PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — College football has never had a quarterback matchup quite like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
The superstar passers have won the last two Heisman Trophy awards, and come April, there very well could be an NFL team or two trying to decide which player to take with one of the first picks in the draft.
When Mariota and second-seeded Oregon face Winston and third-seeded Florida State in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, it will be the third time Heisman Trophy winners have met in a postseason game. Southern California’s Matt Leinart and Oklahoma’s Jason White were the first to do it at the 2005 Orange Bowl with the BCS championship on the line. Florida’s Tim Tebow and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford did it at the 2008 BCS title game.
This is different, though. Potentially, this could be the start of a long rivalry between Mariota and Winston that goes from Pasadena, California, to the NFL combine in Indianapolis to pro stadiums for years to come.
Here’s how they compare.
Career starts: 39. Oregon is 35-4.
Coming out of high school: Hidden gem. Mariota didn’t start until his senior year at Saint Louis High School in Honolulu. Oregon jumped in at first glimpse and landed one of the most talented players in the country before most teams realized Mariota even existed.
First start: As a redshirt freshman, Mariota beat out Bryan Bennett for the starting job — a surprise to some who didn’t realize that Mariota had been wowing Oregon coaches from the moment he stepped on campus. He quickly showed everyone else what the Ducks were seeing, going 18 of 22 for 200 yards and three TDs against Arkansas State. The first nine drives of his college career resulted in touchdowns.
Impressive stat: 101 career touchdown passes, 12 interceptions. This season — 38-2.
Troublesome stat: Fumbles. Mariota has lost 11 fumbles in his career, eight while being sacked. If he has a weakness, ball protection in the pocket is it.
On the move: Mariota has big-time speed. Whether it’s running the read option or escaping a collapsing pocket, Mariota can gash a defense with long, demoralizing runs.
Public perception: Quiet and humble. Maybe a little too nice?
They said it: “He is that nice, but he’s not that nice. When it’s time to crank up the competitive juices, he does that very well.” — Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.
He said it: “That’s the element of vocal leadership that I’ve really come a long way with this season. I’ve really learned that you can correct a guy without really getting in his face.”
Career starts: 26. Florida State is 26-0.
Coming out of high school: Five-star recruit and one of the most highly sought after players in the country. From Bessemer, Alabama, he says he was never much of a fan of the in-state schools and spurned them for Florida State.
First start: The buildup for Winston’s first start was huge and then he went out and lived up to the hype. He went 25 for 27 for 256 yards and four TDs in a victory against Pittsburgh in a national television game on Labor Day night. Hello world!
Impressive stat: When Florida State is trailing by 8-14 points, Winston is 22 for 33 (69 percent) for 327 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. When Florida State is trailing by 15 points or more, Winston is 16 for 22 (73 percent) for 279 yards with a TD, no INTs and a gaudy 194.26 passer rating.
Troublesome stat: Winston’s passer rating in the first quarter is 118.13, with a 59.8 completion percentage. Both are by far his worst of any quarter.
On the move: Florida State wants Winston in the pocket, but he’s mobile enough to make a play if it is needed and tough to bring down when he gets going, as he showed during last’s year championship game when he stiff-armed his way through an Auburn defender for a big play.
Public perception: On one hand, charismatic and clutch. On the other, immature and troublesome.
They said it: “I don’t think there’s any doubt Jameis has been the best fourth-quarter quarterback in the country.” — Former Texas coach and ESPN analyst Mack Brown.
He said it: “It’s not about how you’re playing when everything is going good (on the field). It’s about how you react when things are going bad.”
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