- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's way too early to be looking at Heisman contenders, but it's still fun to look into our crystal balls, so we are. And the SEC has some very qualified candidates for college football's most prestigious award. Who is the next Johnny Football? Is it still just Johnny Football?
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: What will Johnny Football do for an encore? After becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, after setting the SEC record for total yards (5,116), all eyes will be on Manziel in his second year as the Aggies' quarterback. He'll be without offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, left tackle Luke Joeckel and two big receiving targets. But Manziel will probably still be one of the slipperiest players in the country. If he grows more as a passer, watch out, because he'll be even more dangerous in 2013.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: It's safe to say that if we could have a do-over for all of those defensive awards, Clowney would have a much better shot at taking some hardware away from Manti Te'o. Clowney finished his sophomore season with 54 tackles, including 40 solo, a school-record 23.5 tackles for loss, and a school-record 13.0 sacks. He also forced three fumbles and recovered one. He tied for second in the country in tackles for loss and was tied for third in sacks. He will enter the fall as the top defensive player in the country and will give Manziel a serious run for the best overall player.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: He didn't have the numbers Georgia's Aaron Murray had in 2012, but he won his second straight national championship and was the nation's most efficient passer with a QB rating of 175.28. He narrowly missed out on 3,000 yards and threw 30 touchdowns to just three interceptions. With Amari Cooper coming back and Chris Black and Kenny Bell returning from injury, expect McCarron to have an even bigger year in 2013. Making another national championship run won't hurt him, either.
4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Murray decided to come back and give college one last try. That just means that he'll have a chance to break even more records. Murray will be a part of a very explosive offense in Athens this fall and has a chance to put up some major numbers in his final year with the Bulldogs. He's second only to Danny Wuerffel when it comes to career touchdown passes in the SEC with 95. And Murray became the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons, and he's looking to make it four straight.
5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Murray's return could cut into Gurley's production, but even while he battled for time with Murray and fellow running back Keith Marshall, Gurley still led all SEC running backs with 1,322 yards in his first year of college ball. He also had 17 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Gurley should be stronger and more comfortable in Georgia's offense in 2013, and that has to be a very scary thought for opposing defensive coordinators.
7dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough