The 2012 Heisman Trophy race played out in a way that no one could have predicted. A freshman (Johnny Manziel) claimed the trophy for the first time in its 77-year existence, a defensive player (Manti Te'o) notched a historic runner-up finish and several frontrunners (Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Collin Klein) stumbled out of contention along the way. It was certainly a year to remember.
Still, despite this season's unpredictability, Heisman forecasts must continue. Who might we expect to see in New York when next year draws to a close? Here's a way-too-early look at 10 players, listed alphabetically, to keep an eye on in 2013.
QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
2012 season: 287-of-427 passing for 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions; 186 rushes for 514 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: The leader of Clemson's offense helped the Tigers average 321.6 passing yards and 41 points per game in 2012, 13th and sixth in the FBS, respectively. Boyd threw for 36 touchdowns as one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the country -- he posted a 165.6 quarterback rating -- but he also showcased his skills on the ground, finishing with 514 rushing yards and 10 scores. The rising senior capped his 2012 season by engineering the Tigers' game-winning 65-yard drive in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU, prompting LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo to compare Boyd to Manziel. But Boyd has a better arm than Johnny Football does, and with wideout Sammy Watkins returning for the Tigers, the Clemson quarterback has a shot to make a run at New York.
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
2012 season: 287-of-419 passing for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions; 74 rushes for 26 yards and one touchdown.
Watchman's take: Bridgewater entered 2012 as the Big East's most prolific offensive talent, and the rising junior lived up to the hype. He led the conference in passing efficiency (160.5) and passing touchdowns (27) while taking home league offensive player of the year honors at season's end. Bridgewater failed to garner much attention during the Cardinals' lackluster Big East schedule, but Louisville's takedown of heavily favored Florida in the Sugar Bowl boosted the quarterback's stock to new heights. With coach Charlie Strong remaining at the helm and 16 starters set to return in '13, Bridgewater could find himself in the thick of next season's Heisman conversation -- especially if Louisville can challenge for another BCS berth.
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
2012 season: 54 total tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, two pass breakups, five quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Watchman's take: Clowney missed one game in the middle of South Carolina's 11-2 campaign, but he still managed to lead the FBS in tackles for loss (21.5) and sacks (13) during the regular season. And the former top-ranked recruit capped a stellar year with the Hit Heard 'Round The World, when he nearly decapitated tailback Vincent Smith in the Gamecocks' Outback Bowl win over Michigan. Clowney also garnered unanimous first-team All-America honors, joining 1980 Heisman winner George Rogers as the only other South Carolina player to earn that distinction. Of course, an exclusively defensive player has never won the Heisman, but that barrier seems ready to fall. Clowney finished sixth in voting in 2012, and Te'o's finish -- the second-most first-place votes for any runner-up in Heisman history -- demonstrated that the Heisman door is opening for defensive stars.
SI STAFF: Check out our 2012-13 All-Bowl Team
WR Marqise Lee, USC
2012 season: 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns; 13 rushes for 106 yards; 30 kickoff returns for 856 yards and one touchdown.
Watchman's take: Though USC quarterback Barkley and fellow wideout Robert Woods dominated most preseason watch lists, Lee officially took over as the Trojans' go-to Heisman candidate following his 16-catch, 345-yard performance against Arizona on Oct. 27. The rising junior racked up 118 catches and 1,721 receiving yards on the season, first and second in the FBS, and claimed the Biletnikoff Award as the country's top receiver. Despite the relative lack of success of wideouts in the Heisman race -- only two pass-catchers have ever won the award -- the sophomore barely missed reaching New York as a Heisman finalist, finishing fourth, and has already vowed to make a run next season's trophy. If Lee can replicate his sophomore production, especially in the absence of the departing Barkley, a Heisman could be within his grasp.
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2012 season: 295-of-434 passing for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions; 201 rushes for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Manziel made history by winning this season's Heisman in spite of some hesitation from traditional voters. In his debut season, he bypassed former Heisman winners Tim Tebow and Cam Newton to set a new SEC single-season for total offense (4,600 yards). But the difficult part -- at least in the eyes of the Heisman electorate -- will be repeating that magic as a sophomore. Ohio State's Archie Griffin remains the only two-time Heisman winner (1974-75), and since then history hasn't been kind to those in search of a repeat trophy. Still, Texas A&M will enter next season as a BCS title contender coming off its No. 5 ranking in the final AP Poll. If Johnny Football can lead the Aggies to the SEC championship and possibly the BCS title game, the young quarterback could boast an even more impressive résumé in 2013.
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2012 season: 230-of-336 yards passing for 2,677 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions; 106 rushes for 752 yards and five touchdowns.
Watchman's take: If not for Oregon's late-season loss to Stanford, Mariota likely would have led the Ducks' high-powered attack into the BCS title game. Instead, the freshman quarterback amassed 228 yards of total offense and three touchdowns to help Oregon trounce Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Mariota finished atop the Pac-12 with a 163.2 passer rating and helped the Ducks average 537.4 yards per game (fifth in FBS), but Oregon's plethora of offensive weapons often shortened his moments in the spotlight. Now a rising sophomore, Mariota is no longer an unknown commodity. Chip Kelly's return to Eugene could spell another year of big stats for the underclassman in the Ducks' fast-paced offense.
QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
2012 season: 211-of-314 yards passing for 2,933 yards, 30 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Watchman's take: McCarron deserved more Heisman chatter than he received in 2012, as he guided Alabama to its second straight national title and its third in the past four seasons. The rising senior's numbers won't jump off the page in comparison with those of other prolific passers, but this often gets lost in the shuffle: McCarron threw 10 touchdowns for each of his interceptions and didn't throw a pick until 10 games into the season. He also put up a near-perfect performance in the BCS title game, completing 20-of-28 passes for 264 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against Notre Dame. McCarron ended the season with the country's most efficient passer rating (175.3), and with the return of top target Amari Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon, McCarron's senior season looks to be just as bright.
MANDEL: NickSaban, Alabama poised to continue BCS reign
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
2012 season: 140-of-254 passing for 2,039 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions; 227 rushes for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Miller's sophomore season in Columbus produced an undefeated record, but it also coincided with Ohio State's postseason ineligibility. The Buckeyes had nothing to play for beyond the regular season, a notion that often overshadowed Miller's potential Heisman candidacy in the midst of his 28-touchdown campaign. Historically, that treatment has been routine for candidates on teams plagued by NCAA sanctions: Houston's Andre Ware (1989) is the only Heisman winner to hail from a postseason-ineligible team. Still, the shackles will be off the Buckeyes in 2013, and another run at perfection could help the dual-threat Miller improve on his fifth-place Heisman finish. Plus, he could have some new weapons this fall: Ohio State currently boasts the No. 3 recruiting class in 2013, according to Rivals.com.
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
2012 season: 249-of-386 passing for 3,893 yards, 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Watchman's take: If Murray continues the trend he's setting in Athens -- he's the first SEC quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons -- the Georgia passer could break the SEC record for passing yards, touchdowns and completions in his senior year. Behind Murray, the Bulldogs trailed only Texas A&M as the SEC's most potent passing attack, and Murray topped the league with 36 touchdown passes. Georgia is set to return 10 offensive starters next season from a team that was one tipped pass away from reaching the BCS championship. That foundation of unfinished business might serve as the spark needed to ignite Murray's Heisman campaign.
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
2012 season: 175 rushes for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns; 11 catches for 131 yards and one touchdown.
Watchman's take: Yeldon played a close second fiddle to Eddie Lacy in Alabama's loaded backfield, tallying 1,108 rushing yards on 175 carries as a true freshman. And he made a major impact in the BCS title game; Yeldon collected 108 rushing yards and a score. With Lacy's announcement on Friday that he'll enter the NFL draft, Yeldon will begin his sophomore campaign as the two-time defending champ's primary rushing weapon. His knack for stepping up on the big stage -- he also rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown in the SEC title game -- could pay Heisman dividends in 2013.