The 2015 Rose Bowl will feature perhaps the best matchup of quarterbacks in any game in the nation all season. Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner will face off against Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman in 2013. Who plays a more crucial role in helping lead their team to victory on Thursday?
The Ducks are led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who looks to lead the Ducks to the school's first national championship before going house hunting in Tampa Bay. In case you missed it, the Buccaneers locked up the No. 1 spot in the 2015 NFL Draft and assuming Mariota leaves early from Oregon, he belongs to the Bucs if they want him. Florida State fans who are also Bucs fans (assuming Bucs fans actually exist in this world) will get to take a look at their possible quarterback of the future on Thursday. I got to do the same thing when Russell Wilson faced the Ducks in the 2012 Rose Bowl, although nobody had any idea he'd be with the Seahawks next year. Trust me, it's bizarre looking back on it.
Anyway, back to Mariota. This year, Mariota completed 68.3% of his passes for 3,783 yards while throwing for 38 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Mariota also ran for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's the definition of a dual threat quarterback. In fact, statistically speaking, Mariota was Oregon's No. 2 rusher in terms of carries, yards and touchdowns. Prior to the season, Oregon was looking at using a hybrid system with a mix of their three running backs, but freshman Royce Freeman broke away as the go-to running back for the Ducks. (More on Freeman and Oregon's rushing attack tomorrow.)
There has never been a more talented quarterback in Oregon's history. Joey Harrington was up there as well, but Harrington could never get the Heisman Trophy like Mariota could. While Mariota is certainly honored by the award, it's not what he is after. When asked, Mariota said he would give away all of the awards he raked in this year if it meant winning a national championship.
The Florida State Seminoles are led by Jameis Winston, who has yet to lose a game. This year, Winston completed 65.4% of his passes for 3,559 yards, throwing 24 touchdowns. However, Winston struggled with his accuracy, throwing 17 interceptions. Winston set the bar high with his incredible freshman season in 2013 when he threw for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Of course, that was also the year Winston won the Heisman Trophy, leading Florida State to a national championship.
What Mariota has that Winston doesn't is the aspect of being a dual threat quarterback. This year, Winston had 49 carries for 80 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 1.6 yards per carry. If Oregon's defense is able to push through Florida State's physical offensive line, the Ducks can put some pressure on Winston and possibly force him to make a mistake.
But what Winston has that Mariota doesn't is a go-to target. For Winston, that target is Rashad Greene, who hauled in 93 catches for 1,306 yards and seven touchdowns. Winston will certainly look to Greene and hope to take advantage of not needing to beat Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was lost for the playoffs with a knee injury earlier this month. Chris Seisay, who will be stepping in for Ekpre-Olomu, knows that Winston and the Seminoles will be gunning for him. If Winston is able to exploit Seisay, it'll give Florida State a huge edge.
Much talk has centered around Oregon's secondary and dealing with the loss of Ekpre-Olomu. While the Ducks may be missing a key piece to their defense on Thursday, they have mastered the "next man in" mentality. I wouldn't be surprised if an unsung hero in Oregon's secondary stepped up to make a late interception to swing the momentum in what promises to be a thrilling game.
Much like Mariota, rumors have circulated around Jameis Winston leaving Florida State after just two seasons for the NFL. I hope for Winston's sake he doesn't jump the gun and leave early. Mariota looks like a quarterback who is ready for the NFL not just on the field, but off the field as well. Jameis Winston has been the center of controversy time and time again, whether it be shoplifting from a grocery store, jumping on tables and yelling profanities or off-field legal investigations. Winston can't rely on one good season as a freshman as an early way out of school and into the spotlight of the NFL.
When discussing who has the edge in this matchup, it's Oregon in a landslide. It goes beyond the fact that Mariota won the Heisman this season. A quarterback who throws 17 interceptions in 12 games played is by no means elite or ready for the next level. Winston might have a better postseason resume than Mariota with a national championship ring, but that was last year, and Winston just doesn't look as dangerous as he did in 2013. If this was last year, I'd probably have given the edge to Winston, but this is 2014, and Mariota has the clear edge in this matchup.