When FSU and Oregon finally clash on New Years’ Day, a lot more will be at stake than just the winner moving on to the National Championship. In particular, each of the two quarterbacks will not only be looking to carry his team to victory, but also officially establish himself as the best quarterback in college football. Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota, one of the best quarterback battles in recent memory, will certainly draw more than just the fans’ attention. As a Duck fan I am undoubtedly biased, and I truly believe that Mariota is the best quarterback in college, but for the fun of it I decided to take a closer look at the two QBs and see how they match up head-to-head.
For their comparison I took five major categories: Touch, Strength, Play Making Ability, Clutch Performance, and Intangibles. Without further ado, I give you Winston vs. Mariota.
Mariota: The junior, a starter since his freshman season, has continued to develop as a quarterback and player in many areas but maybe none more so than this. After a solid first season, leading the Pac-12 in passing accuracy, Mariota saw a dip in his numbers during his sophomore campaign. This, along with battling injuries, worried scouts and was one of the key reasons that prevented him from becoming a Heisman candidate. Well welcome to 2014, baby. Mariota brought his accuracy right back up, and if it weren’t for freakishly good years by Cody Kessler and Brett Hundley he would almost certainly have lead the Pac-12 again. He can take speed off and put it back on at the drop of a hat, and his ability to place the ball right over a defender’s head still has DCs up and down the west coast shaking their heads.
Winston: Although Winston is younger than Mariota, and came in with less experience, he sure does look good in this regard. His accuracy has hovered around 66% both years at FSU, but what he has added is a nice ability to hit the long ball consistently. Coming into this season, Winston knew defenses would be keyed on him after his impressive Heisman performance last year, so it’s only logical his numbers would drop, but he still produced an impressive season for FSU. More importantly, he didn’t lose a game.
Mariota: The junior can do a lot of things, and I mean a lot of things, but there’s one thing he’ll admit to and that’s having a limited ability to throw the deep ball. Also, Mariota is a very touch based QB. He loves throwing lob passes over defenders and finding holes in defenses. If he has to absolutely fire it into a tight hole, he can, but it’s not ideal for him. Although this certainly isn’t a weakness, it’s fair to say arm strength is not his strong suit. Both of his interceptions this year came on poorly thrown long balls, something he’ll need to work on at the next level.
Winston: In a way this is kind of an unfair comparison because Winston is simply a freak of nature in terms of physical attributes. Similar in height to Mariota, but with about 15 added pounds of muscle, Winston has the frame of a picture perfect QB for the next level. His broad shoulders and arm strength allow him to drive the ball out of his hands and down the field, an ability he’s had since showing up to FSU for training camp. Winston might need to work on accuracy, he might need to work on off-the-field issues, but one thing is for sure: when it comes to size and strength, Winston’s got it on lock. If you don’t believe me, check out this throw on the baseball diamond.
Play Making Ability:
Mariota: When it was all said and done, Mariota accounted for upwards of 4,400 all purpose yards, 53 touchdowns, and an astronomical number of drives kept alive. There are many plays that come to mind (The Arizona pocket dance and the fumble touchdown lead the way.), but to keep it short, he simply could do it all. If Mark Helfrich needed a first down, Mariota would get it. If Oregon needed a touchdown drive, Mariota would deliver. I mean, for goodness sake, the man accounted for 318 points by himself! That’s more than 34 Division I teams, Oregon State and Stanford included. Enough said.
Winston: If this were last year, the advantage would have to fall to Winston. But it’s not last year; Mariota won the Heisman this time around. Maybe it was because teams prepared for him more, but Winston didn’t look nearly as comfortable or as dynamic as he did in 2013. The big red light for scouts is an increase from 10 interceptions to 17. While Mariota saw his numbers drop from four to two — which is remarkable, by the way — Winston saw his mistakes go up and his successes fall. Even though FSU won all of its games, and Winston came through when it needed most, he heads into this 2015 NFL draft leaving scouts with one question: are we going to draft 1st half Winston, or 2nd half Winston? The two are very, very different players.
Mariota: This is something that has haunted Mariota the past few years, as key losses to Stanford twice in a row, and then this year to Arizona, put a stain on his otherwise flawless record. With that said, this year he finally knocked the Stanford monkey off his back and then came back to absolutely demolish Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship. His reputation is certainly on the mend, and if he can deliver clutch performances in the Rose Bowl and BCS Championship, his freshman and sophomore year blunders will be almost certainly forgotten.
Mariota: Nicknamed (by me, but whatever) the Humble Hawaiian, the soft-spoken Mariota lets his actions do the talking. Leading by example, he consistently inspires his teammates week in and week out, and without question they will all agree that his quiet nature by no means diminishes his ability to be an example for them to live up to. His biggest misdemeanor was a speeding ticket, so although he might not be perfect off the field he’s pretty freaking close.
Winston: Rape allegations, shop lifting, shouting profanity in public school locations…Winston appears determined to find ways to deter scouts. His physical attributes and production are phenomenal, but just like Johnny Manziel, off-the-field issues are prominent. Missing a game against FSU’s biggest competition in the ACC, Clemson, was unacceptable too. He jeopardized his team’s playoff chances, and that’s a huge hit to his resumé. With that said, when he steps onto the field it seems to all melt away. He is the clear-cut leader of the Seminoles’ squad, and when he is playing not one member of the team would doubt that. His big question right now is can he get his personal life in order, because if he can he has a very bright future.
Advantage: Mariota in a landslide.
FINAL SCORE: 3-2 Mariota
Although in my opinion Mariota is the better quarterback and a safer choice for NFL teams looking to find a franchise QB, I recognize the promise of Winston. A physical gem with huge upside, he will certainly be chosen directly after Mariota, if not before. In the end though, any NFL team would be lucky to have either of these two under center.
Top photo from Craig Strobeck