HEISMAN CONTENDERS

This time last year, USC quarterback Matt Barkley was everyone's Heisman Trophy frontrunner and Johnny Football was a little-known freshman at Texas A&M.

With that reference point, here are five players to watch:

  • Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater: Has the pre-season hype required to win the Heisman while playing for Louisville -- and with Louisville playing in the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East).

  • South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney: The nation's top overall talent and likely No. 1 draft pick would be the first pure defensive player to win the Heisman. (Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, who won the '97 Heisman, also returned punts.)

  • USC WR Marqise Lee: The most dynamic offensive player in the country -- his highlight package on YouTube is something to behold -- will need help from his yet-to-be-named quarterback and his all-too-well-known playcaller (Trojans coach Lane Kiffin).

  • Alabama QB AJ McCarron: The star quarterback for the two-time defending champs and preseason No. 1 team, McCarron warrants a spot on this list ahead of Manziel, whose Heisman candidacy could be derailed by the autograph scandal.

  • Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: He's like Johnny Manziel in his ability to make big plays with his arm and with his legs. Should thrive in coach Urban Meyer's spread offense and feast on a vulnerable Big Ten.

    Mercury News reporter Jon Wilner votes for the Heisman Trophy. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wilnerhotline and track his Heisman ballot over the course of the season at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports/.