Just the other day, Sporting News released its 2014 preseason All-America teams. One notable decision was to name Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to the first team, while relegating Heisman trophy-winning National Champion Jameis Winston to the second team. This drew immediate reaction across the internet– particularly, the ire of the group known as FSU Twitter.
Well, Matt Hayes must have felt the need the justify his pick, which he did in a response to a mailbag question.
Let me be clear: Mariota is a top-tier talent who marshals an explosive Ducks offense. He’ll probably be the biggest obstacle in the way of Winston hoisting the Heisman for the second straight year. In short: While I disagree with the choice, I’ve no real problem with him being on the first team. I do, however, take issue with the logic Hayes cites regarding why he’s there.
He calls Mariota “a better player,” initially, because while the two are close as passers, Mariota’s threat as a scrambler is superior to Winston’s. Fair enough. But the claim that “there’s no argument about who is the more dynamic of the two” is simply not the case. One could argue, for instance, that it was Winston who led the highest-scoring offense in college football history. Wouldn’t that qualify as “dynamic”?
Following up on the premise that Mariota is the more multidimensional player, Hayes informs us that Mariota threw for 31 touchdowns last year, compared to Winston’s 40. But the Oregon signal caller also rushed for nine scores, which means they’re even, with each accounting for 4o TDs, right? Only if you don’t mention Winston’s four rushing scores– which Hayes does not. Four isn’t a lot, but it’s a convenient omission, since it established Winston as the player accounting for more touchdowns. And isn’t that kind of the goal of an offense, not to mention the mission of its leader?
Hayes returns a couple times to Mariota’s knee injury, which is certainly worthy of consideration. Mariota did play the final four games of the year with a bum wheel.
But he also lapses into unabashed speculation: “If Mariota stays healthy, he wins the Heisman — not Winston. If Mariota stays healthy, the Ducks win the national championship — not Florida State.” There’s no backing, whatsoever, for these assertions, especially the latter, as it blatantly ignores the reality that football is a team game, and FSU boasted the nation’s top scoring defense and the second-best scoring offense. Oregon? 13th and fourth, respectively.
Hayes criticizes Bryce Petty for not having won the big game or proving himself on the road. Oregon’s big game the last two years has been its showdown with Stanford. Mariota’s record? 0-2. His record on the road for Oregon’s last two road games? 0-2. Yes, yes, he wasn’t 100%. But if he is the “quarterback who can beat defenses multiple ways,” why couldn’t he figure out something when it mattered most, especially surrounded by talent that was, per Hayes, evidently good enough to topple the ‘Noles?
What about Winston in the big game? Or on the road? How’d he do starting his college career? In primetime. On the road. On Labor Day. On ESPN. He was nearly perfect, going 25-27 for 356 yards and four passing TDs (oh, and one of those rushing scores Hayes leaves out). But that was Pittsburgh– not Stanford. If only there were a closer comparison, especially since Hayes refers twice to the “clearly inferior conference opponents” FSU played compared to Oregon. If only Florida State had a road game against an ACC rival to decide division and conference supremacy.
Clemson. The Tigers were ranked third nationally when Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards and led the Seminoles to a 51-14 blowout victory in Death Valley (Clemson would finish eighth in the final BCS standings– Stanford missed out on the top ten). The ACC championship was also won away from home (Oregon failed to qualify for its own conference title game). And just to punctuate it all, Winston — the freshman — led his team back from an 18-point deficit with a dramatic last-minute 80-yard touchdown drive to secure a National Championship.
But that’s all in the past. We’ll see how things play out this season. Marcus Mariota may well wind up a first-team All-America player with a Heisman Trophy. But the argument Hayes advances as to why he’s ahead of Winston at present is simply unsound.