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Heisman Watch Week 1: Strong opener gives Tajh Boyd early lead in race

Tajh BoydTajh Boyd's five touchdowns against Georgia helped him earn an early lead in the Heisman race. (Al Tielemans/SI)

Heisman voters are often plagued with short memories. A player’s poor showing in Week 1 can easily be forgotten by a brilliant performance in November. The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately atmosphere of college football doesn’t apply only to coaching changes; in fact, players that perform the best down the stretch of the season are often the names etched into Heisman history. A September stumble, however inopportune, does not prevent a player from reaching New York. In fact, Johnny Manziel and his Aggies dropped their opener against No. 24 Florida last season, and the legend of Johnny Football still managed to cultivate.

Of course, that doesn’t mean early games hold no water in the Heisman race. At some point, lofty preseason chatter needs to be proven, and a win on opening weekend is the best way to kick off a campaign.

Tajh Boyd’s performance in Clemson’s win over Georgia was a perfect example of a highly touted quarterback living up to early expectations, on a big stage against a big opponent. Meanwhile, the preseason hype of Jadeveon Clowney didn’t translate to the star’s efforts in South Carolina’s win over UNC. Clowney looked all too human against the Tar Heels, something that might prove difficult for a defensive player to overcome. The question is, will that early slight against Clowney and a few others be remembered in December?

Whatever the situation, the first weekend of football finally gave us a look at several Heisman hopefuls, and the Watchman is high on a number of quarterbacks this week, including a senior who stepped up in Death Valley:

Heisman Watch – Week 1

1. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson

2. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon

3. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville

4. Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State

5. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M

6. Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina

7. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama

8. Aaron Murray QB, Georgia

9. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

10. Marqise Lee, WR USC

Player of the Week

Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson

Week 1 stats: 18-of-30 passing for 270 yards, three touchdowns; 13 rushes for 42 yards, two touchdowns in a 38-35 win vs. No. 5 Georgia.

The matchup billed as a clash of explosive offenses didn’t disappoint, and neither did the winning quarterback. Clemson emerged from the fireworks with a win over Georgia, and much of the credit goes to Boyd. The senior accounted for 312 total yards of offense and all five of Clemson’s touchdowns against the Dawgs’ defense, helping the Tigers claim a second straight win over a top-10 SEC program.

The senior was prolific on the stat sheet, but he also delivered down the stretch of a tight contest. With Clemson facing a slim three-point lead, Boyd engineered a 12-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the final period that drained 4:23 off the clock. More importantly, it gave Clemson a 10-point cushion with Boyd’s nine-yard TD toss to Stanton Seckinger. The Bulldogs would score again, but Boyd’s work on the previous drive left little time for Georgia to threaten with only 1:19 remaining.

Thanks to Boyd, “Clemsoning” is already taking on a new meaning, as the Tigers looked every bit like a preseason top-10 team. Boyd may not face another test for a while: The Tigers welcome a very vanilla schedule until they host Florida State on Oct. 19. But for now, shutting down the Dawgs did plenty for the quarterback’s Heisman hopes.

Stock Rising

Marcus Mariota

The Ducks took full advantage of a mismatched Nicholls State squad to the tune of 66-3, and Mariota likewise let loose, finishing 12-of-21 with 234 passing yards and one score. He also ran in two touchdowns alongside 113 yards on the ground, all in three quarters of work; Mariota sat the entire fourth with Oregon boasting a 45-3 lead.

Teddy Bridgewater

By the time Bridgewater threw his first incomplete pass against Ohio on Sunday, the Cardinals’ signal-caller had already thrown for two touchdowns. It was that kind of day for Bridgewater, who rang up 355 yards on 23-of-28 passing with five scores as No. 9 Louisville subdued the Bobcats 49-7. With the Cards’ cupcake schedule, we’d better get used to similar stat lines from this quarterback.

Johnny Manziel

Things weren’t entirely out of hand when Manziel finally entered A&M’s game against Rice in the third quarter on Saturday. The Aggies held a 28-21 lead, but Manziel helped blow the door open with three second-half touchdown passes on only eight pass attempts. Sure, the Heisman winner still raised eyebrows with some colorful behavior, but the focus has seemingly shifted to football for Manziel, which is good: After next week’s date with Sam Houston State, A&M welcomes Alabama to Kyle Field.

David Ash

The Longhorns’ signal-caller won’t crack many early Heisman lists, but his efforts over the weekend shouldn’t go overlooked. Ash helped Texas shake out of an early 7-0 deficit against New Mexico State and manhandle the Aggies 56-7. The quarterback threw for 343 yards with touchdown passes of 25, 54, 66 and 74 yards, and he punched in 91 rushing yards and another score for good measure. Could there be a surprise star brewing in Austin?

Stock Falling

Aaron Murray

Only one quarterback could emerge from Death Valley on an upward swing. Clemson’s defense, for all its preseason questions, did an admirable job stifling Murray in the pocket, sacking him four times. Murray outgained Boyd through the air (323 yards to 270), but the Bulldogs’ leader failed to find the end zone even once and tossed his first pick of the season.

AJ McCarron

The top-ranked Crimson Tide took care of business against Virginia Tech, but McCarron wasn’t the efficient McCarron of 2012. ‘Bama’s signal-caller tossed for 110 yards on 10 completions, both lower than his production in any game last season. He also threw his first pick of the year, something he didn’t do until 10 games into his junior campaign.

Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney appeared a little winded against the Tar Heels. Whatever the reason for his lackluster 2013 debut, the Gamecocks’ star showed only shades of his game-changing abilities on Thursday night. Clowney finished with three tackles and no sacks, and while his effect on Larry Fedora’s offense was obvious early, he wasn’t exactly a beast on the defensive line. The expectations might be too high for Clowney, but next week in Athens should prove interesting.

Marqise Lee

We simply need to see more from the Trojans for Lee to truly jump into the Heisman picture. Lee caught eight passes for 104 yards, but the spotlight won’t grow if Lane Kiffin’s crew looks weak against the likes of Hawaii. Some certainty at quarterback would help, but it’s still a tough path for Lee: he’s aiming to be only the third receiver to win the Heisman.

Heisman chatter

Tweets of the week:

Tajh Boyd can expect an increased spotlight after his win against Georgia:

https://twitter.com/HeismanPundit/status/374011557530701824

Clowney’s Heisman chances haven’t been completely written off:

https://twitter.com/DanWolken/status/373482764399828992

Dominating an FCS opponent will make people say all sorts of things:

https://twitter.com/BradenGall/status/373908751348011008

That’s all you got, Teddy?

https://twitter.com/celebrityhottub/status/374268715539652609

Video of the week:

You thought Johnny Manziel’s antics were over? Think again. The reigning Heisman winner broke out an autograph-signing motion while jawing with a Rice player during Saturday’s victory. Troll on, Aggies.

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