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Dr. Saturday

Will a defensive player ever win the Heisman? Well, what about next year?

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

The sentiment after Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting was that a defensive player might never win it.

If Te'o, on a 12-0 team getting the Notre Dame hype and with a great personal story can't take home the trophy, then when will it happen?

Well, there might be a good chance a purely defensive player finally wins the Heisman next year.

South Carolina sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was a dominant force this year, and because of the NFL's very unfair draft eligibility rule, he will be back for another season. He will have a lot of things going for him.

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Clowney plays a position which has a statistic (sacks) that is easy for voters to see and process. He will have the buzz of almost certainly being the top overall pick of the NFL draft in 2014. He has been well known since he was the top recruit in the country, and already had some experts waging a mini-Heisman campaign for him this year, so he will be on all the preseason Heisman lists. He plays in the SEC, so he won't lack for in-season hype. And he has a coach in Steve Spurrier who, if he wants, will produce a ton of sound bytes to help get Clowney more attention.

Clowney doesn't need to come out of nowhere during the season, won't play in obscurity and will have easily quantifiable stats if he plays well. His biggest problem might be that it will be a strong field.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be back. As will USC receiver Marqise Lee and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. All of them finished ahead of Clowney in this year's voting. Clowney finished sixth. Others like Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be in the mix.

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But if a purely defensive player ever wins the award -- and, since we've gone 78 years without that happening, it's fair to wonder if it ever will -- he'll need to catch some breaks. Te'o caught a ton of breaks except one: A quarterback had a transcendent season, too. It's hard to imagine a defensive player beating an offensive player who has a truly great season. So Clowney will need some help.

Maybe Lee's numbers dip a bit without Matt Barkley. Perhaps Manziel has enough of a sophomore slump -- especially if both of his All-American tackles going to the NFL early -- to leave the door open. Ohio State might not go undefeated again to help Miller's cause.

It will take a truly great season for a defensive player to win the Heisman. But, Clowney might just be the guy to do it. We'll start his campaign right now.

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