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Debate: 2012 Manziel vs. 2013 Winston

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Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012 due in large part to his improvising ability and a win against national champion Alabama. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, also a freshman, is the clear-cut choice for this year's Heisman Trophy, to be announced Saturday evening. But which player had the better freshman season? Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images.

Call it a youth movement. Call it college football's version of the baby boomers. Whatever you want to call it, we're on the precipice of witnessing a second consecutive year of having a Heisman Trophy winner who can't even buy a beer unless he first hops the Q train from the Best Buy Theater in Manhattan down to Canal Street and buys a fake ID. 

But what would happen if Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel weren't a year apart? 

Who would have won if the two freshman phenoms went head-to-head?

Our ACC expert Eric J. Russell and SEC expert Chris Stephens tackled this very question. 

The Case For 2012 Manziel

By Chris Stephens

When looking at the stats, there's really no competition for Winston in this year's Heisman race. He's done what he's had to do and led his team to the BCS national championship game.

However, when you look at Winston compared to what Manziel did for Texas A&M in 2012, there really is no comparison ... other than the fact that Manziel didn't lead his team to the national championship game.  

Manziel did more in a better conference than Winston did in a down ACC. Let's compare the total numbers. Manziel completed 295-of-434 passes for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions through the air. On the ground, he gained another 1,410 yards and scored 21 touchdowns.  

This year, Winston has completed 237-of-349 passes for 3,825 yards, 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He's rushed for 203 yards and four touchdowns.  

Winston owns Manziel in passing yards and touchdowns, but Manziel supplemented his arm with his legs. On countless occasions Manziel turned what would have been a sack into a first-down run.  

Now, let's look at the opponents of each. In the three biggest games of the year (Clemson, Miami, Duke), Winston threw for 1,099 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. In Manziel's three biggest games in 2012 (Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma), he threw for 816 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 348 yards and two touchdowns. Again, Manziel supplemented his arm with his movements on the ground. It's what has made him so dangerous and has allowed him to be successful as a quarterback.

Let's also remember that Manziel faced a lot of top defenses during the year compared to Winston this year. Manziel faced Alabama (second), Florida (17th), Missouri (29th), LSU (30th), Auburn (38th), Mississippi State (41st) and Ole Miss (42nd). The same can't be said for Winston and Florida State this year. The top defenses they've faced are Clemson (23rd), Maryland (32nd), Wake Forest (33rd), Syracuse (39th), Pittsburgh (42nd), North Carolina State (61st) and Duke (71st). He didn't even face two of the top defenses in the ACC in Virginia Tech (fourth) and Georgia Tech (21st).

It begs the question — are Winston's stats bloated because of a weak ACC? Obviously we'll see what Winston can do against an SEC team in the BCS national championship game. But when comparing his numbers to Manziel's from 2012, there's no question Manziel had the better year in terms of stats.  

Of course, if Florida State wins the national championship, Winston will be just as happy.  

The Case For 2013 Winston

By Eric Russell

Sure, Johnny Football took the nation by storm in 2012. He put up outstanding numbers and deserved the Heisman that year. However, as with most things in life, when something new and better comes along it outshines things from the past.

Manziel's 2012 campaign was destined to be overshadowed from Labor Day this season. Winston, a redshirt freshman, made his first Heisman statement in his first game. Opening week of the college football season is also what separates the two stellar years.   

Manziel struggled in his opening game in '12 against Florida, one of a pair of games in which he didn't put up big enough numbers during his freshman year. The other game, a 24-19 loss to LSU, highlights exactly what the difference is in the two. Manziel threw three interceptions and didn't find the end zone once through the air. Winston hasn't disappeared in any games this year, especially against Top-25 teams. Furthermore, both of those games ended in a loss, two more blemishes Winston doesn't have on his '13 campaign.   

Spare us the argument of Manziel putting up big numbers against better competition in '12 than Winston did this season. To say that is ignoring the fact Manziel's biggest performances came against weak opponents. Two of his 300-plus yard passing performances came against teams who didn't finish bowl eligible — Missouri (372) and Arkansas (453). The other two came against Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State. Winston, on the other hand, has seven 300-plus yard passing performances, and all but one came against bowl-eligible competition. In addition, his 400-yard game came against Clemson in a battle of two Top-5 teams.   

The biggest key to the '12 Manziel vs. '13 Winston argument? The fact that Manziel, at least as a quarterback, has outshined the 2012 version of himself this year. Some may look at the numbers and question why he won't be collecting his second Heisman Trophy. The answer to that is the same as the answer to this debate. There's one reason and one answer: Jameis Winston.    

The Verdict

Tough call here. It's important to note, when judging based on Heisman criteria, it's not about wins and losses; it's about being the most outstanding player in the country. 

Manziel certainly deserved the Heisman last year for his performance, but if we're talking about sheer dominance, which is my definition of an outstanding player, Winston never took a game off. He's been the best player on the field from wire-to-wire. Manziel, despite his mercurial feats and highlight reel plays, wasn't as consistently great. 

In the battle of the college football baby boomers, it's Florida State's Winston that gets to figure out how he's going to buy the beer.