In recent years, the Heisman Trophy race has, more often than not, become a competition between the best players on the best teams … and most often lately, it's been between the quarterbacks of the best teams.
Now, there have been plenty of candidates from all over the field the past few seasons, but QB has become THE position for Heisman winners. Eleven of the last 13 recipients have been QBs; actually, with Reggie Bush's 2005 Heisman vacated, you could say 11 of the last 12 (Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009 is the lone wolf).
That being said, I believe this year will be more of the same. When looking at the top teams in the country, the QB position is the main reason why those teams are where they are, atop the polls.
So here's my unofficial breakdown of the top candidates to walk away with the most coveted award in college football, and the list is 100 percent quarterback (all of whom, by the way, are semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien Award):
Leader of the Pack: Jameis Winston, Florida State redshirt freshman (149-for-212 passing, 2,502 yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs; 153 rushing yards, 3 TDs). As the Seminoles keep putting up big margins of victory against top-tier opponents, Winston's name will keep creeping up the Heisman charts. He seems to play better on the bigger stage, and is currently the nation's best third-down quarterback. With Johnny Manziel having broken the "taboo" of freshmen winning the Heisman, Winston could make it two in a row.
Hot on his Heels: Marcus Mariota, Oregon redshirt sophomore (164-for-259, 2,531 yards, 22 TDs, 0 INTs; 495 rushing yards, 9 TDs). A West Coast stud, Mariota sometimes gets the shorter end of the stick in an East Coast-centric society. But his zero in the interception column, along with the Ducks' ability to put up big stats week in and week out, will keep him toward the top of the heap. Oregon's loss to Stanford might put a dent in his Heisman chances, but his stats are stil impressive enough to keep him in the thick of the hunt.
Incumbent: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M redshirt sophomore (200-for-276, 2,867 yards, 26 TDs, 8 INTs; 564 rushing yards, 8 TDs). Manziel's stats are even more impressive than when he won the Heisman last year, but the Aggies already have two losses and he doesn't yet have that signature win in 2013. He's got to be mentioned as a front-runner because of his numbers and his history of already winning the award, but his controversial actions throughout the offseason may have soured some of his fellow Heisman winners on giving him the award again.
Under the Radar: AJ McCarron, Alabama 5th-year senior (145-for-209, 1,862 yards, 16 TDs, 3 INTs). While his stats aren't as gaudy as the other guys on this list, he's got national championships in both his previous seasons as the Tide's starting QB, and has a 32-3 record with a total of 65 TDs and 11 INTs in the last 2½-plus seasons. The Tide seem to have the inside track on a third national title, and the pedigree and winning nature of McCarron should have him higher on the Heisman watch list than he has been so far.
Lost in the Shuffle: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville junior (179-for-243, 2,557 yards, 23 TDs, 2 INTs). With the Big East giving way to the American Athletic Conference, the Cardinals' time in the national spotlight has waned. Bridgewater has put up some pretty impressive numbers the last two seasons, but No. 20 Louisville is nowhere near the top of the polls despite having just one loss. He'll have to put up some miraculous numbers the next few weeks to get noticed enough to make an impact in the Heisman race.
Dark Horse: Jordan Lynch, NIU 5th-year senior (164-for-258, 1,871 yards, 19 TDs, 5 INTs; 1,150 rushing yards, 12 TDs). I say dark horse, but it doesn't get much darker than this. Lynch is one of the best running QBs in NCAA history, and has led the Huskies to a 21-2 record as a starter the past two seasons. But being in a "mid-major" program, Lynch is often overlooked on the national stage, and he's fighting a big-time uphill battle to even get an invite to NYC's Downtown Athletic Club for the Heisman ceremony.
Kansas State at Texas Tech
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock
Line: Texas Tech by 2½
What's up: The Red Raiders are looking to snap a two-game losing streak, and a home game against the Wildcats may be the way to do it. K-State isn't what it was a season ago, and Texas Tech is looking to make a statement before hosting No. 6 Baylor next week.
My pick: Texas Tech 38-27
Nebraska at Michigan
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Line: Michigan by 6½
What's up: This one comes down to the two defenses, and whether they can stop the opposing offense. The Wolverines can put up a lot of points, but haven't been able to stop anybody; the Huskers' D hasn't been as strong as it traditionally has been.
My pick: Michigan 27-20
Virginia Tech at No. 11 Miami
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens
Line: Miami by 6½
What's up: The 'Canes will be fired up after a loss to rival FSU, and they still control their own destiny in the ACC Coastal Division. The Hokies also control their own destiny, but may not have the speed and athleticism to match up well with Miami.
My pick: Miami 31-14
Texas at West Virginia
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown
Line: Texas by 6
What's up: After some early-season slip-ups, the Longhorns are atop the Big 12 standings, and still looking for that automatic BCS berth. The Mountaineers got a hard-fought overtime win at TCU last week, but will have to play better this week to beat Texas.
My pick: Texas 37-24
No. 13 LSU at No. 1 Alabama
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Line: Alabama by 12½
What's up: For the third straight season, both teams come into this heavyweight fight off a bye week … and the road team has won each of those last two meetings. But while the Tide's offense and defense are as good as ever, the Tigers' defense isn't as stout this year after losing nearly every starter to the NFL, even if their offense is better than before.
My pick: Alabama 34-21
No. 19 UCLA at Arizona
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson
Line: Arizona by 1
What's up: The Bruins snapped a two-game slide last week, but it's never been easy for them in Tucson. The Wildcats have won three in a row since back-to-back losses, and their offense can put up some pretty gaudy numbers.
My pick: UCLA 41-38