3. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson and Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Boyd’s eighth-ranked Tigers host Murray’s fifth-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday to open the season. The winning quarterback in what figures to be a high-scoring game between two of the best offenses in the country likely shoots to the top of the Heisman watch lists. How much does that matter in September? Generally, as Denard Robinson and Geno Smith can attest, not much. Though Georgia’s front-loaded schedule (South Carolina on Sept. 7, and LSU on Sept. 28), gives Murray a shot to get a huge jump on the competition. Boyd has three big tests to pass (Georgia, Florida State, Oct. 19, and at South Carolina, Nov. 30) in an otherwise ho-hum schedule. Clemson needs to go at least 2-1 in those games and win the Atlantic Coast Conference for Boyd to win the Heisman.
4. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: The Crimson Tide are almost too good to have a Heisman winner. With so much talent surrounding McCarron (receiver Amari Cooper, tailback T.J. Yeldon, etc.) it’s hard for him to stand out. And his raw numbers will always lag behind other top quarterbacks because of Alabama’s balance and ability to easily dispatch so many opponents. To separate himself from the pack, McCarron will need more moments like he had at LSU last season, when he led the Tide to a last-minute, game-winning touchdown. Another trip to the BCS title game is also a must for a McCarron Heisman.
5. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: If Clowney is going to be the first defensive player to win the Heisman, he’ll need to put up a huge sack total. The official NCAA record is 24 by Terrell Suggs of Arizona State in 2002. The late Derrick Thomas had 27 for Alabama in 1988 before sacks became an official stat. The magic sack number for Clowney? Twenty sounds about right. Also, he’ll probably need to score a touchdown and/or pick off a pass. And lead the Gamecocks to the SEC title game. Despite all the hype, realistically, Clowney is a long shot to win the Heisman.