ACC morning links: Winston or Mariota

August, 15, 2014
8/15/14
8:00
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Because the world needs one more preseason All-America team, and because there has to be a reason to talk about this one differently than the last, USA Today has its out, and the most noteworthy item is the guy atop its quarterback depth chart.

That would be the Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota and not the reigning Heisman winner, Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston.

It's not that picking Mariota is such a silly idea. He's exceptional, and he's a candidate to unseat Winston as the Heisman winner.

But lots of folks seem to be a good bit higher on Mariota now than Winston, and it's tough to follow that logic beyond the fact that Winston's off-field troubles make people want to look elsewhere. (Though, Chantel Jennings and Jared Shanker did their part to debate the battle rationally.)

Yes, Mariota was exceptional to start last season before sliding a bit in November due to an injury that severely limited his mobility. But how much did that really matter?

Pre-injury, here's how their numbers stacked up.

Mariota: 64 completion percentage, 10.1 yards per attempt, 2,562 total yards, 29 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Winston: 70 completion percentage, 11.8 yards per attempt, 2,608 total yards, 27 touchdowns, 6 interceptions

The big mark in Mariota's corner is the zero in the interceptions department, but he had fumbled four times (two were lost). Mariota also played in a more stat-friendly offense (that averaged seven more plays per game) and had yet to play his most difficult opposition of the season. Winston had already dominated two top-10 opponents in Clemson and Miami.

There's a case for Mariota, certainly, but it's not as if he was head and shoulders better even before the injury. And, the funny thing is, he wasn't that much worse even afterward.

Post-injury numbers for both QBs:

Mariota: 63 completion percentage, 8.6 yards per attempt, 1,466 total yards, 11 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Winston: 63 completion percentage, 9.0 yards per attempt, 1,621 total yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Winston's totals came with one extra game, too, so aside from the picks, they were pretty close. The only difference is, Mariota was hurt, Winston had off-field troubles, and Florida State won a national title while Oregon lost twice.

So what will change in that equation this season?

Maybe Mariota stays healthy and Oregon runs the table. That seems less likely though, given the tougher slate the Ducks face in the Pac-12 and the more hits Mariota figures to take compared with Winston. And Winston, at least for the time being, has a healthy left tackle.

Either way though, it should be a fun battle to watch. They're both in prime position for a Heisman, for a run to the College Football Playoff and, perhaps, for a shot to be the first player taken in the 2015 NFL draft.

Oh, and on that subject, I wrote a bit about Winston's approach to 2014 earlier in the week, and that story involved a lot of interviews with friends and family. One thing his father, Antonor, made clear: The talk about staying for two more seasons at FSU was hardly a guarantee.

"What I said was, that was our original plan was to get his degree," Antonor Winston said. "That was our original plan. I didn't know when they offered a scholarship, he's guaranteed to go to the NFL. If they'd told me that, I'd have said he's going to the NFL.

"I will never look at it in that way because whatever the situation is at the end of the season, that's the situation we're going to take. You really don't know what path you're going to be taken. But we know we want that degree no matter what."

In other words, if Winston is in line to go in the first five to 10 picks of the draft, the decision will be easy.

One other Winston tidbit: Yes, he's lost Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but his high school coach, Matt Stephens, said he fully expects Winston to adapt by checking down to underneath receivers, using his speed in the slot and his running backs out of the backfield far more often. He also said that Winston wanted to prove he was a legitimate pocket passer last season, but not to be surprised if he runs a lot more often this season.

That may actually help Winston's numbers a bit. That decline in completion percentage down the stretch was, in part, a result of looking deep a bit too often.

OK, a few more links before getting ready for the weekend:
  • Duke has a plan in place to replace injured linebacker Kelby Brown, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Florida State looks like its found an answer to fill a linebacking void, too, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
  • Louisville could be looking at a stadium expansion, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Special teams are getting special attention at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
  • If you're a Boston College fan stoked for a trip to Columbus … well, make yourself comfortable. It'll be a while. The proposed series with Ohio State was pushed back to 2023-24, as BC Interruption notes. Just think what the world will be like by then: iPhone 15 will be on the market, North West will have his own reality show and clothing line, the College Football Playoff will include 32 teams. The possibilities are endless.

Enjoy the weekend, folks. After this one, just one Saturday left without college football.

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