then there’s this reminder from Heismanpundit.com that the trophy winner isn’t necessarily the one getting the hype in August. No early favorite has won the Heisman since 2007, it pointed out. Outside College Station, there wasn’t much talk about Johnny Manziel before the 2012 season began. Believe it or not, Florida’s Tim Tebow and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford weren’t always established names. Same with Alabama’s Mark Ingram, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III.

But attach your name to the trophy that features a guy carrying a ball and ready to stiff-arm anyone that gets near him, and all of that high-profile stuff changes.

This year’s field has been chopped down, but here’s a quick update on who’s still standing tall:

1. Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) – Last August, some thought he may be suspended for the 2013 season, but two quarters on the bench dictated by the NCAA haven’t done anything to slow him. He was remarkable against Alabama and accounted for 346 total yards, including his first 100-yard rushing game against SMU. He might be a bad boy, but he’s proving again there’s something to love about his game.

2. Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) – He’ll likely win the Heisman if voters grade him on what he’s done instead of who he’s done it against. Bridgewater finds himself caught somewhere in football purgatory between the old Big East Conference and next year’s run in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He’ll roll up big numbers in The American (or AAC, not the ACC) and few will care. He’s got 14 TD passes in four games and could approach the NCAA record of 58 by year’s end, if anybody cares.

3. Marcus Mariota (Oregon) – The Ducks look like a juggernaut in the Pac-12. If they keep winning week after week, a BCS championship game appearance is a real possibility. Mariota ranks fifth in total offense and looks like a future pro quarterback, according to the scouts.

4. Lache Seastrunk (Baylor) – The Bears may have the best running back in college football. Seastrunk has punched across six touchdowns this year and averaged 15.6 yards per carry on 10 runs in a 70-7 romp over Louisiana Monroe. Only an injury will slow his production.

5. A.J. McCarron (Alabama) – He hasn’t put up big offensive stats yet, but it’s hard to find much wrong with his worksheet at the end of the day. He owns a 28-2 record as a starting quarterback and possesses two national championships. How can anyone find fault with that?

Others could re-enter the Heisman race as the season unfolds. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Georgia running back Todd Gurley have marquee games coming up, where they could make up lost ground. 

So the long race for the Heisman goes on. Or as songwriter Dan Fogelberg put it: “It’s the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance.”

Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.