When Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston take the field on January 1 in the Rose Bowl for a first-round matchup of the first College Football Playoff, history will be made; it will be only the fourth time in NCAA history that two players who have already won the Heisman will face each other.
Not only have the two star quarterbacks been at the top of their class for the last two years, but they are undoubtedly one of the greatest pairs college football has ever produced: Mariota is currently projected to be the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, with Winston right behind at No. 4.
Both have the ability to single-handedly take over any situation and have proven to be at their best when the game matters the most. And though they may lead one of the Top 4 teams in the country, they are polar opposites when it comes to skill sets, and neither beat the competition the same way.
So as we inch closer toward New Year’s Day and the smorgasbord of bowl games that will certainly incline most of us to TV binge—sadly (but totally worth it) resulting in early signs of scoliosis, for some—I’ve opened the line for one of the hottest debates heading into the playoffs and, ultimately, the ensuing offseason…
Who would you rather have on your team: Mariota or Winston?
Tyler Waddell, AAC Football Fever: I’m not going to get too far into this debate before I make my point: I’m taking Mariota—college ranks and NFL, for sake of the argument—hands down, 100 out of 100 times, and it’s not even close.
Don’t get me wrong—Winston’s abilities are second to none, and I was drooling over what he did in the ESPN RISE Elite 11 competition before he even stepped foot on campus. I had him as the No. 2 quarterback in the ACC (behind Tajh Boyd) during the 2013 preseason, and was chastised until the season opener when he made a “I have arrived” statement, going 25-of-27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh.
He went on to have one of the most memorable seasons in the last decade, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,000-plus yards and a 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a freshman.
But since then, he’s made several questionable (bear with me) life choices, has suffered without his go-to receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and seems to have forgotten how to play football in the first half. Winston’s attempts-per-interception ratio has dropped from 38.4 to 24.8—a major red flag—and his Total QBR has seen a significant collapse from an NCAA-best 89.4 to 76.3.
Mariota, on the other hand, does everything right. He’s the Heisman Trophy winner you want to bring home to your mom. He is the catalyst to all the things good for a lightning-fast offense that has averaged over 45 points per game with him managing from the shotgun. He simply doesn’t turn the ball over, meaning he’s never putting Oregon’s defense in a difficult situation, which you can’t say about his counterpart.
Not only does his 53 total touchdowns and 186.3 passer efficiency rating blow away any competition, but his two interceptions in 372 attempts (0.5 percent) would beat former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore’s single-season record. He also has just 12 interceptions in 1,094 career attempts (1.1 percent of all throws), which places him well ahead of the current record holder, Geno Smith. With 53 scores (including his TD reception), Mariota has more total touchdowns than 94 different FBS teams have produced all season.
Give me the guy that doesn’t turn the ball over, is explosive in more than one facet, and won’t give me nightmares of damaging my program’s image when the season is over and football is in hibernation.
Mariota. Every time.
Kyle Kensing, University Avenue: How serendipitous that Oregon and Florida State are playing in the Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff — not only because it pits the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners head-to-head, but because this truly has the potential to #BreakTheInternet.
The disdain certain corners of #FSUTwitter have for Marcus Mariota individually and Oregon collectively spilled into my timeline seemingly any time the Ducks played. This feels like the first-ever Social Media Rivalry in college football.
Full disclosure before diving in: I’m based on the West Coast, attended a Pac-12 university, cut my teeth covering a Pac-12 program, and I covered two games involving Mariota live this season. I’ll gladly accept accusations of homerism, but I’m Team Mariota forever and a day.
Mariota’s command of the Oregon offense is uncanny, but to attribute his success to merely being a product of the system is erroneous. His long ball as improved vastly, and he’s able to unleash while on the move.
And speaking of movement, his speed moving out of the pocket is remarkable for a player his height.
The most impressive thing about Mariota, to me, is that he improved markedly every year of his career.
Mariota winning this year’s Heisman in such a landslide seems like voters tacitly acknowledging that his exclusion as a finalist in 2012 and 2013 was bogus — think Martin Scorsese’s cleaning up for The Departed after Raging Bull and Goodfellas were snubbed.
Jameis Winston’s 2013 season is among the most impressive in college football history. That’s no hyperbole: Winston put up historic numbers and produced one jaw-dropping feat after another.
That his 2014 did not measure up to that lofty standard isn’t necessarily a surprise, but Winston was downright pedestrian on repeat occasions this year. He became college football’s Cardiac Kid in 2014, though often because he was cleaning up his own messes.
You can attribute Winston’s regression to whatever you want, but reality is that he regressed. Mariota repeatedly set his own bar higher.
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: I hate to start my answer with a cop-out response, but I have to add this disclaimer before I throw a pick out there. There’s really no wrong response here. Both Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota are two of the top – maybe No. 1 and No. 2 overall? – players in college football and will be first-round picks in April.
That being said, if I’m starting a team tomorrow, Winston is my pick. Sure, the off-field character issues are worth considering, but the Alabama native is the most talented passer in college football. Winston does an excellent job of anticipating routes and has a good awareness within the pocket. And again, we can question off-field concerns, but Winston has proven he is a team leader between the sidelines on Saturdays.
Winston’s interceptions increased this season, but he’s also dealing with a revamped supporting cast and carried the Florida State offense in parts of games this year. With a defense that took a step back due to personnel departures, it’s easy to see why Winston and the rest of the offense have been pressing a bit in 2014.
Winston has the skill-set to translate as a starter in the NFL right away in 2015. Mariota isn’t far off, but it is interesting to consider how the junior would fit in a pro-style offense as opposed to a wide-open spread offense like Oregon.
No wrong answer here, but I’d take Winston if I’m building a team from scratch.
Casey McLain, NASORB.com: On the field there may be no more physically talented quarterback than Jameis Winston. Winston has basically as strong an arm as you’ll ever see at any level of competitive football, is mobile, and has prototypical size. His of the field decision-making is storied and questionable, and it’s hard to overlook that when considering a player who assumes such an important role as a college or professional quarterback. If Winston can figure it out, he’s got the tools to be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, but it appears that there is a good chance that his own poor choices off the field will preclude him from extended success.
Winston’s decisions on the field have also been suspect, as evidenced by some of the throws he’s made this year. Because of these throws and questionable decisions, Winston has seen his interceptions spike to 17 this year compared to only 24 touchdowns. Winston has never lost a college game, though, led Florida State to a national championship in 2013, and has a shot to repeat in 2014 starting with a matchup against Mariota and the Oregon Ducks.
Mariota, on the other hand, is more of a technician than Winston. That’s not to say he’s not athletically gifted, of course. Mariota is perhaps a notch more athletic than Winston at least in terms of straight-line speed, and is a relative technician in a complex offense run at Oregon. Mariota is the Superman to Jameis Winston’s Lex Luther, but he’s also a bit of the Andrew Luck to his Robert Griffin III in terms of on the field polish.
While Winston has a noticeably stronger arm than Mariota, the Oregon quarterback has plenty of arm strength to make any throw in the NFL, and his arm strength may be understated by the range of velocities he deploys depending on his proximity to his receiver and the kind of throw he needs to make. Mariota won’t be able to get away with as many mistakes as an arm like Winston’s will afford a quarterback, but if he makes less of those mistakes – which one could reasonably expect – he should be a better quarterback.
Matt Zemek, The Student Section: Marcus Mariota certainly deserved the 2014 Heisman Trophy, and Jameis Winston just as certainly made a lot of bad decisions over the course of this season, but which quarterback is more likely to be better at the NFL level? It’s a complicated question with a complicated answer.
Winston, on the other hand, is much more likely to be an excellent pocket passer. Mariota can make plenty of throws, but Winston can make all of them. As long as he mentally prepares himself and manages to mature when he steps into the NFL (no Ryan Leaf implosions, please…), Winston is more likely to be the better pro.
Joeseph Nardone, Rush the Court: This is pretty much like asking me if I prefer Christina Ricci or Winona Ryder. I mean, I think both are super awesome and all, but it’s not like there’s an answer that is better than the other — nor do I have any business even entertaining the notion that either fine lady will ever go slumming with me. Wait? This is about football.
Eh, I digress.