Alabama's AJ McCarron, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Georgia's Aaron Murray lead a highly accmplished field of quarterbacks in the SEC. AP FILE PHOTOS
BY DAVID JONES Florida Today
Published: July 27, 2013
Updated: July 27, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Starting with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in 2007, athletes from the Southeastern Conference received four of the past six Heisman Trophy awards recognizing the nation's top college football player each season. Much like the league's streak of six straight national championships, the Heisman streak could continue in 2013. In 2012, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the award, and he is the first returning Heisman winner since Tebow. Other contenders from the SEC this season include Alabama senior quarterback AJ McCarron, a two-time national champion with the Tide; Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray, a Plant High graduate who stands to break numerous SEC passing records this season, and South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, already projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Certainly, the league is creating quite a Heisman legacy. Other recent winners from the SEC include Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009 and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in 2010. And it's safe to say the 2013 Heisman discussion begins in the south. Manziel, nicknamed Johnny Football, tallied 5,116 yards of total offense for the Aggies in 2012, taking college football by storm with his unorthodox, scrambling style. He also made plenty of headlines for his antics off the field this offseason, including an early departure from the Manning family passing camp where he served as a volunteer. Either way, he seems to enjoy the attention. "I'm just trying to enjoy my life," he said recently at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "Hopefully that doesn't upset too many people. "I'm not Tebow; I'm different in many ways. Hopefully, they'll accept me for me and that will be good enough." McCarron, by contrast, is far less flashy - on and off the field. A model citizen at Alabama, he led the Tide to the past two national titles without attracting the spotlight, despite throwing 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions in 2012. Though he thinks about the Heisman - "I'd be lying to say, 'No,' " - he makes it clear the team comes first. "It's always been a dream of mine, but at the same time I'm not going to let my personal goals get in the way of our team goals," McCarron said. Texas A&M and Alabama square off Sept. 14 in College Station, Texas. A week earlier, Georgia and South Carolina meet in Athens, Ga., in the season's first matchup of Heisman hopefuls. At SEC Media Days, Clowney caused a stir by suggesting Murray and other quarterbacks were afraid of him. Murray took the high road in response, saying he respects Clowney. Murray is the only SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. With 95 career touchdowns passes, he is on pace to break the SEC record of 114 by former Florida quarterback and 1996 Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. The Sept. 7 matchup between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs could determine the early favorite to win the SEC East, and championships are foremost on Murray's mind. "I came back to win some championships, to help lead this team, and that's all that's on my list right now," Murray said. "I'm not here for me." Clowney is a wild card in the Heisman race, typically won by quarterbacks or running backs. But rarely does a defensive player generate such hype. Already an emerging star, Clowney finished 2012 with a six-sack performance in a win against Clemson and turned in the play of the year with his backfield tackle of Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Clowney had 21 sacks in his first two seasons - as a true junior he is not yet eligible for the NFL - and at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds. "I expected myself to do big things for Carolina," said Clowney, who plays for former Florida coach and 1966 Heisman winner Steve Spurrier. "I'm blessed to be where I'm at right now."