Manti Te'o came oh-so-close this year to winning the 2012 Heisman. The Notre Dame linebacker finished second in Heisman balloting despite hauling in a collection of awards and honors from across the country.
Still, the fact that Te'o finished so highly is encouraging for other defensive players hoping to get more consideration from Heisman voters.
It also means that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney can dream about the Heisman in addition to the Chuck Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski and Rotary Lombardi Awards. And make no mistake, Clowney is thinking about it.
Clowney, according to an ESPN story, thinks he could win it:
"I believe a defensive player can win the Heisman next year," Clowney said. "That's my next thing, New York," Clowney said. "Next season, I am going to come out and try to work harder than I did this season and try to get there."
It's not an unrealistic goal. Heck, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, in the same story, said he voted Clowney first on his Heisman ballot, ahead of 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and Manti Te'o. Clowney finished sixth in the final Heisman voting results.
Let's face it, Clowney will probably forgo his senior year to enter the 2014 NFL Draft—he's a lock for a first-round selection unless something drastically changes his prospects. Shouldn't that curry favor from some Heisman voters who still cling to the tradition of voting for an offensive player on their ballot's No. 1 spot?
Clowney does have an advantage over most defensive players who have received Heisman consideration—he plays in the SEC, the conference which has a contract with both ESPN and CBS. Clowney's weekly performances will have been seen by a lot more voters than Te'o's, who plays for a school with an exclusive contract with NBC.
Most ESPN college football analysts have frequently discussed on air who they think should win the Heisman while millions of viewers (and voters) watch the cable network's 24-hour sports shows. Since ESPN is tied to the SEC, there is no doubt its analysts will promote a player from a conference to which they have ties. CBS Sports broadcasters Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson, who call one high-profile SEC game each fall Saturday, will no doubt do the same.
Now that Clowney has officially stated he wants to be in New York next December, his name will be on the Heisman watch list for 2014—what Clowney wants, Clowney gets. Whereas Te'o was also on Heisman preseason watch lists this year, he didn't have nearly the proactive Heisman exposure that Clowney is now receiving this early in the postseason.
It's rare that a player is actively promoting himself for the Heisman—usually a player is unselfishly talking about his team's goals. That perceived "me first, team second" attitude may make some Heisman voters uncomfortable but maybe that's exactly what elite defensive players need to do.
Look at me, dammit.
Clowney is chipping away at that 15-year Heisman futility streak for defensive players and ensuring their futures include striking the pose.
He's also doing it while Heisman winner Johnny Manziel is ostensibly wondering if he can become the first player to win back-to-back Heismans—Ohio State running back Archie Griffin did it in 1974 and 1975.
Someone from the SEC may reach a new milestone in 2014.
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