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2013 Heisman contenders

It's never too early to forecast next year's race. Dave Miller

Print This December 11, 2012, 01:30 PM EST

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel claimed the Heisman Trophy on Saturday evening in New York City after an often-breathtaking 2012 season.

We know that the Aggies dual-threat signal-caller will be back next year, but fellow finalists Manti Te'o of Notre Dame and Collin Klein of Kansas State will be moving on. Can Manziel pull an Archie Griffin and repeat as the Ohio State running back did in 1975 after claiming the award in '74?

Let’s take a look at some of the best-positioned candidates for the 2013 hardware besides Manziel, who makes this list because he will be the returning Heisman winner. We’ll start with two players from this year that I think have a very good chance to be invited to New York next season.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The Buckeyes dual-threat signal-caller finished No. 4 in my final NFP Heisman Watch (behind Klein, Manziel and Te'o), so he tops this Watch List. The perfect fit for Urban Meyer's spread scheme, Miller passed for 2,039 yards, ran for 1,271 yards and accounted for 28 touchdowns on an undefeated team. He was the Big Ten offensive player of the year, and the Buckeyes don't have a difficult slate once again in 2013. He will be in the conversation for the duration of next season.

Jordan LynchUS PRESSWIREJordan Lynch broke Denard Robinson's single-season rushing record by a QB.

Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois: Lynch was No. 5 in my final Heisman Watch, as I felt that he was very deserving of a trip to New York this year. He was seemingly overlooked all season despite recording 43 touchdowns. This fall he threw for 2,962 yards and rushed for 1,771 more, and he was the catalyst for an NIU team that earned a trip to the Orange Bowl to battle Florida State. Perhaps most impressive is that until his interception in the MAC title game, he had thrown just one other pick since a September 22 game against Kansas. He broke Denard Robinson's single-season rushing record by a quarterback and helped lead his team to a school-record 12 wins in a row. MAC or not, he's the real deal.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon: The versatile Thomas should get more carries next season with Kenjon Barner moving on, although Byron Marshall could get the bulk of the load at tailback. Thomas once again contributed in a variety of ways this fall, both on the ground, as a pass-catcher in the slot and on returns. He had more than 1,000 yards combined from scrimmage through the air and on the ground while also returning one punt for a touchdown and accruing 491 return yards. He's a big play waiting to happen, and he should get plenty of opportunities as a junior.

Marqise Lee, WR, USC: The Trojans receiver caught a nation-leading 112 passes and was among the national leaders in all-purpose yardage this fall. He is dangerous every time he touches the football, racking up 1,680 yards and 14 TDs as a receiver as well as 802 yards and a score on kick returns. If you add in his 106 rushing yards, he recorded 2,588 yards from scrimmage, which averaged out to 18.2 yards per touch. Two games stood out for Lee in 2012: his 20-touch, 408-yards-from-scrimmage effort against Oregon, and his 20-touch, 469-yards-from-scrimmage game against Arizona. Next season, Max Wittek will help make him a Heisman candidate once again. It will be tough to win, though, as Desmond Howard was the last wide receiver to win in 1991. Just two receivers have been finalists since: Randy Moss in 1997 and Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: The Tigers dual-threat signal-caller notched 24 total touchdowns and 1,883 yards of offense over the last five games of the regular season, giving him 4,042 total yards on the year. But Clemson went 0-2 vs. Top 25 teams this season. He needs to help get the Tigers over the hump in a big game next year.

Marcus MariotaUS PRESSWIREMarcus Mariota had 30 touchdowns against six interceptions this fall.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Who knows where the Ducks quarterback could have finished in this year's race if his squad didn't fall at home to Stanford. Mariota ranked sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns against six interceptions. The Ducks will remain a Pac-12 power, and he'll be more comfortable in the high-octane offense in his second year as a starter.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: The Big East offensive player of the year helped the Cardinals to a 10-2 mark and a Sugar Bowl berth, and he'll have a chance against Florida in New Orleans to really earn some more recognition on a big stage this postseason. Bridgewater led the conference with 25 touchdown passes this fall, and the team's 2013 schedule is soft. He could put up big numbers again next season.

Other names to keep an eye on: Arizona RB Ka’Deem Carey, South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA QB Brett Hundley, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, Alabama QB AJ McCarron, Georgia RB Todd Gurley, Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk and North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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