Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's no secret that college football has evolved in recent years. Most smash mouth offensive schemes have given way to up-tempo spread attacks that allow the quarterback to shine brighter than ever.
The new era of football has been reflected in the recent Heisman Trophy winners. Of the last 13 players to win college football's top individual honor, 11 have been quarterbacks, matching the total number of signal callers to win the award from 1966-1999.
The song remains the same here in 2013, as the potential field is as quarterback-heavy as ever, and if the performances through the first third of the season are any indication, one of the following gunslingers will likely walk away with the award come mid-December.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M - No conversation about the Heisman can take place without mentioning Manziel. All other contenders are chasing Johnny Football, who became the first freshman to win the award in 2012 after accounting for an SEC-record 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns, and through five games this season he has set a similar pace with 1,803 yards and 17 scores. For a while, it looked as though Manziel's off-the-field antics would hinder his ability to defend the award after he spent an offseason making tabloid headlines and sparking legal controversy with the NCAA, but since his half-game suspension in the opener against Rice, Manziel has let his play do the talking. His completion percentage has actually improved from last season (.680 to .714), and he already has a historic performance under his belt after putting up 464 passing yards, 98 rushing yards and accounting for five touchdowns against the vaunted Alabama defense on Sept. 14.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon - At this stage of the season, Mariota appears to be Manziel's biggest threat to the throne. Mariota, another dual-threat sophomore, has led the Ducks to a 4-0 start, which each of their victories coming by at least 39 points. Although Mariota has yet to be challenged by a high-quality opponent, he has made scoring points look relatively easy. He has thrown for 1,003 yards with nine touchdown and no interceptions, and he has been even more dynamic out of the pocket, rushing for 295 yards (14.0 yards per carry) with five additional scores. There is no questioning Mariota's talent, but his lackluster completion percentage (.561) is cause for concern, and he will need to become more accurate as the Ducks' schedule gets increasingly more difficult over the next few weeks with matchups against nationally-ranked Pac-12 rivals Washington, UCLA and Stanford.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson - Boyd and the Tigers began the season with plenty of intrigue as the eighth-ranked team in the nation and one of the favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, but they made a splash with an opening- night win over Georgia that firmly entrenched them as a legitimate national title contender. Boyd made his presence felt in the signature triumph over the Bulldogs, posting 312 total yards and five touchdowns in a turnover-free performance. In the three games since, Boyd hasn't skipped a beat, completing 64 percent of his passes for 994 yards, rushing for 159 yards, and accounting for 13 total touchdowns. Perhaps most impressive is that he has yet to throw an interception in 114 pass attempts after tossing 13 picks a season ago.
Aaron Murray, Georgia - Arguably no team in the nation has had a more difficult first month than Georgia, and while Murray fell just short against Boyd and the Clemson Tigers in the opener, he has since helped the Bulldogs collect a pair of outstanding wins over SEC foes South Carolina and LSU. While his outing against LSU was modest when looking at his final stats -- he completed less than 59 percent of his passes and threw for a season-low 298 yards -- it still had the makings of a season-defining game thanks to his four touchdown passes, the final one serving as the game winner with less than two minutes to play. With 1,338 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, Murray sits with career marks (11,429 yards, 106 TDs), well within reach of the SEC records (11,528, 114).
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville - Building upon an outstanding sophomore season in 2012, Bridgewater has come out firing by completing 71.8 percent of his passes for 1,214 yards, tossing 14 touchdowns against only one interception. Bridgewater has thrown at least four touchdown passes in three of his first four games, including a near-flawless performance in the Cardinals' 72-0 route of FIU on Sept. 21 (17-of-22, 212 yards, four TDs, zero picks). But while he will almost certainly continue to post outstanding numbers, his Heisman campaign could be limited by the rather soft American Athletic Conference schedule Louisville plays -- as of now, the Cardinals are not set to face a nationally-ranked opponent this season.
Jameis Winston, Florida State - Manziel and Mariota proved last year that freshman signal callers can make waves in the FBS, and Winston is following in their footsteps this season. The first-year player made a lasting impression in his debut against Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, turning heads with an incredible 356-yard, five-touchdown performance in which he completed 25-of-27 passes. Winston has not slowed in the three games since, as he ranks fourth in the country in completion percentage (.736) while throwing for 1,048 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions to go with 111 yards and two more scores on the ground. If the eighth-ranked Seminoles can continue to rise in the national polls, Winston could be a dark horse come Heisman time, especially if he can shine in upcoming matchups against Clemson and Florida.
Other QBs to consider: Brett Hundley, UCLA (848 passing yards, 157 rushing yards, 10 TDs); A.J. McCarron, Alabama (.682 completion percentage, 882 yards, six TDs); Sean Mannion, Oregon State (FBS-leading 2,018 yards and 21 TDs); Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (869 passing yards, 439 rushing yards, 13 TDs); Derek Carr, Fresno State (1,445 yards, 14 TDs).