South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who turned in the play of the year last season in college football, enters the 2013 season atop the inaugural Heisman Watch as potentially the top player in college football.
The Heisman Watch is a poll comprised of 16 analysts and writers at ESPN, and Clowney was the runaway choice for the No. 1 spot. He garnered 55 votes, including seven first-place votes. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was No. 2 with 40 votes overall.
There were three SEC players in the top five. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, was No. 3 with 36 votes, while Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was No. 4 with 26 votes. Rounding out the top 5 was Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota with 23 votes.
Three other SEC players received votes. Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon picked up one third-place vote and one fifth-place vote. Georgia running back Todd Gurley got one fourth-place vote, and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray got two fifth-place votes.
If Clowney were to win the Heisman, he would be the first true defensive player to take home college football's most prized individual honor. Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won it in 1997, but Woodson also returned punts and played some at receiver.
Of the SEC players, Murray might be the one who could make the biggest jump based on where he is right now on the Heisman Watch list. He's passed for more than 3,000 yards and at least 35 touchdowns each of the last two seasons. If he puts up those kind of numbers for a third straight season and Georgia again finds itself in the national championship equation come late November, Murray will definitely be somebody to watch.
It's a little surprising to see Manziel only third on the list after the way he carved apart defenses last season as a redshirt freshman. The big question with Manziel is what's going to happen with the whole NCAA investigation and what kind of impact his tumultuous offseason will have on him once he does step back onto the field. Even without all the stuff going on off the field, history was going to be against Manziel winning the Heisman for a second year in row. Only one other player has done it -- Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.